Should Clint Hurdle Be Manager Of The Year?

MLB Trade Rumors indicates that Clint Hurdle is "probably the favorite to win the NL Manager of the Year." If the Pirates finish the year with a winning record, I'd say that will almost certainly happen, and I'll probably be fully behind it.

There is danger in overreacting to a half-season's worth of games. A lot of my recent posts here have sounded really cheery, and that makes sense, given that these last couple weeks have been very kind to Pirates fans. But there's always the chance that the Pirates will have a rough month, and then all of this will look silly.

For that reason, I want to reserve the right to be annoyed with Hurdle later. His tactical game is, at times, really bad, and my immediate impression of him when I saw him speak at PirateFest was really, viscerally negative. I was definitely in the minority in feeling that way. But I saw him as being a grandstand-er who knew how to sound emphatic and leader-like in front of an audience but never said anything halfway serious about baseball.

But at this point, I have to give him some credit. A lot of it, actually. While the Pirates have run their way into too many outs on the bases and bunted way too much, and while I sometimes disagree with his use of pitchers like Tim Wood in high-leverage situations, Hurdle has helped the Pirates win games by mostly pulling his starters at the right times, and he's done a good job cycling through relievers in the middle innings (sometimes letting a guy like Daniel McCutchen pitch for long periods, sometimes using a large number of guys to get through a couple of frames, usually with good results). 

He has also supported his players by arguing with umpires on dubious calls (which most managers do, but which the Bucs' last manager didn't) and by sticking up for them in the press (as he did with Andrew McCutchen when McCutchen was an All-Star snub). The effects of these things are, admittedly, just about impossible to quantify, but perhaps it's no accident that the Pirates have, by and large, looked motivated all season long. I thought John Russell got a bad rap a lot of the time, but I can certainly see how a team managed by him might go on a losing streak and then really start tanking. Under Hurdle, there have been occasional lapses of attention and hustle, but Hurdle has generally responded by benching the offenders, after which those lapses have stopped being problems. 

The rotation has been a lot better this year, and Ray Searage deserves a lot of credit for that. But the defense has been at least as big a factor in the Pirates' improvement, despite the fact that a lot of the guys out there playing defense are the same ones who were out there last year. Andrew McCutchen's defensive improvement has been important in the defense as a whole getting better, and that's probably partly due to McCutchen simply getting better with age. But I think it's likely that at least some of the defense's improvement is also due to the players just being more alert and motivated, and I think Hurdle probably deserves some credit for that. We're simply seeing a lot fewer silly mistakes than we've seen in the past.

If the season ended today, I think it's probably true that Hurdle would be the Manager of the Year. And I think he would deserve it.

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