For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has been named a finalist for the NL Manager of the Year award. Hurdle won the award last year. After he was named as a finalist, I wrote about how he deserved the award, due to the way he embraced advanced metrics such as defensive shifts, and how he controlled the clubhouse and never let the Pirates get into a prolonged funk.
This time around I think Hurdle deserves the award for those same reasons, but even more this year due to some of the personnel decisions he made. Hurdle still embraced advanced metrics. He still had an impact on the clubhouse, which might have been more difficult this year, since the Pirates had a lot more low points in 2014 than 2013. But the personnel moves were why the Pirates made the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The first move was the decision to give Josh Harrison more playing time. Heading into the season, Harrison was an after-thought. If he would have been cut out of Spring Training, not many Pirates fans would have been upset. He didn’t get off to a great start in April. But with the right fielders struggling, Hurdle gave Harrison a shot. The regular playing time continued at second base when Neil Walker went down with an injury in June. Harrison eventually found a home at third base, taking over as the regular starter in August after Pedro Alvarez struggled defensively all year. Throughout this process, Harrison put up numbers you’d expect from a star player.
There wasn’t much to indicate that Harrison was capable of being a starter, and to be fair, we still don’t know if he is a starter for the long-term. He did post numbers similar to this in the minors when he received regular playing time. His OPS in Triple-A was .856, and .826 in his first run through the level. He had an .837 OPS this year as a starter. Hurdle cited the minor league numbers as proof of what he could do when he got regular playing time. But you’ll have a hard time finding many other people looking at minor league numbers when a player comes into the year with a .648 OPS in 575 major league plate appearances. Harrison put up a 4.9 WAR, which ranked third on the team behind Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin.
A big reason Harrison got his opportunity was due to the struggles in right field from Travis Snider and Jose Tabata. Heading into the season, everyone was waiting for top prospect Gregory Polanco to arrive. He did arrive in early June, and started off hot. But Polanco quickly cooled, leaving the Pirates without production from their right fielder once again. Fortunately, Travis Snider’s bat started picking up right around the time Polanco arrived in the majors.
Snider posted an .862 OPS from June 9th to the end of the season, spanning 224 plate appearances. He started getting regular playing time at the end of July. That continued in early August when Andrew McCutchen went down with a rib injury. But the bold move by Hurdle was what happened when McCutchen returned. Rather than going with Polanco, who projects to be a future star, Hurdle went with the hot hand. Snider remained the starter and Polanco was sent to Triple-A. This was all despite the fact that Snider had failed twice as the starting right fielder, and only had a small sample of success that supported him remaining in the role. The move paid off, as he finished the season with a .770 OPS after McCutchen returned. He ended up posting a 1.7 WAR, which ranked seventh among Pirates position players this year.
There were other moves that worked out for the Pirates this year, and helped them make the playoffs. For a lot of the transactions, it’s hard to tell how much of that was Hurdle and how much was Neal Huntington. The decision to give Josh Harrison regular playing time or give Travis Snider another chance probably had influence from Huntington, but those are closer to manager moves than anything else. The moves that worked for the Pirates were the call-ups of guys like Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, and John Holdzkom, which helped stabilize the rotation and the bullpen in the second half.
Of course, the main argument against Hurdle would be his handling of the rotation during the final weekend. He went with Francisco Liriano on Saturday and Gerrit Cole on Sunday in an attempt to try and win the division. That left Edinson Volquez for the Wild Card game, which didn’t work out at all. In hindsight, the moves look bad, although at the time there was a serious debate as to whether the Pirates should go for a slim chance at the division, or boot the division and save up for the Wild Card game. It might not have mattered either way in the Wild Card game with the way Madison Bumgarner pitched. Lost in all of that is the fact that the Pirates wouldn’t have even been in the playoff race if it wasn’t for Josh Harrison or Travis Snider stepping up, along with those key additions like Worley, Locke, and Holdzkom. Hurdle should get a lot of credit for these decisions, especially Harrison and Snider. These decisions are why he should win the NL Manager of the Year award for the second straight year.
Links and Notes