Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle might be the most frustrating part of this organization. From his love of bunting to his lack of coaching fundamentals, it’s a love-hate-love affair with the current Bucco skipper for many.
However, there are a ton of positive sides to Hurdle which has made him a fan favorite and frequent manager of the year candidate for many years.
There are games when I can talk to friends of mine and say, “Wow, Hurdle made some great moves today and he works a bullpen like no one’s business.” Then, there are games where I angrily tell those same friends, “I can’t believe that Hurdle can’t teach a situation well enough to not steal third base with two outs and your best hitters coming up to bat.”
We’ve seen both of these situations recently, both of them in the Pirates’ Sunday loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 16 innings. The amazing feat here is the Pirates bullpen is flat out the best in all of Major League Baseball. They came in to the game after Charlie Morton pitches seven innings and don’t give up a single run all the way until the 16th.
In that same time frame, the Pirates had numerous chances to score the game-winning run. In the bottom of the eighth, Marte had a bunt single followed by a Jordy Mercer sacrifice bunt. The D-Backs intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen and with only one out, Russell Martin strikes out swinging.
For some reason, Marte takes off for third on the third strike to Martin. Of course, he gets caught stealing and it ends the threat. It’s the manager’s job to instruct his players when to steal, when to not steal and when they have an open green light. Some players, like Marte and McCutchen may have an open green light all of the time; however, Marte had absolutely no reason to steal third and that is on the manager and his coaches to stop these things from happening.
Does anyone really think that Marte would not score on a simple single to anywhere in the outfield, especially with two outs? We are talking about one of the fastest guys in all of baseball and he’s worried about his ability to score from second on a single? Most people can say that he did this on his own and that’s probably true, but he absolutely should not have taken off for third base in any circumstance besides trying to get to third with less than two outs.
If I’m not mistaken, this also happened earlier in the week. Since this is an opinion column, I will tell you exactly what Hurdle needs to do: he needs to instruct his youngest players of all situations before it happens so they stop making some of the horrible mistakes they are making. It’s very true that you can’t read the mind of these players and the manager’s mind might be elsewhere, but he also has a bench coach, hitting coach and base coaches who can help, too.
Most of these lessons come from the early days of the season in spring training. That’s where you start to instill these thoughts into players heads and the early games is where you are supposed to stop these mistakes from happening. Younger players always seem to make mistakes, but they learn from them as well.
This is not to say that Hurdle is a bad manager because there are times where he looks like an absolute genius. How many games have the Pirates won because of his managing situations better than the other guys? How many players have found success based on his teaching them to learn from their mistakes? We don’t know.
There are however, many times when Hurdle relies on “the usual situations” in baseball to try to generate a run. The leadoff guy gets on base, the next guy up bunts him into scoring position. In the earlier situation with Marte getting on base and Mercer bunting him over with McCutchen, Martin and Pedro Alvarez due up, Hurdle may have chosen to allow Mercer to hit (3 for 4 at the time) and if he did get a hit, it would possibly be first and third with no outs and the best three hitters coming up.
Instead, Mercer bunts Marte over and it allowed the D-Backs to intentionally walk McCutchen. This has a negative effect on the team because now, you are in a double-play situation with a guy who is prone to them. If Martin gets called out for whatever reason, you are bringing up Pedro against a lefty with two outs.
Maybe in this case, Hurdle shouldn’t just think of the current situation with Marte on first and bunting him over with Mercer but instead, think ahead of what type of situation could happen if the “usual” is carried out. I believe for the Pirates to finally end their 20-year stretch of futility and make a real run at the World Series, it will be put on the manager to think through each situation because that’s his job.
Hurdle could be a mad genius and he’s shown that he can make those types of decisions, but he has also stuck to his usual method. He needs to re-think these things before it drives all Pirates fans simply mad.