Pittsburgh Pirates: Talking Life and Baseball With Geoff Hartleib


We were lucky enough here at Rum Bunter to have Geoff Hartlieb give us some time for an interview. Get to know the Pittsburgh Pirates reliever better through this interview!

It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t exactly favorties in the National League entering the 2020 season, but there are still some good stories to talk about this year. One of the big question marks coming into this odd year was pitching, to be more specific, the bullpen and what it would have to offer. If you look at the overall numbers, the bullpen owns a 4.45 ERA and a 4.23 FIP. If you take out some obvious guys, you’re looking at a very respected bullpen.

One of those respected men in the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates is right-handed pitcher Geoff Hartlieb. This imposing figure was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss the season and a little bit about his life.

I wanted to start off the conversation asking Hatleib what kind of person he is on and off the diamond.

“Off the field, I’d say I’m a pretty laid back guy. I don’t really do much. When my wife is with me, we like to hang out around the apartment, especially with the way this year and season is going on. I like to talk with my friends from back home a lot, especially the guys I played basketball with. I love fantasy football and just got done drafting my team. I usually like to keep to myself, but when I’m on the field, I interact more, and I mess around and joke around a lot.”

One of the questions I love to ask deals with inspirations. As we all know, baseball is an inspirational sport, and each and every player has someone or something they can attest their passion for. My job was to figure out who some of the inspirations for Hartlieb were.

“Growing up right outside of St. Louis, I was a huge Cardinals fan. I’m not sure if people realize, but around that area, Cardinals baseball is everything. It all started there for me with my dad taking me to games when I was younger. Then my grandpa on my mom’s side is a huge baseball fan, and I can remember working with him as a pitcher. It was a cool way to grow up, and I’m thankful for that.”

A little side note Pittsburgh Pirates fans, even though he grew up a Cardinals fan, I forgave him, and you should too. This cat can pitch, and he can pitch well. (Back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

As I said, I think the Pittsburgh Pirates found a good one in Hartleib. In a matter of four years, he has risen through the system and has found himself a regular shut down guy in this bullpen. I wanted to know what those four years in the minors taught him and what kind of person did that minor league experience make him to be.

“I consider myself pretty lucky. Although I did play in the minors, it shorter than some guys due to the way the organization was going, and the circumstances resulted in my name getting called a little quicker than some. At times the minor league grind sucked, you know, because you hear these stories with 12-hour bus rides sharing seats sleeping for a couple of hours, then getting back to the field. You may eat McDonald’s a couple of times a day, and it’s those things that make you appreciate when you do make it.”

He mentioned to me that the Pittsburgh Pirates are doing a wonderful job with nutrition and with the housing set up in Altoona and Indy. He also mentioned to me that he made an amazing group of friends during his time in the minors. Most notably, he mentioned the 2018 Altoona team and the comradery that bullpen had to make it fun coming to the ballpark every day.

As we all know, the Coronavirus has put a halt in a ton of people’s lives, and, at times, I’m sure it was frustrating, especially for athletes. Grinding and maintaining focus had to be a priority for these guys. I wanted to know what Hartlieb’s focus was during this weird break.

“For me, the off-time was pretty big. I think a ton of guys would agree that were coming off of an injury or were injured at the time. I still wasn’t all the way there when spring training happened. I thought I was when I reported. Looking back now and feeling where my body is at, and I definitely wasn’t all the way ready to go. I’m glad I got that time, but obviously, it wasn’t ideal with the way it happened, but with that time, I could get back in the weight room and focus on my pitch development.”

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Hartleib continued, “I was getting used to pushing off my backfoot again and figuring out how to sit on my backside. It wasn’t necessarily anything pitch focus wise I was focusing on that came later once we got into summer camp, and I had that conversation with Oscar and some analytics guys. We talked about my direction and where we wanted to go. I was all over the place before throwing a four-seamer, sinker, slider, change ups, and just trying to adapt.”

Wait, there’s more!

