Pittsburgh Pirates – That One Burning Question
By Tom Smith
Oct 3, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates playerAndrew McCutchen
attends game two of the 2014 ALDS playoff baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
As the Pittsburgh Pirates get one day closer to 2015 spring training, there is something I still wonder about regarding that wild 2014 Pirates season. During the final Neal Huntington radio show, host Greg Brown asked the Buc GM a straight forward question. It almost seemed like a question Jack Berry would ask during the famously rigged Quiz Show because Huntington immediately pounced on it.
The question was so simple in it’s core.
Brown asked ‘So if the players want to win the division, then that’s the way you need to play?’ Huntington immediately answered as follows and, no, it’s not an exact quote, but it’s not exactly chemical engineering Huntington is talking about. Huntington’s answer went something really, really close to this…’It’s an important part of it. The voice was nearly unanimous about wanting to win the division. From players, (he rattled off all the people involved–non players/coaches)…about as unified a decision as we have had.
Oct 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates managerClint Hurdle
(13) shakes hands with players during introductions prior to the 2014 National League Wild Card playoff baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
So in essence, the Pirates decided, as a group, to throw the dice at the craps table on wining the division. But in order to win that bet, the team was relying on others around that craps table. Huntington said punting wasn’t an option, the team wanted the division. So I just wonder…no, perhaps the better way to phrase what I am thinking is…. the burning question that must be answered for me, is this one. Who were those people in the Pirates organization that were in the minority?
I think they were the smartest people. In my gut, I know they were.
Long ago, Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus took apart the myths about relying on short term memory. The article tore deep into the playoff teams from 1995 to 2008 and how well they performed during the last week, the last two weeks, three, and even final month, of the season. Jaffe found nothing to prove that a team that was hot in September could play better in a divisional series game.
Huntington mentioned that the analytics were minimal in the situation. I believe he said that ‘human analytics’ were involved. I think everyone understands that part of it.
Oct 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcherTony Sanchez
(26) plays with a soccer ball in the outfield before playing the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 National League Wild Card playoff baseball game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The MLB one game playoff is the ultimate crap shoot without the good odds. A freaking toss of the coin that decides everything. The Pirates wanted to avoid it. Winning the division is the goal. It was, and always will be, the way out. If there is a reasonable chance at the division, I completely understand going for it. I hate the Wild Card shit. But avoiding what is really, really…really likely to happen, then that is like not shifting on a deadly pull hitter.
That makes me feel like the smartest, the most realistic people in the Pirates organization wanted to set up for the second consecutive NL Wild Card game at PNC Park. Or even the head-to-head match up against the Cardinals for the NL Central that would have happened on Monday. To me, the NL Central wasn’t lost on the final game of the year. It was lost when the Pirates needed other teams to help. Simply, that’s hoping to win the Division. Hope sucks.
So anyway, the Bucs shoved all of their chips on the final game of the season. Gerrit Cole pitched great. But the Bucs still lost to Johnny Cueto. The bet was lost.
Or in a more he-man analysis of the situation, the Pirates didn’t punt. The Pirates, using the word of Neal Hutington didn’t “punt” on the concept of winning the NL Central. In my opinion the Pirates went for it on fourth-down-and 98. The odds of winning the NL Central on the final day were maybe two percent. The Bucs seemed to think it was a coin flip and they are a lot smarter than I am. So maybe it was fourth-down-and-50 then.
Oct 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (13) address the media before playing the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 National League Wild Card playoff baseball game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The decision is over. I get it. But still. I want to know who the people in the organization were that wanted to punt and play defense.
So let’s say the perfect roll of the dice happened. Who would have pitched against the St. Louis Cardinals with the division on the line? That is a another, slightly less burning question I still have. Would it have been Jeff Locke? Wow.
So the Pirates probably still don’t beat Madison Bumgarner. Even if they had Gerrit Cole pitching, or even if the best MLB postseason pitcher of all time was pitching. Everyone gets that. But I wanted to see Cole pitch in a game that he knew would send him surfing if he lost it. Gerrit Cole is my guy. One day I will tell you about how the BAMF spent his All-Star break, but right now I just wonder what might have been. All I know is that I didn’t want Cole pitching against the Reds on the last day of the season in a game that doesn’t end the season. I want Cole firing in the game at PNC Park that can send a record crowd home pissed off, hanging their heads, and……wondering what if…..yeah…wondering sucks. I hate the word wondering.
Decisions are made every day that impact businesses, non-profit organizations, and sports teams. The Pirates have a unique way in which they make decisions. It sounds like a democracy of sorts. But in these important situations, the smartest people have the most difficult time expressing their reasons for differing with the majority. In military organizations, after a big decision is made an (AAR) after action review is held. As you know, the Pirates based their rebuild around some of the concepts of military organizations and training (HOKA HEY MOTHERF##KER! ) So it would seem foolish of them to not review the rotation construction down the stretch.
During an AAR, the organizations talk about the decision they made, and what they might have done differently. What went right, what went not so right, and the possible reasons why. So after the cruise missile known as a blowout loss to end the 2014 season, I wonder if the Pirates bothered to speak with the people who thought differently about how how the rotation was set, how the decision was made to not punt.
Oct 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2014 National League Wild Card playoff baseball game at PNC Park. The Giants won 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
I wonder if Neal Huntington looks back on those people that said “nay” to starting Cole in Cincy and looks at their opinions on other important topics–player acquisition, metrics, bullpen usage, Russell Martin bunting in the Wild Card game and other decisions that were made during the 2014 season.
I wonder if the Pirates encourage the thoughts of those who think differently…to you know, think differently more often.
I wonder when those people that think differently, and are proven correct, will be in charge.
Or maybe more accurately, I wonder when those people will be in charge somewhere else.