In his time as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Clint Hurdle helped turn a laughing stock into a powerhouse. Since the 98-win 2015 campaign, however, the team has spiraled in mediocrity, and unless things turn around in September, the 2018 season should be Hurdle’s last behind the PNC Park third base dugout.
Nobody deserves more credit for the Pirates’ success from breaking the streak in 2013 to Jake Arietta’s masterpiece in the 2015 National League Wild Card Game than Clint Hurdle.
The man came into Pittsburgh seven years ago with a goal to reestablish a bond between a city and its baseball team, and although he’s never led the Bucs to postseason glory, he unquestionably resurrected that connection. Every manager has a shelf life, however, and Hurdle might well be reaching the end of his.
He’s nearing the end of his eighth season with the Pirates, and only three other skippers, all in the American League, have spent as much time with one team. Since Pittsburgh hasn’t had much success recently, it might well be time for the Pirates front office to make a change.
While Hurdle has gotten a share of the blame for the Pirates consistent mediocrity, the bulk of it still belongs to the front office. While general manager Neal Huntington made plenty of mistakes in 2016 and 2017, as far as this season goes, he has done his job well.
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Over the past year, Huntington pulled off the heist of the offseason by acquiring Corey Dickerson for Daniel Hudson, made the best of the Andrew McCutchen trade by getting Kyle Crick, parted with top prospects to acquire Chris Archer and Keone Kela and discovered a hidden gem in Richard Rodriguez. So while one could argue Pirates managements’ failures in the previous two seasons has had a lasting effect, Huntington has done a lot to make the 2018 team better and give Hurdle a competent roster to work with.
The problem is, I don’t think Hurdle has made the most of the talent at his disposal.
It’s impossible to tell exactly how effective a manager is from the outside. So much of Hurdle’s job is based on things that go beyond lineup cards and in-game decisions, and his greatest asset has been his ability to connect with his players. Hurdle is, by all accounts, a good man who cares about the team beyond what they do on the field. This advanced loyalty, or possibly his stubbornness, however, could be turning into his downfall.
It seems that every year, there is at least one player that Hurdle hangs his hat on regardless of how poorly they’re performing. It started with pre-2014 Josh Harrison, peaked with Sean Rodriguez, and had a little dose of John Jaso in the middle. The problem might not be so much that Hurdle is too loyal, but could be more so that when Hurdle knows the masses want him to do something, his ego tells him to do the opposite. While managers can’t let themselves be dictated by public decision, from a distance, it looks as if Hurdle tries too hard to affirm that he is in charge, regardless of how much sense the “outsiders” make.
Whether it’s loyalty or stubbornness that drives Hurdle’s decision making is impossible to tell from the outside, but in any case, it’s hard to dispute that Hurdle not putting the best nine players on the field all the time has hurt this team tremendously not only in 2018, but for the future. How much better would the Pirates record be if Adam Frazier was getting at-bats over Rodriguez, or if Kevin Newman was starting more often than Adeiny Hechavarria? It might not make the Pirates a playoff team, but it’s hard to imagine that they would be worse.
Clint Hurdle will always be remembered positively in Pittsburgh, but with the team nearing a third-straight losing season, something needs to change. Although last year’s contract extension puts the organization in a bit of a bind, it shouldn’t stop the Pirates from showing Hurdle the door.