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An attempt to explain Clint Hurdle's decisions in the Pirates' win over the Cubs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

I've already criticized Clint Hurdle for his decision-making last night. Inspired by the comment thread, though, let's try to take a more charitable view of what happened, event by event, starting with the top of the seventh inning.

Hurdle leaves Wandy Rodriguez in to face Brent Lillibridge. This worked out well, but I don't understand it at all. Rodriguez had already hit two batters in the inning, his pitch count was climbing, it was cold, and the bases were loaded. Also, Lillibridge is a righty hitter who has a .561 career OPS against righties, so bringing in a righty here makes a lot of sense. Rodriguez eventually got Lillibridge out, but it was a struggle. Rodriguez had to throw 10 pitches to Lillibridge. Oh well -- Hurdle got a good result this time. We've all seen situations like this where Hurdle leaves a pitcher in for a batter or two too long, however.

Hurdle brings in Tony Watson to face Alberto Gonzalez. Bringing in Watson, who nearly didn't even make the team, to create a lefty/righty matchup against Gonzalez struck me as being senseless at the time. But as Maguro pointed out in the recap thread last night, it might not have been. The key is that the Cubs didn't have a good righty hitter on their bench, whereas they did have a decent lefty in Nate Schierholtz. If the Pirates hat brought in a righty to face the righty-hitting Gonzalez, the Cubs could have just brought in Schierholtz. Gonzalez is a bad hitter, so Hurdle may have figured that having Watson, who doesn't have pronounced splits, to face him would be better than having a righty face Schierholtz. Seen from this perspective, bringing in Watson is a weird bit of gamesmanship that kind of makes sense. Of course, all this assumes that we should have confidence in Watson at this point, which is a big assumption that wasn't really confirmed by what happened -- Watson did eventually get Gonzalez, but took him to a 3-0 count first.

Hurdle leaves Watson in to bunt. In the bottom of the inning, Clint Barmes led off with a double. Then Hurdle left Watson in to bunt Barmes over. Even granting that Watson can successfully make the sacrifice (which is a huge assumption), this play has a negative run expectancy -- you will score more runs with no outs and a runner on second than with one out and a runner on third. In the cold conditions last night, though, playing for one run was defensible (even thought it's not what I would have done). Also, Hurdle probably doesn't have much confidence in his pinch hitters right now (which is a shame, especially this early in the season). And the Pirates' offense hasn't really started producing yet, so Hurdle might have figured it made more sense to try to get a guy to third and try for a sacrifice than to leave him at second and take three shots at bringing him home with a single. As it turned out, Starling Marte actually did hit a single, but it probably wouldn't have been deep enough to bring Barmes home from second anyway.

Of course, Hurdle apparently intended for Watson to bat whether or not Barmes reached base, and I've got no words for that.

Marte gets caught stealing. I've got nothing here, except to say that, again, the cold conditions make this a tough run-scoring environment, so it makes sense to be aggressive on the basepaths. Marte didn't appear to get much of a jump in this particular case, and I hate to see the Pirates continue to run their way into outs, but give Hurdle credit -- this is one questionable move he made in that bizarre 15-minute period last night that didn't work.