“In the end, we boiled the conversation down to this is what we think plays the best, and that is a sinker-slider guy, and we want you to focus on that. Never think about what you’re going to be doing when you get out there. That clarity and that confidence to just make your things work has helped me a lot, and since that conversation, I’ve embraced that idea, especially with dropping the arm slot down a bit and making it move.”

Originally, Hartleib was on the taxi squad in Altoona to start the year. The main question for me dealing with that was what the organization told him originally, and was there a time frame for his call up?

“There was no time frame, more than anything; it was me making adjustments from the conversation, as I said earlier. As you know, adjustments don’t happen overnight. You know, lowering your arm slot a bit and trying to throw a slider out of a different slot than you have been for eight months previously doesn’t just click immediately. That was the reason I was given to stay down there to work on my stuff and get comfortable. They told me we’re going to keep reading the reports and talk to (Double-A pitching coach Joel) Hanrahan, so be ready because it might happen quick.”

Oscar Marin, to some people, is a breath of fresh air from the previous pitching coach Uncle Ray. From the murmurs and reports I’m reading, he is going over well with this pitching staff. To make sure I wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth and get Hartlieb’s opinion on the young pitching coach.

“I think he’s been eye-opening for a lot of guys in terms of analytics and understanding them, so they don’t scare you. He also helps you understand there are a lot of numbers and things you get caught up in. There are a couple of numbers each individual needs to focus on, and if you can keep them in check and get them where you want them to be, it equates success.”

He continued, “Oscar has been great with simplifying the process and also with the analytics not getting lost. It comes back to pitching in the end and throwing with conviction with every pitch. I think he’s done a great job of getting me to believe in my stuff as well as the rest of the coaching staff. That’s huge with younger guys coming up having someone in your ear saying, hey man, don’t do anything different just keep doing what you’re doing and be you.”

Well, we talked about the pitching coach, why not talk about the big cheese in Derek Shelton. Reports back to spring training have said this guy is a fun dude, and he’s a promising young face to lead a team. So just like the question with Oscar, I had to know what kind of manager Shelty is.

“He is a very fun guy. I’ve only had two MLB managers so far, but he and Clint are very different, and I think it’s because Shelty’s a little younger. Even his press conferences when he first got the job talking about how he waited too long to not have fun. Those aren’t just statements to the press, those are statements he says all the time. He wants to have a good time and get work done but have fun doing it.”

Hartleib continued, “It’s new and fresh for him, and it’s fun to have that perspective from your manager, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve also enjoyed the way our relationship has grown from when I first talked to him. He was talking about where he went to college in Southern Illinois, and that’s where my dad is from, and my grandparents still live there. So having that connection was nice, and I’ve enjoyed playing with him a lot.”

One of the big stats for lockdown bullpen arms is left of base percentage. Last year, Hartlieb had a rough time with it with only a 59.5% number. Now he’s at 84.8%, which is a huge upgrade and a testament to how hard he has worked to improve. So I had to ask what was the reason for his success in that department.

“I think it ties back into where guys are on the bases and making pitches. Once I started blocking out what I can’t control and boiling it down to making better pitches, it’s been better. Since I was in Double-A and they started bringing me in with guys on base to get out of innings, it’s something I’ve embraced and fallen in love with. I don’t think a lot of guys love that situation, but I honestly do. I love coming in and having to make a pitch right off the bat.”

He continued, “There’s nothing better than coming in with a couple of guys on with one or two outs and rolling a groundball to get a double play or getting out of it quickly. After that, you come back in the next inning with confidence, and I enjoy it a lot, and sometimes I think I pitch better with my back against the wall.”

Next. Reanalyzing the Marte Trade. dark

Folks, I’m happy to say the most important question for me is back, and I couldn’t be happier to present it to you. It is indeed the food question. He mentioned to me when they were in Houston last year in the clubhouse, they had some really good poke bowls. He also loved a place called Carnivore in Milwaukee, saying they have amazing steak.

This interview was an amazing experience for me because it was actually my first interview with a current MLB player. Geoff was a great guy and is super humble and likable. AND, FOR GOD’S SAKE, IT’S GEOFF, NOT JEFF DAMMIT!