November 14, 2010

Clint Hurdle Hired

The Pirates got their man today, hiring Clint Hurdle to be their new manager. The news will be officially announced at a press conference tomorrow. He had been offered a second interview for the Mets job but apparently preferred the bird in hand.

This is great news for Pirates fans. Hurdle is well known as a great teacher of young hitters, and he should be great for the Walker/McCutchen/Tabata/Alvarez group. Hurdle's approach stresses plate discipline, something all those hitters but McCutchen need to improve. For example, the 2009 Rangers finished 12th in the American League in walks and first in strikeouts. Hurdle took over as hitting coach in 2010 and the Rangers finished eighth in walks and 11th in strikeouts. The result was adding 18 more points of on base percentage and an improvement from seventh to fourth in runs scored.

The Pirates offense needs to get much better at walking as well. The Pirates drew only 453 walks in 2010, an unacceptably low number that ranked 15th in the National League. McCutchen was the only player who batted more than 40 times with an on base percentage above .350. But the regular players were all under 30, and all are capable of walking more. For example, Alvarez is always going to strike out a lot, but that would be fine if he's walking a lot too. Ronny Cedeno struck out 106 times and walked 23 times. Does his eight home run power justify hacking at every pitch? It is much easier for a hitter to improve his walk rate than to improve his power or contact. Clint Hurdle can help these hitters to do that. By all accounts he is a tremendously hard worker who will work with each hitter individually to get the most out of their talents.

Clint Hurdle also has experience in making the World Series with a team that isn't very good. That's going to be really key in Pittsburgh too. Check out the lineup the Rockies fielded in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series:

Wily Taveras cf
Kazuo Matsui 2b
Matt Holliday lf
Todd Helton 1b
Garrett Atkins 3b
Brad Hawpe rf
Troy Tulowitzki ss
Yorvit Torrealba c
Ryan Spilborghs dh
Jeff Francis p

Now obviously there are three stars in Holliday, Helton and Tulowitzki, but who are the rest of these guys? Atkins and Hawpe could only hit when Clint Hurdle was managing them, and the rest could never hit. Jeff Francis is your ace pitcher for a pennant winning team? Hurdle had to be doing something right to win 21 of 22 games and reach the World Series with this crew.

Obviously, John Russell was not the reason the Pirates have been a bad team recently. Nevertheless I am quite happy to have Clint Hurdle on board. It's a step forward for the entire Pirates organization.

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