With the Pirates seemingly deciding to rest on their laurels for the remainder of the off-season after their signing of Lyle Overbay sent shock waves through baseball, real news has been hard to come by. To break up the monotony, I thought I might revel a bit in past misery by rating the team’s four, post-Leyland managers. Before you even say it, yes, yes, yes, nobody could have won with the Pirates’ talent. I figured that out for myself. The ratings, as you’ll see, are often low, but I’ve tried to focus on whether the manager got the most out of what he had, not simply on whether he won. Besides, doesn’t it stand to reason that a team that’s done such a poor job of choosing players would also do a poor job of choosing managers?
Anyway, here are my totally subjective, unscientific, stat-free ratings in what seem to me to be the crucial areas of manager endeavor, on a one-to-five scale.
Game Strategy (lineups, pinch-hitting, etc., but not pitching moves)
Jim Tracy - I don't recall Tracy being especially bad at anything. He didn't bunt all that much or otherwise over-manage, and his teams had good stolen base percentages. There was that bizarre all-left-handed platoon of Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth. Grade: 4.
Gene Lamont - I also don't remember Lamont being too awful. Like all of the team's managers since Leyland, he didn't use platoons effectively and he was too hidebound to let his catcher lead off more than sporadically, which would have given the Pirates one of the best leadoff hitters of recent times. But he bunted an average amount and his teams stole bases very effectively. Grade: 3.
Lloyd McClendon - He over-managed frantically his first couple years, running the team out of inning after inning. He eventually settled down, but remained clueless about the platoon advantage. Severely damaged the team's interests by pushing Jason Kendall and Aramis Ramirez to play hurt. Loses mega-points for mistaking Abe Nunez for Manny Mota. Grade: 1.
John Russell - Just awful. Clueless about the platoon advantage. Didn't bunt any more excessively than most managers, but did so at bizarre times, like with an extremely weak hitter on deck. Sometimes failed to use his best pinch-hitters ("best" being a relative term) in crucial middle inning situations so he could save them for big ninth-inning rallies that never occurred. The infamous Sean Gallagher no-pinch-hitter incident was one of the stupidest managerial decisions not made by Grady Little. Grade: 1.
Lamont - I'm saving "Handling Rookies" for a separate rating, so Lamont does OK here. There were no particularly glaring issues that I can recall. Grade: 4.
Russell - There wasn't really much choice, as his teams were set up with younger players as regulars and washed-up veterans on the bench. There were few real decisions, although he at least gave full-time chances to McLouth and Ryan Doumit. Grade: 4.
McClendon - Overrated Tike Redman and underrated Craig Wilson. He did manage to get about as much out of Rob Mackowiak as could be expected, using him to fill different holes at different times. Dave Littlefield stuck him with some serious problems, like Raul Mondesi and Benito Santiago, and a chronic lack of a major league second baseman, none of which he could help. Grade: 3.
Tracy - Preferred Joe Randa to Freddy Sanchez. Wanted to replace Jack Wilson with Cesar Izturis. Benched a red-hot McLouth for Nyjer Morgan. Buried Craig Wilson at a time when he was still productive. Too bad the rules won't let me give less than a "1." Hey, wait, they're my rules! Grade: 0.
McClendon - Possibly because of the trauma of seeing his rotation vanish with a puff of smoke in his first training camp, thanks to Lamont, McClendon was very careful with his starters. He also made a serious effort to get the starter out quickly once he started struggling. Grade: 5.
Russell - Was fine with pitch counts, probably thanks to Neal Huntington's mythical meddling. Routinely left struggling starters in until after it was too late and the game was blown. This especially hurt Jeff Karstens and James McDonald in 2010. Often let winnable games get away due to his obsession with conserving the bullpen. Grade: 2.
Lamont - A shredder of arms. Abused Kris Benson, Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova, with disastrous results. Habitually left struggling starters in too long, blowing games unnecessarily and creating health risks. Grade: 1.
Lamont - Rarely had established relievers but generally had decent bullpens. Had surprising success with guys like Rich Loiselle, Mike Williams, Brad Clontz and Scott Sauerbeck. More or less did what Huntington has been trying to do. Grade: 5.
McClendon - Had very little to work with at times. Got good, even great, results from reclamation projects with Salomon Torres and Brian Meadows. Was slow to recognize what he had in Mike Gonzalez. Gets bonus points for using Julian Tavarez as multi-inning closer when he found himself with no other effective relievers. Grade: 4.
Tracy - Generally did OK, but overused Torres and Matt Capps, leading to arm problems in both cases. Grade: 2.
Russell - Clueless about the platoon advantage. Left starters in too long to conserve bullpen while at the same time wasting relievers by refusing to let anybody except the designated long man go beyond one inning. Grade: 1.
Handling Rookies (or young players generally)
Tracy - He didn't hesitate to play rookies like Morgan, Capps and Ronny Paulino. He just made some bad choices about which ones. Grade: 4.
McClendon - Started off fine when he put Ramirez in the lineup and left him there, but grew rookie-phobic as his job became less secure. Jerked Ryan Doumit around ridiculously and refused to play September callups. Grade: 1.
Lamont - Made no secret of the fact that he hated playing rookies. Acted like a martyr when he was forced to play Ramirez and Chad Hermansen. Did everything he could to undermine Ramirez, platooning him with future Yankee mascot Luis Sojo and going all the way to Puerto Rico to ask Wil Cordero to play third. Couldn't have been a less appropriate choice to manage a rebuilding team. Grade: 1.
McClendon - Didn't dump on players in the press, stood up for them with umpires and Tony LaRussa. Probably learned a lot from Leyland. Bonus points for stealing first. Grade: 5.
Lamont - Whined about players, especially rookies, to media. Seemed more interested in what players couldn't do than what they could. Grade: 2.
Russell - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Grade: 1.
Tracy - Got off to bad start by bragging endlessly about the great success of his high-payroll, mostly underperforming LA teams. Seemed to think he invented the idea of winning with pitching, defense and timely hitting. Took credit when things (on rare occasions) went right, pointed the finger when they didn't. Threw players under the bus, like when Doumit made an error in his first game ever at first base. Team seemed to quit on him in second half of his last season. Grade: 1.
I'm not going to give overall grades, but it should be pretty obvious I think McClendon was the least bad of the four. Tracy had some good qualities but canceled them out with huge negatives. Lamont and Russell were terrible.