First Pitch: It’s Time to Focus on the Real Issues With the Pirates

When the Navy SEAL training report first came out, it was packaged with so many other topics that it turned the situation into a much bigger story than it was. The Navy SEAL training was paired with the “Hoka Hey” e-mail, and all of this came on the day when the Pittsburgh Pirates fell below .500 in September, in the middle of a huge second half collapse. If you combine all three, you’re probably coming away with the story thinking “what the hell is going on with the Pirates”. If you step back and look at each story individually, it doesn’t seem as crazy.

The “Hoka Hey” e-mail sounded crazy. I said that at the time, and it’s true now. It was a motivational e-mail and was obviously part of a group of messages with the same topics being discussed. To any outsider that e-mail would sound crazy. I’m not sure if it would sound different as an insider to those e-mails. What I do know is that the e-mail ultimately meant nothing. It had nothing to do with the collapse in the majors. It had no impact on players developing in the minors. It just sounded weird.

The Navy SEAL training also sounded weird, especially when paired with the e-mail. As you can see in my article tonight, a lot of that story has been exaggerated. The training wasn’t full of extreme workouts and injury risks. The Acumen Performance Group puts a huge focus on safety. Also, the drills are completely optional, and every step of every drill is explained before the drill begins. No one is being forced to do the drills, and no one is going into the drills without knowing what is going on. The original reports made it sound like the opposite was going on, and some of the drills were described in an exaggerated manner, or in some cases, not true at all.

Take the “water and sand” drill. That’s the drill that reportedly injured Gregory Polanco. The drill was described where players “sprinted across the outfield, through an above-ground pool of ice water, then leaped into a sand pit”. The way that is described, it sounds like players are sprinting, running through a pool of ice water, and then finishing their sprint with a dive into sand. In the Navy SEAL round table at Bucs Dugout, I kept asking for clarification on that drill, and didn’t get an answer. The way it was described sounded like a huge injury risk. Running through a pool of water? That sounds like a great way for someone to slip and hurt themselves. Diving/leaping into a sand pit? What does that even mean? Are they diving head first into sand? Are they sliding, like they would slide into second base? Are they jumping like the long jump event in a track and field meet?

One of the main reasons I called APG in the first place was to get answers to these questions. I wanted to know why they would perform a drill with such an injury risk, and what exactly happened during the drills. When they explained the drill, I had to stop them and ask to clarify if I was hearing everything correctly. The actual drill involved players running to a pool of water, then stopping, getting down flat, and sliding through the pool of water on their belly. That was followed by running to the sand pit, stopping, and rolling around in sand to get covered. So if you take out the harmless acts of sliding through a kiddie pool and rolling around in sand, you’re just left with running. That’s completely different from the original description, which involved sprinting through a pool and leaping into a sand pit.

I’ve been saying that Polanco’s injury has been exaggerated. He didn’t really have an injury, but had swelling and no pain. I don’t know if it’s correct that this swelling was a result of this “water and sand” drill, but if it is, the swelling could have only come from running on flat ground. That’s the only physical activity involved in that drill. This means that if Polanco did experience swelling during this drill, he experienced it by doing the same thing he’d be doing running the bases or running in the outfield.

When you actually take a look at the Navy SEAL training — and I’m talking about getting the details from the company that performs the training, which is something that no one has done throughout this process — you see that it’s a non story. It’s a new approach, focused on strengthening a player’s mind. That’s a growing trend in sports today, and it could be growing in baseball. As I mentioned in the article, several other MLB teams have contacted APG about the same training. We don’t know if this training will work, but we now know that it’s safe, and totally optional for players. With that considered, it doesn’t hurt to try it out, especially since it’s not taking away any time from on-field activities. The Pirates should be trying this type of stuff out. We know that they’re at a disadvantage financially. So why criticize them for going with an innovative route, trying to take a new approach to execution in the game and turning young players into leaders?

The real problem this year was the collapse, and the “Hoka Hey” e-mails and the Navy SEALs training had nothing to do with that. Last month I mentioned several things that had a direct impact on the major league team, and all of those topics would be worthy of discussion and criticism. There’s the second straight collapse, where the entire team fell apartThe philosophy of ignoring the running game is something to question, as you can look at the results and see where the team was giving away wins. There’s the playing time Rod Barajas received over Michael McKenry, which raises questions about their values of game calling. There’s the overall lack of trust in younger players, even if it means playing a struggling veteran. There’s the questionable small ball strategy with a home run heavy team that seems to be built more for big innings and shouldn’t be giving away outs. Add to that the less than impressive results of the 2008 and 2009 drafts and there’s no shortage of things to discuss and analyze with the Pirates.

