The stagnation and regression of Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Rodolfo Castro — just to name a few — almost certainly spell the end of Andy Haines’ tenure in Pittsburgh. After just two seasons overseeing an offense near the bottom of the league in nearly every statistical category, it would be hard to see any offseason scenario in which Haines retains his title of hitting coach.
Meanwhile, the regression of the pitching staff, including the likes of All-Star Mitch Keller, who over his last 10 starts has been dreadful, and the outright implosions of two top 100 prospects in Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz could put Oscar Marin’s role as pitching coach in jeopardy.
So how much of this falls on the manager Derek Shelton? Can you really fire two key members of Shelton’s staff without firing Shelton himself?
Shelton has gone 191-303 since he took over as manager in 2020, a winning percentage of .386, among the worst of any manager in franchise history.
While no critique of Shelton can be done without recognizing those squads provided to him by the front office were far from adequate, there is something to be said for him and his coaching staff that very few have played above their heads. The team as a whole has not played much good baseball outside of a singular month in four whole seasons.
The Pittsburgh Pirates began their rebuild four seasons ago, selling off assets and yes, tanking for high draft picks. Whether those processes should still be going on four years in with what they had at the start and what they have now is a question that the front office alone has to answer for.
Derek Shelton was brought on at the start of this rebuild presumably under the understanding that this was going to be a long process. While at some point, criticism of any manager’s choices becomes splitting hairs with the benefit of hindsight, it feels as if sometimes games get managed to simply get through them rather than doing everything they can to win them. His habit of resting multiple starters on the same day has irked some.
When Hayes struck out looking to end the game with the bases loaded on an absolute hose job August 2, it was rather dismaying to see the whole team lay down and take it as they have all year. As they have now for four straight seasons.
It was ok because it was just another step in some plan to once again not produce results when they should be getting better. What still remains the blunder of the season was when general manager Ben Cherington said outright that internal projections had them as a fourth-place team amidst showing zero urgency to call up Henry Davis, remove the offensively woeful catching duo of Austin Hedges and Jason Delay from the lineup or attempt to replace the gaping hole at shortstop left by Oneil Cruz while going back and forth with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central well into June. It was an entirely self-fulfilling prophecy.
But whatever the machinations of the front office may be, Derek Shelton cannot allow them to seep into the mindset of field level personnel. It is almost alarming how little fight or even basic accountability this team shows at times, including from Shelton and the coaching staff.
Part of his job as manager, maybe the most important part, is to establish a winning clubhouse culture, a culture where results and accountability matter. How hard it must be to cultivate that in this environment must be taken into account, but since going 20-8, the Pirates have gone 29-53. A nearly 105-loss pace in just over a half season worth of games.
There have been 54 teams in MLB history to start 20-8, 17 have won the pennant, 12 have won the World Series, only two before this year's Pirates finished below .500.
The culture, or lack of one, has played a role in the team being unable to find footing after entering freefall. The source may come from the top, but Derek Shelton is an active participant.
Should Derek Shelton return as manager in 2024?
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