Whining for a coach to be fired seems to be in vogue around western Pennsylvania these days. Expectations are always high, so whenever a team under performs, there’s almost always an immediate call for their job on the internet and on local talk shows. Penguins lose in the conference finals? Fire Bylsma and Shero. Steelers start the season 0-4? Fire everyone. Fire Art Rooney. Still, nobody seems to receive as much undeserved hate in public forums than Clint Hurdle.
When Hurdle predicted/guessed/set the target at ninety-five wins before the season started, he was mocked by many, myself included. Hurdle putting the goal at ninety-five wins for a team that hadn’t won more than eighty in the last twenty years seemed insane at the time, regardless of how good a club the Pirates may have had at the beginning of the year, it still seemed ludicrous.
Then the season started, and the Pirates went 1-5 between two series, one with the Cubs, and one with the Dodgers If the Pirates end up facing the Dodgers in the playoffs, here’s a preview from Barrys Tickets.) Suddenly everyone and their mom lost their heads, and were absolutely certain that this version of the Pirates was the same as all the rest since Sid slid.
Not so fast.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates improved in nearly every single major statistical category, compared to the 2012 edition. Team(non-pitcher) batting average climbed from .251 to .254, team OBP went from .312 to .323. The pitchers gave up fifty-two less home runs than they did over the course of the 2012 campaign. The team ERA went from eighth among N.L. teams up to third. Jordy Mercer replaced Clint Barmes, contrary to the “Hurdle only plays veterans” narrative that everyone loves (even if it contains some grain of truth).
This Pirates team improved top to bottom, first with some excellent offseason FA signings by Neil Huntington, and then by skillful management and coaching throughout the season. Did Clint Hurdle occasionally leave a pitcher in for too long, or pull a starter too early? Of course, so has every manager in the league this year.
Does he play a frustrating brand of small ball too often? Sure, but there is something to be said for taking a seventy-nine win team from the year before and turning it into a ninety-four win team. That didn’t just happen because of the additions of Frank the Tank and Russell Martin. While there may not be any verifiable statistics to show the value of a manager, the corpus of the season speaks for itself.
The Pirates finished last season by collapsing down the stretch, and they finished this year by playing .551 ball after the all-star break (compared to .403 from 2012). They spent last October at home, twiddling their thumbs, thinking about what could have been. This year, they’re in the postseason, and getting ready to play the most meaningful game in the history of PNC Park. They’re in that game because they won ninety-four games. The players obviously deserve a raucous standing ovation when they take the field Tuesday, but Clint Hurdle should hear some noise when he turns in his lineup card before the game. He’s earned it.