The Pirates have built up their system very well. They’ve gone from having no farm system to having a farm system that is praised by national writers who cover prospects. They’re coming off a year where they won 79 games, and stayed in contention until mid-September. We’ve seen that this group can build up the system. Taking the next step to contention is a totally different thing. Just because they can get to this point doesn’t mean they can continue on to become contenders. They’re going to have to prove themselves in that area over the next year. If they can’t make that jump, it would be time to move on to a group that could take this team to the next level. But Navy SEAL training and motivational e-mails has nothing to do with that. Those tactics might have a chance at helping future teams, but right now they neither help nor hurt the most important issue. They’re just sideshows. The real issue is what the Pirates can do to take the next step, while avoiding another second half collapse, and being honest contenders.

Links and Notes

**The Real Story on the Navy SEAL Training Isn’t as Crazy.

**Here is the link to the Acumen Performance Group website.

**If you missed it from the other day, here is the round table at Bucs Dugout on the Navy SEAL training.

**AFL Weekly Recap: Santos is Hitting Well, While Curry is Struggling.

**From Friday: Diamondbacks Claim Gustavo Nunez off Waivers From Pirates. The 2013 40-man payroll is updated, along with the future payroll page.

First Pitch

  • pitchers who can get the ball to the plate from the stretch in 1.4 sec normal, and 1.1 or 1.2 for pitchouts.
    Doesn’t really matter if the closest the catcher to come to 2nd base is the center fielder or the umpire. No one holds runners good enough if the throws are as far off as the Pirate catchers are. You can’t get 1.4’s throwing breaking balls in the dirt either. The Pirate pitchers are far to predictable, knowing when to run is also important, and against the Pirates other teams seemed have figured them out pretty good.

  • Tim: Thanks for clarifying the Training issue. I had commented that many of our biggest corporations use similar tactics to build teamwork and trust within their orgs – and these are people who spend much of their day seated at a desk. I still cannot understand where the rumor that the Pirates are the laughing stock of other teams came from. It was laid at the ESPN doorstep, but those are the same folks who have picked 5 Pirate Prospects in the Top 100, so that would not seem right. Oh, and kids are taught to slide in sand so that they do not injure themselves while learning the skill.

    Keys to the Pirates in 2013 – a professional hitting coach who can get guys to use the whole field and not try to pull everything; and next, pitchers who can get the ball to the plate from the stretch in 1.4 sec normal, and 1.1 or 1.2 for pitchouts.

  • Common sense has always been a problem for the posters on blobo’s blog, be nice if they would leave the poster trashing there. This Seal training the Pirates are doing is something I could have done when I was ten years old, the wimp reporters in Pitt have only one tough thing about them besides their mouths, that is their keyboard, time to grow up.
    Baseball is a multifaceted game, every team except one, lost when it comes to achieving the final goal and every team that did not make it has a lot of problems to correct, including the Pirates. Tim pointed out a couple of problems, but I believe the Pirates have arrived at a threshold where decisions have to be made primarily for the major league team instead of the minor league teams. IMO, how 2013 goes will determine the current management team’s fate. IMO, the Pirates have 3 position player decisions or acquisitions that they need to make and I would have made a couple of coaching moves, but I don’t think the Pirates will make them. I know it is not good for a GM to look over the shoulder of his manager, but in Hurdles case, Huntington needs to find out why Hurdle refuses to play all 25 players, this is a killer mistake that Hurdle makes. Also, this team lost a lot of games because of in game moves.

  • Tim…good stuff…sure makes DK look foolish. Much ado about nothing, I agree.

    As for what John Lease said, I can’t believe he is blasting you. I guess he just wants to read negative articles on the FO? Not sure what HIS agenda is. And I agree Tim, that, not all of your stuff praises the FO. If it did, THEN, and only then, would I question your motives.

    Bottom line….keep up the good work.

  • There also is a problem with the perception being the reality and this may affect free agent signings, draft pick signings , etc. The unconventional training approach may have some credibility with a club that has proven itself capable of evaluating talent and developing talent but the PBC is not one of those clubs. Instead, we have a club that hires people with no experience in instruction and development and putting in charge if instruction and development. The PBC has no “street cred” and should be more concerned about the way this embarrassment is perceived around baseball.

  • thatboringdude92
    October 29, 2012 1:44 am

    So how much are you getting paid by Pirate management to write this fluff?

    Just because it doesn’t sound very serious doesn’t mean the team should be putting their players through it in the first place.

