Clint Hurdle: Hardware Nice, But Pirates Sustainability Crucial


Clint Hurdle Pittsburgh Pirates skipper

Pittsburgh Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle managed the Bucs to a 15-win improvement in 2013.  That opens eyes.  When Hurdle arrived in Pittsburgh three years ago, the team was coming off a 57-win season.  You can do the math, you’re an intelligent fan if you landed here.

In 2012, Hurdle will be known for managing a Pirates team that went from top of the hill, to bottoming out when they finished 79-83. HOKA HEY! was the battle cry of pissed off Pirates fans.   In 2013, the team didn’t collapse and finished with a 94-win season.   The club won an NL wild-card game before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games in the National League Division Series.

Hurdle has been here before–winning the award in 2007 with Colorado, but the magic faded and he was fired in 2009.  So, how does he avoid that fate in Pittsburgh?

While most thought Hurdle would ignite the Bucs offense when he arrived in Pittsburgh, it was the opposite.  It was defense that led the turnaround behind solid pitching.  The one thing that sticks out for me with Hurdle is that while he struggles in our eyes with some of his in-game decision making and his love for Clint Barmes, the one-time SI coverboy fully embraced the defensive information from the Bucs saber department.

The NL Manager of the Year award belongs, in part, to Dan Fox.  The Buccos defense shifted 494 times in 2013.  Not the most in baseball, hell, not even the most in the National League but it nearly quadrupled their 2012 shift total according to Baseball Info Solutions.  In turn, the defensive numbers jumped to the top five in baseball.

The pitching received help from some big-time veterans including A.J. Burnett’s stellar season, a National League Comeback Player of the Year performance from Frank the Tank Liriano, and the bullpen closer tandem of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli solidified the pitching staff.

Andrew McCutchen is certainly the MVP favorite.  Russell Martin led a solid pitching staff while Pedro Alvarez tied for the NL lead in homeruns.

Hurdle has already won the Sporting News Manager of the Year. In the SN Award that was voted on by 19 of Major League Baseball skippers, Hurdle received five votes, the runner up was Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez with three and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny got one. I have no idea how the other ten votes were distributed?

So while Hurdle can be satisfied with his 2013 season, the big prize still lies ahead of him.  How can he improve on 2013?  How can he keep sprinkling the pixie dust over Pittsburgh?  Jory Rand has an interview from Hurdle’s home and we hear it’s good.  That’s a start on the offseason pixie dust.

But the big tests are going to be keeping his message relevant to the leaders in the Bucs dugout.  You thought 2013 was big?  Just think about 2014 for Clint Hurdle and the Pirates.

Can the Buccos saber department get more involved in bullpen management?  Will the team continue to dump money into the development arm of the Bucs organization that has provided the core that the team rode into the postseason.  Or will it be more about scoreboards and fluff in a budget that will be expanding with new revenues?

The questions are many, being able to sustain winning in a small market hasn’t been done consistently, well outside out of Tampa anyway.  How is Hurdle going to continue to change in order to sustain the Pirates success?

And is small market sustainability even possible in a League where the Yankees, the freaking Yankees, get how many picks in the Amateur Draft this year?

Hurdle deserves what is coming his way, but we think the next steps will be the ones that will cement Hurdle, one way or another, in Pittsburgh