I was thinking about Neal Huntington’s history with the Pirates yesterday. Regardless of your opinion about his current work, you’re not being objective if you say that he has never done a good job, or that the 2013-15 seasons were somehow just lucky.
I started this site in 2009, and tracked that first rebuild under Huntington very closely. It was clear that the Pirates had a plan to get back to contending, even if it took five seasons to get there. You also understood why it took so long when the team started at the bottom in both the majors and the minors.
The plan was largely what you saw from other successful small market teams. Build up your farm system. Rely on young talent. Hoard that young talent as much as you can to keep your window of contention open for as long as possible. Find competitive edges on and off the field that might be better investments than one expensive player. Find value in cheaper players to get impact production at a fraction of the price.
It makes sense why he had this strategy. He came from the Cleveland Indians, who were a successful small market team implementing this same strategy for years. He became a GM and rebuilt during a time when Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Minnesota were showing that you could be a small market team and still have sustained success in the majors. He built the Pirates up in that same way, and it looked like they might be the next small market team in line.
Then, right in the middle of that run, the league changed. I’ve talked about a lot of the on-field changes — hitters optimizing their swing path and pitchers adjusting their pitch usage, spin rates, and tunneling, for example — but the changes impacting Huntington happened off the field.
The big market teams in baseball got smarter during this time. Instead of throwing money at the most established players and foolishly hoping for peak production during their declining years, they started throwing money at the top executives. The Dodgers, who had more money than any other team, added Andrew Friedman from the Rays, getting the guy who had success with the team who had the least money.
Big market teams started operating in the same way that Huntington and other small market GMs operated to build their teams up. The key difference? The big market teams had the money to add impact players to those teams when they were built, keep their own stars, and keep the window open as long as possible. It’s the same approach, just done with money, and that led to a need for a new approach for the small market teams.
That new approach sucks. It requires you to tank and have horrible performance for several years, all in the hopes of a few years of being a true contender and having a shot at a World Series.
Gone are the days where you could fleece a stupid big market team of a lot of their top talent for a rental or a declining player. Gone are the days where you can get a guy like Edinson Volquez for $5 M, or J.A. Happ for Adrian Sampson, and watch them put up top of the rotation results. The big market teams are now run by people who are identifying those same players, and they can outbid you with additional money you don’t have, or prospects they really don’t need.
The worst approach today is sticking to the status quo from a few years ago. It’s why Huntington’s comments this weekend about finding another Volquez or Happ type pitcher for the 2020 rotation are concerning. Even if you can find those pitchers now for a price the Pirates could pay, and even if they work out, you’re still building a team largely based on the majority of reclamation projects and prospects playing above expectations.
Huntington commented on his radio show this weekend about the odds of a team expected to go .500 ending up in a 4-24 stretch. Lost in all of the jokes about 8 out of 10,000 is the concerning revelation that the Pirates might think a team projected for .500 can be a contender. When they were contending, they were projected for around .500, and finished much higher due to so many high upside guys on the roster who worked out.
Nothing in their recent history has shown they’re capable of the same success. That’s due to a combination of things, starting with the league changes on the field that they haven’t adapted to, but also largely because of the changes in the front offices that set the bar higher if you want to contend. The approach by the Pirates the last few years gets them exactly where they’ve been — slightly above .500 but out of the playoffs when it all works out, just below .500 when it doesn’t, and near the bottom of the league when things are a disaster.
There was a time when Huntington drove to Clint Hurdle’s house in the offseason and discussed how the Pirates needed to change to match the times. If they stick around, that same type of meeting needs to happen this offseason. Huntington came up with a small market team that had success under an old system, and he had success here under that same system. He now needs to change to match the times.
If that doesn’t happen, the Pirates need to find someone from one of the current top front offices to come in and implement the current best ways to contend as a small market team. Either way, a change needs to be made. Because the Pirates are treating this like it’s still 2013-15, and it’s definitely a new league now.
Indianapolis has 14 games left. They trail by 11 games in the division and 8.5 games in the wild card.
Altoona has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Bradenton has 13 games left. They trail by 11 games in the division. They can be eliminated as early as today. I’ll note that MiLB has them eliminated already, but that’s an error. Their elimination number is two.
Greensboro has 15 games left. They trail by six in the division and they are 2.5 games back for the second best record, which could possibly get them a playoff spot.
Morgantown has 13 games left. They lead by a 1/2 game in the division.
Bristol has 9 games left. They are tied for first place, 1/2 game ahead of the third place team. Two teams make the playoffs in each division.
GCL Pirates have been eliminated from the playoffs.
DSL Pirates1 have been eliminated from the playoffs.
DSL Pirates2 have clinched a playoff spot
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 13-0 to the Washington Nationals on Monday night. They will send out Chris Archer for his 23rd start. He gave up three runs over five innings in his last start, which followed two runs over six innings on August 9th against St Louis. Archer piled 19 strikeouts over those 11 innings. One of his best starts this season came against Washington back in mid-April when he allowed one run over seven innings. The Nationals will counter with veteran right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who has a 3.82 ERA in 158 innings, with 185 strikeouts and a 1.09 WHIP. He has had a rough August, posting an 8.31 ERA over 17.1 innings in his three starts combined. Strasburg did not face the Pirates when the two teams met back in April.
The minor league schedule includes Noe Toribio going for Greensboro, trying to get back on track after a tough inning in his last start. Toribio tossed six no-hit innings on August 10th, then followed that up with three no-hit frames to begin his next outing. Things fell apart in the fourth and he couldn’t get out of the inning, giving up three runs before getting knocked out of the game. Santiago Florez had his worst start of the season for Bristol last time out. He gave up five runs over 4.1 innings, while facing the same team he will see tonight. Aaron Shortridge goes for Bradenton. He ranks first in the Florida State League with 124.2 innings pitched, fifth with a 1.12 WHIP, and seventh with a 3.18 ERA.