    It’s not like the prospects coming up through the farm system are fundamentally sound baseball players when they make their major league debut. Perhaps the coaches would be willing to actually take the time and help teach the minor league players fundamentals. I know Tim it’s a shocking idea. Then again when you have a guy running your minor league system who had 1 year as a scout, ZERO career experience as a coach, and was a highly touted prospect who turned into a bust this kind of stuff shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    People would probably take what you write a lot more seriously if you actually had some sort of an opinion on the organization that wasn’t exactly what the organization tells you to believe.

    • I’ve been following this site for a long time, and I’d say any opinions Tim ever expresses are at least well supported by facts. Having followed it for so long, I can also say that it is common to see things on the site that the Pirates organization wouldn’t find too flattering. The whole point of this article is that the email and SEAL training don’t have anything to do with the second half collapse. There were numerous contributing factors to that collapse, including the lack of trust in young players and continued “small ball” approach, which Tim pointed out in the article. He obviously has an opinion on what happened this season…I just don’t see this glowing, blind endorsement of Pirates management that you seem to think exists.

    • “People would probably take what you write a lot more seriously if you actually had some sort of an opinion on the organization that wasn’t exactly what the organization tells you to believe.”

      1. I don’t have a problem with people taking me seriously.
      2. By writing what the organization tells me to believe, are you referring to all of those articles I linked to, questioning their strategy in the majors? What about when we graded the 2008 and 2009 drafts and pointed out the poor results so far?

      The point of this article is that there are things you can criticize the Pirates for, and there are things we should focus on. The SEAL training and the “Hoka Hey” e-mails aren’t part of those, since they have nothing to do with the real issue of why the Pirates collapsed. Other people got that. It appears you didn’t.

      • You shouldn’t have a problem with people taking you seriously, because this type of garbage won’t do it. This is some pathetic writing, and worse logic. You have though made it your mission to defend this idiotic ‘training’. Maybe you could volunteer to do the next round WITH the Pirate minor leaguers? It might develop the leadership skills you seem to lack, when you have to check in with the other front office lackey sights to make sure you are staying in line. Or did you forget about writing that? I come to this website to read about the Pirate minor leaguers, something that isn’t covered all that well otherwise. This kind of garbage though makes me wonder if your thoughts on that are even worth reading.

        • You will be hard to find a better prospects site for the Pirates than this one. If you don’t agree with what’s said, say it in an adult fashion, or take it back to Blobo’s Universe where it flourishes.

        • how is this any different than what writer have done in the opposite fashion? Some writers have made it their mission to make the pirates sound like idiots, while Tim has made it his mission to find the positives in the training. Just because tim has a different opinion on the matter doesn’t mean he’s wrong. i mean… it’s just a blog. it’s not that serious.

          While i’ve gone back and forth on the whole training thing, we all need to agree with this article we’re commenting on now. ..

          The pirates have bigger problems than having Jameson Taillon lifting water buckets and Gift Ngoepe jumping into sand.

          Their catching situation sucks, their pitching situation is bad, they have a 5.5 million dollar shortstop who can’t hit. These are topics that are actual good baseball discussion and something that i find much more interesting than the whole HOKA HEY thing.

          • “while Tim has made it his mission to find the positives in the training”

            That’s not true. I went in to this looking for specific details on the training. I also went in to think assuming that the training posed injury risks with a bunch of extreme workouts. I wanted to find out if those risks were outweighed by the long term benefits. What I found was that the risks were non-existent.

          • @Tim Williams: “What I found was that the risks were non-existent.”


            Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco might disagree with you there.

          • Taillon’s injury didn’t come from this. It came in 2010 in a different form of training.

            I’ve mentioned many times that the injury to Polanco has been exaggerated. It was swelling. It wasn’t even an injury. And here we have another example where that whole situation was exaggerated. The drills was described as running through water and jumping into a sand pit. Neither of those things happened.

          • I’m confused… you mean Taillon didn’t injure his knee during hand to hand fighting?

            And Dejan said Polanco himself, plus a team official, confirmed his re-injury was worse than before. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

          • The Taillon injury was hand to hand fighting. Sort of like MMA wrestling. What I’m saying is that this training and that training are totally different. The SEAL training didn’t involve anything like that, and that training wasn’t conducted by this group.

            My reporting on the Polanco situation has always been a combination of talking to Polanco, having people reporting from WV during the first injury, and talking to team officials.

        • “You have though made it your mission to defend this idiotic ‘training’.”

