The manager who manages least manages best. That's my view. If you don't share it, if you're an aficionado of smallball, what follows here won't bother you. Otherwise . . . well, the news isn't all bad.
I've been perusing the recently-published Bill James Handbook and its chapter on managers. That chapter could be subtitled, Things Not to Do Too Much. Most of the data chronicles managers' tendencies to overmanage, or at least that's how it seems from my perspective. If you survived Lloyd McClendon's frantic efforts, in his first couple years, to strategerize his way to victory, maybe you can empathize. Anyway, here's how Clint Hurdle has stacked up on the hyperactivity scale:
Sacrifice Attempts: Hurdle led the NL in sac attempts four times in his last five full seasons. As the Handbook sarcastically notes, Hurdle had to bunt a lot "because it is so difficult to score in Colorado."
Pitchouts: Hurdle led the NL in pitchouts in his last full year with 43. Prior to that, he used the pitchout with more or less average frequency. In his early years his totals were in the teens, then in the 20s for several years. This is the opposite of the trend. In fact, the Handbook shows a remarkably common pattern of longtime managers using the pitchout less and less often as their careers continued. Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland (except for 2010 for some reason), Joe Maddon, Jerry Manuel, Joe Torre, Buck Showalter, Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker all saw their pitchout usage drop dramatically, in most cases into the teens or single digits. Charlie Manuel pitched out only three times each in 2009-10. After watching McClendon (and in 2010, John Russell) frequently put their pitchers in 1-0 and 2-1 counts in situations where they were already in trouble, I'm convinced that pitchouts are almost always a bad idea. I'm also convinced that the drastic drop in usage of the tactic in the last few years is the result of managers getting feedback from their teams' statistical analysts telling them it's a bad idea.
Intentional walks: Hurdle led the NL once and had consistently high totals, topping 80 three times and ranging from 49 to 61 in his other full seasons. Totals in the 40s and 50s are common in the NL, where managers often walk the #8 hitter. Totals in the 60s typically lead the league. The book also gives the number of IBBs that led to good results, like an inning-ending DP, and IBBs that "bombed." Hurdle led the NL twice in bombs, once in good IBBs. Generally speaking, putting more runners on base in Coors Field strikes me as a very bad thing.
Stolen bases: (I had to look this up at bb-ref.) In his first four full years, Hurdle usually ordered a below average number of steals and his team was consistently below average, often well below, in success rate. This was almost certainly a product of his personnel. In 2007, he ordered an average number of steals and the success rate was above average, at 76%. In 2008, the Rockies led the NL in steals and had an outstanding success rate of 79%. This was entirely due to Willy Taveras and Kaz Matsui in 2007, and Taveras and Matt Holliday in 2008. So it appears Hurdle will let the guys run who show they can. This could be good news for Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. Of course, McCutchen already has a green light, but maybe Hurdle will encourage him to use it more often.
Slow hooks and long outings: Hurdle led the NL in slow hooks for three straight years, 2004-06. In 2007-08 he was more or less average. His totals of long outings, though, were average-ish. The Handbook defines slow hooks partly in relation to how many runs the pitcher allows, so Coors may have had more to do with the totals than pitch counts. Another factor may have been Hurdle's bullpens, which were horrendous until 2006. Hurdle in most years had somewhat young rotations, with a lot of starters in their mid-20s. Several of the team's best young starters (Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis) ended up with arm problems, so there could be some cause for concern. This is one area where Neal Huntington's mythical tendency to tell the manager how to do everything might be useful.
Platooning: This was the one area I was most curious about. The Handbook gives the percentage of ABs in which the manager's hitters had the platoon advantage. Hurdle's percentages in most years were between 47% and 51%, except 2004 (57%) and 2005 (60%). Except for 2004-05, these figures are low; the norm is somewhere between the mid-50s and about 60, and some managers have been in the 70s at times. The figures vary widely, though, as they depend heavily on personnel. Switch-hitters play an especially big role. The top "platoon" managers in 2010 were Joe Girardi, who had three switch-hitting regulars; Jerry Manuel (four regulars, two of whom missed half the year); and Joe Maddon (one regular, one semi-regular, and . . . well, he just platooned a lot).
Because I think platooning is going to be key to the Pirates' efforts to get a decent amount of offense at 1B and RF, and maybe somewhat at catcher, I looked at each of Hurdle's seasons to see what sort of personnel he had and how he used them. That'll be Part Two.