First round pick Quinn Priester should be getting the start this afternoon for the GCL Pirates. He has a 3.21 ERA in 28 innings, with a 1.21 WHIP and 34 strikeouts. Alex McRae allowed six runs on ten hits in four innings during his last start. Those were his highest totals since allowing six runs on 11 hits back on April 17th. It wouldn’t be surprising to see McRae get called up, since the Pirates needed seven bullpen innings yesterday and he can give them innings. So he might not get the start. Morgantown is on their All-Star break until Thursday. They are sending four players to the NYPL All-Star game. Altoona hasn’t named a starter yet (UPDATE: Beau Sulser is now listed as their starter).
MLB: Pittsburgh (51-73) vs Nationals (68-56) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Chris Archer (5.23 ERA, 141:55 SO/BB, 118.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (61-65) @ Toledo (58-68) 6:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (5.15 ERA, 86:38 SO/BB, 101.1 IP)
AA: Altoona (63-63) vs Hartford (65-59) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Beau Sulser (2.56 ERA, 54:24 SO/BB, 81.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (67-58) @ Palm Beach (54-67) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Aaron Shortridge (3.18 ERA, 96:24 SO/BB, 124.2 IP)
Low-A: Greensboro (73-51) @ Delmarva (83-41) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Noe Toribio (3.92 ERA, 18:8 SO/BB, 20.2 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (34-27) @ Auburn (21-40) 7:00 PM 8/22 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
Rookie: Bristol (29-29) @ Bluefield (28-30) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Santiago Florez (4.15 ERA, 23:19 SO/BB, 30.1 IP)
GCL: Pirates (14-30) vs Twins (28-16) 12:00 PM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates1 (31-36) vs Red Sox2 (30-37) 10:30 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (52-15) vs Colorado (27-40) 10:30 AM (season preview)
From Indianapolis on Sunday, Christian Kelley with the walk-off winner
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) August 19, 2019
Ke’Bryan Hayes had the big hit, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth with a three-run homer
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 18, 2019
From Saturday night in Indy, Mitchell Tolman with a web gem
Web gem nominee. 👀 pic.twitter.com/lWQwQzUUdn
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) August 18, 2019
8/19: Cole Tucker optioned to Indianapolis.
8/18: Pirates add Montana DuRapau to roster.
8/18: Elvis Escobar activated from Altoona injured list. Tom Koehler placed on injured list.
8/17: Nick Mears promoted to Altoona. Cody Bolton placed on Altoona injured list. Ryan Valdes added to Bradenton.
8/17: Colin Selby placed on Greensboro injured list. Oliver Garcia promoted to Greensboro.
8/16: Pirates release Jake Brentz. Mitchell Tolman and Darnell Sweeney promoted to Indianapolis.
8/16: Adrian Valerio and Jesse Medrano promoted to Altoona. Chase Lambert and Raul Siri added to Bradenton roster.
8/16: Pirates recall Cole Tucker. Geoff Hartlieb optioned to Indianapolis.
8/15: Kevin Kramer placed on Indianapolis injured list.
8/14: Pirates sign Francis Olantilo.
8/14: Osvaldo Bido placed on Bradenton injured list.
8/14: John Bormann retired.
8/13: Pirates sign Isaias Dipre.
8/13: Nicholas Economos assigned to Bradenton.
8/13: Tom Koehler assigned to Altoona. Francisco Cervelli assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
8/12: Pirates recall Mitch Keller. Richard Rodriguez placed on injured list.
8/11: Pirates release Tyler Lyons. Cody Ponce promoted to Indianapolis.
8/11: Clay Holmes activated from injured list. Parker Markel optioned to Indianapolis.
8/11: Francisco Cervelli assigned to Altoona on rehab.
8/11: Rookie Davis assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
8/10: Mariano Dotel assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades of note. We start with the trades and the first happened in 1913, involving two key members from the 1909 club. The Pirates traded away third baseman Bobby Byrne and pitcher Howie Camnitz for third baseman Cozy Dolan and cash. Before 1913, Camnitz had a 110-67 record for the Pirates, but he was 6-17 at the time of the trade. Byrne was covered yesterday, when he was acquired almost exactly four years before he was traded away. This deal was more of a financial deal for the Pirates, who got rid of two higher salaries and got money back. Dolan hit .203 in 35 games for the Pirates, then was traded away over the off-season.
On this date in 1981, the Pirates and Expos swapped first basemen, with John Milner going to Montreal and Willie Montanez coming back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates ended up getting Milner back in 1982, which was after they released Montanez, and Milner was released by Montreal.
Former players born on this date include:
Al Lopez, Hall of Fame manager, who was also an All-Star catcher. He played seven seasons in Pittsburgh from 1940 until 1946, making the All-Star team in 1941. Lopez is better known for his managerial career, but his 52.2% caught stealing rate behind the plate is the fourth best all-time. His 1,918 games caught stood as a record for over 40 years.
Matt Hague, The Hit Collector collected 16 hits for the 2012 Pirates and none for the 2014 squad.
Bull Smith, outfielder for the 1904 Pirates. Played 13 late season games as a rookie for the Pirates during that 1904 season, then played just two more Major League games in his career, one in 1906 and another five years later.
Robert Gibson, pitcher for the 1890 Alleghenys. He was 0-3, 17.25 in three starts for the team. In one game, he couldn’t finish the outing even with the Alleghenys putting 17 runs on the board for him. They ended up losing 23-17 that day.