Clint Hurdle is Mismanaging the Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen
By Marty Leap
Despite being off to a hot start, the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen continues to be a sore spot for the club
The good news is that the Pittsburgh Pirates are 6-2, the bad news is that the team’s bullpen has its fair share of issues right now. Even worse news is how poorly Clint Hurdle is managing the team’s bullpen.
Eight games into the season the Pittsburgh Pirates rank 12th in the National League in bullpen ERA (5.67) and FIP (4.07) and 14th in both walk rate (5.40 BB/9) and strikeout rate (7.56). A lot of these poor numbers stem from two things, though. The poor pitching of Dovydas Neverauskas and Josh Smoker, and one horrific outing each from Michael Feliz and Felipe Rivero.
While the Pirate bullpen is far from the most talented bullpen they have had in recent years, it is still better than the overall results. Right now the bullpen’s biggest issue is Clint Hurdle mismanaging it and this was on full display in Saturday night’s 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
For some unknown reason, Hurdle continues to go to Neverauskas and Smoker in high-leverage situations in middle relief. As a result, the Pirates’ middle relief has been a mess. This has caused games that should have been easy victories to be close, while also costing the Pirates a victory last night.
Going to Neverauskas in the 6th inning with a 4-2 lead was a mistake form the start. Leaving him in the game after the Reds had loaded the bases was an even bigger mistake, and it burnt the Pirates when Eugenio Suarez laced a game-tying 2-run single to left field off of Neverauskas.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have allowed 39 earned runs this season. 26 percent of these runs (10/39) have either been charged to Neverauskas or were inherited runners that Neveruaskas or Smoker allowed to score.
It’s not like the Pirates do not have other options, either. While the bullpen definitely needs some retooling, Hurdle could, and should, go to Edgar Santana or Tyler Glasnow in middle relief spots to help bridge the gap to the back of the bullpen. Hell, just look at Thursday night when Santana cleaned up the 6th inning by inducing a pair of weakly hit groundballs.
Both Santana and Glasnow have far superior stuff to Neverasukas and Smoker, and both have looked much more confident and composed on the mound this year. This was something that both of them lacked last season, but no longer appears to be an issue.
Furthermore, Santana and Glasnow are heavy strikeout pitchers. So, when the Pirates are in a position where they need swings and misses from the bullpen these two would be much better options for Hurdle to use.
When asked about moving Glasnow to higher leverage situations on Thursday Hurdle dismissed this notion. Sigh. The reason he dismissed it is because he claims Glasnow is still getting used to his current bullpen role so changing it on him would be ludicrous.
Managers being married to bullpen roles will be the death of me. It will also be the death of many managerial careers. You need to use your best relievers in your highest leverage situations, and the Pirates are not doing this. In fact, in the first high leverage situations of the game Hurdle is going to two of his worst relievers first.
The top of the 8th inning last night was also mismanaged by Hurdle. Do not get me wrong, with his track record, including what he did with the Pirates last year, George Kontos has earned the right to be trusted in high leverage situations. He also was the victim of awful luck last night as a weakly hit groundball single by Tucker Barnhart and an infield single by Billy Hamilton that would have been a 4-3 put out off the bat of any other hitter in baseball is what gave the Reds runners on the corners with just one out.
Once the Reds had set up shop in the 8th inning it was time to make a change. Not because of anything Kontos had done wrong, but because the game was tied in the top of the 8th inning with the go-ahead run 90 feet away making this the highest leverage situation the game had seen. In the game’s highest leverage situation a manager should go to their best reliever, but Hurdle left Felipe Rivero in the bullpen. This led to Kontos getting a line out before allowing a 3-run home run to Suarez that would prove to be the game winner for Cincinnati.
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Despite his poor outing last night, and a poor outing from Feliz and Rivero on Opening Day, the Pirates have a strong back end of the bullpen. In most instances if they can hand a lead to these three guys the Pirates will be victorious. However, Hurdle needs to do a better job of bridging the gap between the starting pitchers and these three.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Hurdle, like most Major League managers, is married to bullpen roles. Michael Feliz will pitch the 7th inning and 7th inning only, George Kontos the 8th inning and 8th inning only, and Felipe Rivero will only be used in save situations or in the 9th inning of a tied game at home. Mismanaging the bullpen in this way cost the Pirates a victory last night and it will cost them more victories this season if it continues.