Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Shane Baz, Chris Archer, Kyle Crick, shall I go on? It’s easy to talk about the powers that be, well, when they don’t be anymore. None of them handled things disrespectfully, although some sure wanted to convince them to do so or spin it to sound that way.
So, what actually went wrong and more importantly, are these issues being corrected? Harder to answer than you might think. Ben Cherrington actually retained a decent amount of staff that worked under Neal Huntington most notably Larry Broadway. Larry would probably love for you, me and Dupree to believe that Kyle Stark made him make some of the choices he did, and maybe that’s true, time will tell.
The most accurate answer probably lands with this, Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage were good coaches and time passed them by. Both men were by all accounts wonderful people, and having interacted with them several times, I concur completely. Facts don’t lie though.
Players all through the Pirates system were denied access to advanced analytics, some as basic as FIP or Spin Rate. Now, Mitch Keller taking it to the level of not knowing what FIP stood for because of his former coaches leads me to believe he might have been living under a rock or is in fact the only twenty-something to have never played a video game. That said, knowing about a stat and knowing how to use it to improve or alter your approach are two different things, this is where coaching comes in.
Ray Searage was of the belief that putting too many of these plot points in front of these young men would cause them to question the coaching, hence, not receive the message and work with the program. He wasn’t wrong, but he was totally misguided. The game changed drastically and quickly last decade, and while the coaches embraced some of them like shifts and the like, they missed the boat entirely on giving the players what they were asking for most, numbers and analysis.
This bled through the entire system as Kyle Stark was more interested in making good humans than good ballplayers, not that the two can’t coexist, that he thought given a choice the former outweighed the latter. I’d suggest his track record of success for either was lacking, but such is life.
One of the first things Cherrington did was provide more analytics and help understanding and growing from them to every level of the Pirates system. He followed that by increasing by roughly 25% the analytics department and his new manager Derek Shelton is committed fully to utilizing all the tricks of the trade in the modern game to improve his players. Surely talent wins over educated execution, but this will still have an impact.
Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer openly stated that they did not agree with the pitches they were being told to throw and at times would actively go off the board and do what they thought was best. Wow. Can you imagine reaching the pinnacle of your profession and having someone tell you to ignore the strengths that got you there because that’s not how we do it here?
Before you hammer Searage, J.A. Happ, Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and Ivan Nova would like a word. See, sometimes what Uncle Ray was preaching happened to be exactly the right message. The new regime will find it no different, some of the pitchers on the staff will excel with the new methods and others will struggle with it. Analytics will cast a far wider net however and that could be really positive for this club.
Five years from now can I promise Mitch Keller won’t be telling us that Derek and crew were filling his head with too many numbers, you know, paralysis by analysis? Of course not, but he certainly won’t be able to say he wasn’t given access to all the information available for his craft.
Rare is the manager who can span eras of sport, eventually the NHL will pivot back from speed and skill to size and grit, signaling the end of Mike Sullivan’s time as head coach in Pittsburgh. Baseball is no different, and it’s precisely why I’ve never understood the never-ending recycling program Dusty Baker has enjoyed through the years. The Pirates have started a new one here, and no matter how long it lasts, arming the players with information will shift the onus back to them a bit. Controlling the tendency to derive fact from the numbers that aren’t there is where the modern coaching staff plays a huge role.
It’s exactly what Rocco has done so well in Minnesota, and exactly why Derek was brought here.
Let there be light.