Pittsburgh Pirates: Derek Shelton’s Long-Term Outlook as Manager

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 14: Manager Derek Shelton #17 of the Pittsburgh Pirates walks across the field before the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on June 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 14: Manager Derek Shelton #17 of the Pittsburgh Pirates walks across the field before the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on June 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

Derek Shelton’s tenure as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates is off to a tumultuous start. Raising the question, is he the right guy for the job long-term?

During his tenure as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates I have been fairly critical of Derek Shelton and his in game decision making. A quick twitter search of “Derek Shelton @LetsTalkPit” will confirm that.

To be fair, Shelton can only manage with what he’s been given. Everyone knows that Shelton hasn’t been given all that much as he inherited the Pittsburgh Pirates at a time their roster was lacking high-end talent and the organization was embarking on an overdue rebuild.

As a manager in the American League there is a notion that all you do is fill out a lineup card. At least in the National League, the pitcher has to hit which can often see them pulled early in favor of offense.

Ultimately, the manager makes that decision. Even what a pitcher is dealing, they can be pulled for a pinch hitter because the offense is struggling to generate runs.

In assessing Shelton’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates to this point, one argument that can be made against him is that he often pulls pitchers too early. Many managers would rather pull a guy early then leave him in for one pitch too long.

Comparing someone like Gerrit Cole to Mitch Keller or Bryse Wilson is clearly something you can’t do. However, we’ve seen many occasions where pitchers surpass the 100 pitch mark. Most of those guys don’t wear the black and gold jersey with “Pittsburgh” striped across their chest.

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had many guys go deep into games this season. Their 55-92 record is evidence of that. But when they have been dealing, they aren’t usually permitted to go past the sixth inning. Pittsburgh’s 24 quality starts rank dead last in the majors this season.

In fact, only three times this season has a pitcher completed seven innings for Pittsburgh. Two of those were by Tyler Anderson who now pitches for the Seattle Mariners.

Much of that may have to do with the fact that the Pirate starting rotation simply hasn’t been that good. But in a season where the organization needs to begin weeding out those that won’t be here in the coming seasons, it would be wise to stretch out those that you’re trying to learn about. Shelton has not been inclined to do so.

However, to Shelton’s credit, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been leaps and bounds better defensively under his tutelage. Pittsburgh is currently tied for fourth in fielding percentage at .987 and has committed the least amount of errors in the league at 55.

Shortstop Kevin Newman put together a 76-game errorless streak to obliterate the pervious club record of 54, which he also owned. Center fielder Bryan Reynolds, third base Ke’Bryan Hayes and catcher Jacob Stallings all can make legitimate arguments to win a Gold Glove Award this season. Hell, one could argue those three have been the best defensive player in the National League at their positions.

For the Pittsburgh Pirates to have such a poor record and yet be a top five defensive team speaks volumes of how bad their offense and pitching has been.

Another aspect that can not be overlooked is the pride these players have despite such a poor record.

There have been numerous occasions this season where the Pirates were basically down and out of a game only to make a sensational comeback or at least make the game close. They have fought to the finish of every game regardless of the score. Granted, many of these players are fighting for an opportunity to be employed beyond the 2021 season, whether that be in Pittsburgh or else where.

Any manager who can get their players to buy in regardless of their record or the score of any given game over the course of a 162-game season deserves tons of credit. So can Shelton handle the job in a few years when the time comes for the Pirates’ current crop of prospects to graduate to Pittsburgh?

I’d like to think so.

The fact of the matter is Shelton is managing his first major league ball club. His first taste of managing an MLB team came in a COVID-shortened 60-game season. No true assessment could be made on the players, let alone the manager.

Fast-forward to the 2021 season where Shelton got to make the in-game decisions for 162 games. The results have not been much better as the Pittsburgh Pirates are on their way to finishing with either the third or fourth worst record in baseball. But the intangibles have been more noticeable.

Remember, Shelton is a former hitting coach of 11 seasons before becoming a bench coach for the Rays for two seasons. When the time comes to have a quality roster of MLB talent and not the garden variety he’s currently dealing with, Shelton can use that knowledge to make his team better.

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Many people are under the impression that Shelton is a hold over. Maybe that is the case. Only time will tell. At the very least, Shelton should be allowed another year of slack until the roster is primarily made up of the next potential MLB core. Then the true evaluation can begin.

Until then, I’d like to see the Pirates gradually get better under Shelton’s watch.