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Maybe Troy Buckley Wasn't So Bad

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On the Pirates: Best and worst amid the losing
The Post-Gazette on departed minor league pitching coordinator Troy Buckley:

Buckley's my-way-or-else style won him few friends in the system, and the Pirates, indeed, lost a few experienced baseball men in favor of pitching coaches who essentially were clipboard holders for Buckley, not permitted to offer individual instruction.

His results were decidedly mixed: Brad Lincoln had a breakout year, as did Rudy Owens in Class A, but that was about it. Daniel McCutchen and Danny Moskos showed improvement, as did others. But Morris was the key piece of the Jason Bay trade, Locke part of the Nate McLouth trade, and each took steps backward in several months under Buckley.

The idea that Buckley made waves and made people angry is hardly new, and it may be true that a softer approach would have worked better; I simply wouldn't know.

But I'm suspicious of some of the overwhelmingly negative appraisals of Buckley I've heard, since any number of people would have reason to hate his take-no-prisoners style whether it got results or not. And I think it's very premature to say that results under Buckley were below average. The simple fact is that he inherited very little talent. It's true that Bryan Morris has been a bust so far, but Morris' problems with injuries and attitude have clearly hurt him, and those things probably have little to do with any pitching instruction he received.

Meanwhile, the Post-Gazette's idea that Locke went "backward" under Buckley is just wrong. Look at the numbers--with the Pirates, Locke has lopped an entire run off his ERA at the same level with the Braves this year, and he has dramatically improved his control as well. And as the Post-Gazette points out, Lincoln and Owens took steps forward this year, and Daniel McCutchen proved he was ready for big-league action.

In addition, Justin Wilson, the top pitcher from the Pirates' 2008 draft class, has improved dramatically over the course of his first pro season, Ronald Uviedo has held up well in a transition to starting, and not one of the minor league pitchers acquired in this year's string of trades (Tim Alderson, Brett Lorin, Nathan Adcock, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland, Casey Erickson, Michael Dubee, Eric Hacker) has pitched worse than what should've been expected based on their performance records before they arrived. Not one. (I suppose you could argue that Lorin has been worse on account of his low strikeout rate, but it's hard to argue with a 1.93 ERA.) The early returns on 2009 draftees like Trent Stevenson, Brooks Pounders and Victor Black have been promising, too.

This all strikes me as a very good development record, because it's not like Buckley had much to work with. The group of pitching prospects Buckley inherited was horrible (Was Duke Welker ever going to become a real prospect after Buckley arrived? How about Matt Peterson, or Bryan Bullington?), and pitching prospects don't have high success rates in the best of circumstances. The performances of the Pirates' minor league pitchers since Buckley arrived before the 2008 season actually have been excellent relative to the talent that's been in the system. The performance of an entire organization's worth of pitching prospects will always be "mixed," because pitching prospects are extremely volatile, but I think that if we're going to look at the overall results for clues at to Buckley's performance, it's very hard to conclude that he did badly.

Now, maybe Buckley is a Grade-A twerp who can't tie his own shoes, and maybe he doesn't deserve credit for any of these positive developments since his arrival. As I said, I'm not close to the situation and therefore can't really say. But I do think there's plenty of cause for skepticism about the idea that he got subpar results, and I think that if he had gotten the same results without being such a hell-raiser, the appraisals of him now might be quite different.

 

PBC Blog: Daniel McCutchen Coming
Dan McCutchen will not be joining the U.S. World Cup team in Europe, as was previously reported. Instead, he'll join the big-league team and start in one of the games tomorrow against Cincinnati. He's earned a chance, so this is great news.