          I made it my mission to try and get the facts. I asked for specific details about the Polanco drill in the round table. I asked three times and didn’t get the answers. So when I called APG, my “mission” was to get the details of each drill, and ask questions like “do you think the long term benefits of this program outweigh the short term injury risks and the extreme drills?”

          Then I realized that the drills weren’t extreme, and there weren’t injury risks at all. Those had been misrepresented.

          No one is forcing you to come here and read anything.

    • I agree with what JayHawkDuke and White Angus say below.

      TOTALLY disagree with thatboringude. Totally uncalled for and unsubstantiated ‘blast’ at Tim.


    • boringdude92 : I have to wonder after reading your comments on Tim William’s intentions for doing this blog,why you even bother to read his ” fluff ” ? I guess if you want to see the really serious Pirates’ news you are going to have to stick to the other well known Major League Baseball experts in Yinzer land that get their joy in life from beating the tar out of Nutting….while adding nothing new ( boring ?) to the conversation.

  • I think you make some great points in your article. The “Hoka Hey” email and SEAL training have nothing to do with the second straight second half collapse. In fact, I don’t think we would have seen any of the uproar in the media regarding the SEAL training if that email didn’t exist. I agree with you 100%…what could it hurt?

    I thought I saw an article not too long ago about the increased revenue from the new TV deal…if I remember right, didn’t it amount to something like $40-$50 million per team per season? If the Pirates are pretty much already sitting at that amount, in addition to whatever they get for revenue sharing, shouldn’t we expect to see an increase in payroll? I am honestly of the opinion that what you buy on the free agent market is not what you usually get. I can count on one hand the number of good free agents deals over the last few years. I think the Pirates are doing it right by investing as much as possible in developing homegrown talent, but I can’t imagine them not increasing the budget for the MLB team after looking so good the first half of last year.

    What’s the most you could see them spending this offseason? Something else to consider is that this probably will be NH’s last season if they don’t win…I’d imagine that will factor in as we’ll.

  • I’m more concerned with the hole at catcher and the holes in the rotation and bullpen than any holes that the prospects are jumping into. As fun as trying to make the Pirates’ leadership sound insane must be for all of the writers who took the SEALs stuff to the extreme, I am more interested in starting to read analysis about potential offseason moves.

    It looks like there are some values to be had with starting pitching. Edwin Jackson, Fransisco Liriano, Marcum, Anibal Sanchez are all guys that i’d love to see as pirates.

    the catcher crop is uninspiring except for Napoli and Martin. i think Napoli could change the offense.

    • The hole at catcher is one area they need to address. As you noted, the catching is weak. I doubt they get Napoli, since he’d be in high demand in this weak free agent class. Their options seem to be to go with Michael McKenry and a David Ross type, or go with McKenry and bring up Tony Sanchez to split time. I don’t think they’ll find a replacement for McKenry as the primary guy unless someone comes available via trade. Even as the primary guy, I’d be surprised if McKenry got more than 60% of the playing time.

    • i think Napoli will not earn the dollars he will receive in 2013. hes not that good of a catcher, his offense is based on the long ball and i have serious doubts it plays well at PNC.

      just because he’s better than Barajas doesnt mean he would be a plus for the Bucs.

  • What can be done to put this organization into the post-season in 2013? If Huntington and Co. have been told ‘win or else’ in 2013, what do you think their top couple of priorities are for the off-season? Do they try to acquire some players? Or do they emphasize some of things you noted above (holding runners on, playing less small ball, trusting younger players more)? Or is it some of both?

    • I think it’s some of both. For one, they need to be smart about the in-game strategies. They put a focus on statistical research, but it doesn’t seem like they use that in cases like the approach with stolen bases, or the approach with small ball. They shouldn’t be giving away outs or free bases.

      They could also use some help. I don’t think the free agent market really offers much this year. They’d be better off looking for another Burnett type trade, only with a hitter. Dealing Hanrahan might bring back an everyday option.

      I think it would also help to have everyone perform consistently. A big reason they fell apart down the stretch is because their top performers stopped performing. McCutchen and Burnett struggled in August. McDonald struggled the entire time after the All-Star break. No team can with if their top hitter and two top pitchers struggle for that long.

      Not all of the help needs to come from the outside. They could see some natural progression from within, and maybe some consistency from guys who have been inconsistent in the past. On that same note, they should expect some players to slump or regress. Whether those two things balance out or not remains to be seen.

      So it’s a lot of factors. With their off-season approach they could use some help. Off the top of my head I’d say they need to find someone who can help set the table at the top of the lineup, and someone to prevent another black hole at the bottom of the lineup.