Pregame: Hurdle discusses the role of pitcher / hitter matchups in lineup construction

Joe Sargent

As the Pirates prepare for the final game of their four game set with the Brewers, one of the interesting topics that has emerged in recent days, both on BucsDugout and Twitter, is Hurdle's use of pitcher-hitter match up statistics in constructing lineups. Coincidentally, the discussion on this site coincides with a recent post by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com ("The Absurdities of Batter/Pitcher Matchup Numbers") on the same issue.

During this afternoon's meeting with the media, Hurdle was asked about his use of match up statistics. Interestingly, Hurdle revealed some elements of the sophisticated in-house system used by the Pirates, which evaluates pitcher-hitter match ups based on the opponent's starter and "15 comparables."

Full transcript of his response.

Over the last two days you've talked about the role that match ups have played in your lineup construction. It coincides with a discussion at a prominent sabermetric website over the utility of looking at match ups. I was wondering how much that data weighs into your decisions, and if you'd like to add to the larger discussion?

I share most of my systematic analysis in-house, but I'll tell you this, it is a useful tool. And if you turn your back on it, you're being naïve. You're not using all the resources that are there for you.

I would think it's been a challenge for the men of my generation. Because this is not the way the game was played. I share this with the players all the time: I played in an era -- this is hard to say but it sounds funny -- I played in an era when you hit a ground ball up the middle it was a base hit (laughter). It was called a diamond-cutter. It's no longer true. Eight ground balls up the middle, five of them the shortstop's sitting right in front of it, if there is any type of research done, if you've got any type of major league experience. The game has changed dramatically with the defensive shifts. You've got to pay attention to that.

We have a system analysis that is so unique that what we do is, we have player batting averages, swing and miss rates, on base percentage, OPS, it is all laid out for that pitcher and 15 comparables. So truth be told, at times you can get a player that is 10-for-20 off a guy in real time and he doesn't rank maybe in the top of your batting order if you were constructing one sabermetrically over the long haul. But also you can get a pretty good feel on what that kind of guy can do against those kinds of pitchers. It's tool. It's a useful tool. I'll say that.

I've grown in the time I've been here by being open-minded, knowing I have some people upstairs that are really, really smart. But you have to mesh the two.

Does it work at a non-numbers level? Does it help a players mindset to play against someone they have hit against well in the past?

I really believe so. There wasn't a pitcher I didn't hit against well that I didn't know it. And I do think that the pitchers that I didn't hit well against, I knew it. I share this story, it might have been with Tom (Singer), about Shane Rawley, I might have been 1-for-49 against Shane Rawley. Minor leagues, big leagues American League, National League, wherever we went. I couldn't hit Shane Rawley. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy every time he got on the mound. I couldn't get a hit.

There were other guys, it didn't matter what they threw, if it got to the plate, I put it in play and get a hit. Pitchers also know, more often than not. Even if they tell you they don't. They do. They pay attention.

Does it extend to things like playing against certain teams? For example how the Brewers have had such success against the Pirates recently?

If you were one of the guys that's been here the last 15 years, or since 2007, when this started, I think there is more weight to it. I know for guys that have been here for the full four years, I think Walker might be one of them, it's more weighted for him than it is for Marte. I'm here going on my third year, I feel the weight of it and I've watched it play out to some degree. So the thing we stay focused on, if you're tired of hearing about it, you've got to do something about it.

[Note: For his major league career, Clint Hurdle went 1-for-11 with five strikeouts vs. Shane Rawley.]

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