About a year ago, I made a two-part post about Clint Hurdle's managerial tendencies. News has been scarce, what with the Pirates’ efforts to add more outs to their lineup going on hold over Thanksgiving, so it seems like a good time to re-visit the subject after a year of Hurdleball in Pittsburgh.
Bunting: As I noted a year ago, Hurdle bunted a lot in Colorado, to make up for the difficulty in scoring runs in Coors. He led the NL in sacrifice bunt attempts four times in his last five full years with the Rockies. That hasn’t changed. With the Pirates, he was tied for fourth in the league, just three attempts off the league lead. The Pirates weren’t much good at it, as they finished only tied for sixth in actual sacrifices, although their total was still above league average.
The frequency of bunt attempts leads to an interesting conundrum: The 2011 Pirates were above average in sacrifices, were fourth from the bottom of the NL in on-base percentage, and struck out more than all but two other teams, 139 strikeouts above league average. Nevertheless, despite a paucity of opportunities, they somehow finished second in the league in grounding into double plays. They weren’t even a groundball hitting team, finishing eighth in the league in groundball percentage. It wasn’t because Hurdle didn’t like to start runners, either. He was just a hair below league average in having runners going with the pitch, and even that was probably because he had fewer runners to send than most teams.
So why all the GIDPs? I dunno, but it’s possible to identify the culprits. The average major leaguer grounded into a DP in just over ten percent of his opportunities. On the Pirates, Pedro Alvarez and Matt Diaz "succeeded" in 21% of their chances, Josh Harrison in 16% and Lyle Overbay in 15%. At least two of those guys are gone.
Pitchouts: Hurdle was more or less an average user of the pitchout until his last full Rockies year, when he went wild and led the league. As I noted before, the trend in MLB seems to be away from using pitchouts. Hurdle cut his pitchouts significantly in 2011, from 43 in his last full season in Colorado to 20. That was still above the NL average of 17, but it’s an improvement.
Intentional walks: Hurdle awarded lots of free bases in Colorado, since it’s so hard to for runners to score once they reach base in Coors. He continued this habit in Pittsburgh, finishing second to Fredi Gonzalez in free passes. A below average percentage of Hurdle’s intentional walks resulted in what the Bill James Handbook categorizes as "good" outcomes, 68% to 60%.
Stolen bases: In Colorado, Hurdle ran when he had the personnel and didn’t when he didn’t. With the Pirates, Hurdle seemingly had the personnel to run a moderate amount. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata appeared to have the potential to steal a lot of bases, although Tabata missed a big part of the season and his running was hampered when he came back. During the season, the team added Chase d’Arnaud, who could be a prolific base stealer if he got on base, and Alex Presley, who was a decent base stealer in the minors. On the season, Hurdle ordered 160 steal attempts, 14 more than league average. The Pirates’ success rate was 67.5%, below the league average of 72.3%. The most puzzling aspect of the Pirates’ base stealing was McCutchen making only 33 attempts, with a disappointing 69.7% success rate.
In fact, the absence of aggressive baserunning was a team-wide feature, in contrast to the type of baseball Hurdle has said he wants to foster. The Handbook ranked the Pirates 29th in baserunning, mostly due to a failure to take extra bases on hits and other events. The most disappointing player was McCutchen, whom the book rates as essentially a mediocre baserunner. The only good baserunners on the team were Neil Walker, Harrison and Presley (d’Arnaud isn’t rated), while Alvarez, Diaz and (a little surprisingly) Garrett Jones were all terrible.
Substitutions: I didn’t include this the last time around, but Hurdle's use of pinch runners and defensive substitutions says something about his preferences in bench players. John Russell seldom used either. In three years, he averaged eleven pinch runners and nine defensive substitutions. In 2011, Hurdle employed 26 and 63, respectively. His pinch runner usage was almost exactly league average. His use of defensive substitutions was well above the average of 39, and third-most in the league. It’s obvious from these usage patterns that Hurdle isn’t kidding about his desire for speed-and-defense guys on the bench. This may explain the team’s decision to ditch John Bowker for Xavier Paul. It may also explain the fascination with Pedro Ciriaco, although it still leaves the question of why Hurdle didn’t seem to realize Ciriaco was on the team.
Next up: platooning and bullpen usage, wherein the beneficial side of Hurdle’s hyperactive managing style is revealed.