Platooning: During his time in Colorado, Hurdle’s hitters in most years had the platoon advantage less often than the league norm. Looking at the Rockies’ personnel year-by-year, I concluded that this had more to do with the players Hurdle had, specifically the lack of switch-hitters, the lack of hitters who were worth platooning, and the fact that Hurdle’s left-handed starters generally were stars whom nobody would have platooned.
Hurdle’s Pirate hitters had the platoon advantage 60% of the time, well above the NL average of 55%. This was better than I expected, because Hurdle operated with a number of disadvantages. He did have an everyday switch-hitter at second and a switch-hitting catcher who was available once in a while. He was also, however, severely constrained by injuries and other factors. Once Pedro Alvarez went out, he had no left-handed hitter who could play on the left side of the infield. Alvarez himself obviously wasn’t a platoon candidate, at least going into the season. Hurdle did sit him against LHPs in September . The team had no right-handed-hitting first baseman once it lost Steve Pearce, unless you count Brandon Wood, which I don’t. Pearce’s injury was especially harmful because he was hitting well at the time and Hurdle was beginning to start him at first against LHPs over the hapless Lyle Overbay.
On the plus side, Hurdle stuck very strongly to the plan to platoon Garrett Jones, to the consternation of a certain segment of the Pittsburgh media. Jones made only 15% of his plate appearances against LHPs, which was almost the sole reason for his OPS+ improving from 94 in 2010 to 107 in 2011. Similarly, Xavier Paul made only 11% of his plate appearances against LHPs. Alex Presley made over a third of his plate appearances against LHPs despite struggling badly against them (.599 OPS), but he didn’t have much of a platoon split in AAA so this made sense. Ryan Doumit made over a third of his plate appearances against LHPs despite past issues hitting right-handed and despite the team’s other catchers all hitting right-handed. It worked out, though, as Doumit had a .912 OPS against LHPs in 2011. Jones’ platoon partner, Matt Diaz, made 47% of his plate appearances against RHPs. This seems like too much, but it’s actually nearly identical to Diaz’ percentages with Atlanta in 2008 and 2010. (The Braves tried Diaz as an everyday player in 2009.) Overall, I think Hurdle did about as much as he could do to get the platoon advantage for his hitters.
Bullpen usage: In Colorado, Hurdle led the NL three straight years in "slow hooks," which the Bill James Handbook calculates using both runs allowed and innings pitched. The high totals almost certainly had something to do with Coors, where you can’t just take your starter out every time he allows three runs. Hurdle had only moderate numbers of "long outings," which are outings of 110+ pitches.
Hurdle’s first year in Pittsburgh was very different. The Pirates finished second in the NL to Washington in "quick hooks" with 58. The average was 41. Hurdle also had the fewest slow hooks (27, average was 37) and had only one long outing (the Nats had three, average was 34). This obviously wasn’t a product of a bad rotation. The Pirates had one of the league’s best rotations through the first four months and still finished 11th in starter ERA despite the rotation coming unglued in the last two months. I attribute the quick hooks to Hurdle being realistic about a staff that contained no workhorse, had limited starting experience apart from Paul Maholm, had pitchers who tended to have stretches in which they didn’t throw a lot of strikes (James McDonald and Charlie Morton), and had pitchers with possible stamina issues (Jeff Karstens and Morton). Hurdle also had two pitchers, Karstens and Kevin Correia, who had a history of getting hammered after the fourth or fifth inning. When Karstens showed he could pitch effectively later in games, though, Hurdle kept him in longer; after never reaching seven innings through the end of May, Karstens went seven or more in eight of eleven June and July starts.
Hurdle also replaced his relievers a lot, enough that he led the NL in pitching changes by a wide margin. One reason was that, other than Joel Hanrahan, the Pirates had a lot of relievers who were solid without being outstanding. With Evan Meek never getting healthy all year, the team lacked a shutdown eighth inning reliever. Jose Veras never quite locked up the role, so Hurdle tried everybody. The frantic pitching changes seemed to work. The Pirates were only 12th in the NL in bullpen ERA, but they were the fifth best at keeping inherited runners from scoring. Another possible indicator is the Handbook’s estimation of "pitching efficiency," which compares a team’s runs allowed to the number of runs its statistical components (hits, walks, HRs, etc.) suggest it should have allowed. The Pirates easily led the NL. Some of this probably resulted from the ability of some of their starters, especially Morton, to pitch successfully with high WHIPs, but it’s reasonable to conclude that some also resulted from Hurdle’s use of the bullpen.
One pitcher Hurdle specifically had a lot of success with was Dan McCutchen. Although he’d always been a starter previously, McCutchen was very effective in long relief. In fact, despite being the long reliever, McCutchen still appeared in 73 games and led the team in the number of times he pitched on consecutive days (23). Of course, this may have contributed to his late-season struggles, but it’s also possible that he just needs to get used to pitching more than once every five days. Regardless, among NL pitchers who inherited at least 30 runners, McCutchen had the sixth best "strand rate."
Hurdle also was aggressive in using Hanrahan, at least in save situations. Hanrahan was second among all closers in "tough saves" and tough save opportunities, defined by the Handbook as saves where the closer comes in with the tying run on base.
Hurdle’s lefty-righty bullpen maneuvering is hard to evaluate because he had little flexibility. For most of the year he had only one left-handed reliever and, when he had two, the second one was usually Dan Moskos, whom Hurdle didn’t appear to trust much in key spots, for good reason (like a 1.56 WHIP). Even so, Hurdle should have done a better job of keeping Joe Beimel away from right-handed hitters. Of the plate appearances against Beimel, 61% were right-handed hitters. In 2010, Beimel faced right-handed hitters only 46% of the time. Tony Watson also saw a lot of right-handed hitters (60%), but Watson has much better stuff than Beimel and he had no platoon split in 2011.
On the whole, I think the data shows that Hurdle adjusted his tactics to the personnel he had, rather than making moves according to pre-determined formulas. I also think the Pirates probably benefited from his moves, although it’s not possible to quantify that. If nothing else, his maneuvering at least left me with the impression that he was doing everything he could to win games, which often didn't seem to be the case with John Russell.
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