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Is Derek Shelton the right fit for the Pirates moving forward?

Shelton needs more time to be evaluated properly

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Losers of eight in a row and nine of their last ten games, the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to nosedive as St. Louis Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright Maddux’ed the Bucs on Wednesday with an 88-pitch shoutout, driving in one of the Red Birds’ four runs to help his own cause. The series did not begin on the right foot either on Tuesday with one hit allowed by Cardinals pitching, a solo home run by Hoy Park accounting for the only Pittsburgh run scored in two games. And it ended in sweep yesterday when a comeback attempt fell a little bit short.

The Pirates currently sit as baseball’s fourth-worst franchise behind the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, and Arizona Diamondbacks, with a three-game set against the D-Backs scheduled for August 23-25.

After an MLB-low 19 wins in 2020 over only a 60-game regular season, the Bucs hold a higher winning percentage (.360) compared to last year (.317) but have been dormant in terms of overall success. Bryan Reynolds has been fantastic, Ke’Bryan Hayes has gold-glove potential at third, Jacob Stallings regularly hits walk-offs, David Bednar has shown flashes of back-end-of-the-bullpen abilities, but the team has continued to struggle despite having two All-Stars in the National League starting lineup (Reynolds and recently-traded Adam Frazier).

The season has also not gone over very well for manager Derek Shelton, holding a combined 60-114 record since being hired after the 2019 season. Outside of Reynolds, Hayes, Bednar, and maybe a mix of two or three others, the Major League roster is thin with players who could be around when the Pirates next compete for a playoff spot.

The lack of development from Kevin Newman, Mitch Keller, Will Craig, Cole Tucker, and various other high draft picks has not helped Shelton’s cause, added on to the 2020 season being delayed until mid-July and effectively stained by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No fans, no visitors, no games against AL and NL Central foes, and no normalcy. Shelton’s first season as skipper can’t be judged nearly as critically as a normal season, but not much has tipped the scales in a positive direction as 2021 winds down.

The former Twins bench coach has been criticized on numerous occasions for pulling starters too early in games during early parts of the season, many after five innings with pitch counts safely under the 100-pitch threshold.

With 2020 a wash and the Pirates a known rebuilding team in 2021, Shelton did not and continues to not have the type of talent needed on the roster to judge his true managerial abilities. The players seem to like and appreciate him for the most part, he is committed to continually getting better at all facets of the team, and the defense has improved since the Hurdle-Huntington era departed, leaving a depleted farm system and future assets.

2022 won’t necessarily be a make-or-break year for the Pirates manager, but with the infiltration of top prospects on the horizon, Ben Cherington and company will have a better understanding of who the right man for the job can and should be to get the best out of his players. Shelton has had little to work with over 174 MLB games as the head man, but with a mix of potentially Travis Swaggerty, Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, Omar Cruz, and Mason Martin all in the majors by mid-season, the next wave of Pirates youngsters will need the necessary guidance to grow into productive MLB players.

Shelton hasn’t checked many boxes a successful manager normally completes, but with little to no expectations and an estimated two-year period until the team is ready to contend, only time will tell if Shelton has what it takes with future evaluation.

Shelton hasn’t turned off a number of fans this season, but he hasn’t pleased them either. He’s not currently in the hot seat, as 2021 is the first true season to evaluate his decision-making in a normal environment.

Just like with the rebuild, patience is needed to know if Shelton will blossom into what the Pirates need. But when the clock starts ticking and the team has the talent to win, all hands on deck for whoever can direct the ship off the coastline.

Shelton’s overall grade so far as Bucco manager? Incomplete. A likely C or C- could suffice with the team still playing hard on a nightly basis, but the midterm exam is positioned about a year from now with the window to the next level looking to be cracked open in shouting distance.


Do you feel Shelton is the right man to lead the Pirates into the future?

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  • 37%
    (222 votes)
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