What Do You Need to See To Believe Derek Shelton is the Right Guy?

First of all I’m as guilty as anyone. I feel like I’ve spent the past two or three months playing the short sample size police, but I have not been so kind to the coach.

Part of that is I can’t really give him credit for being rusty, I don’t think coaches get to claim they started off slow. I know his team wasn’t good and injured on top of that but man I think I disagreed with more Shelton moves in those 60 games than all 10 years of Hurdle.

I asked this question on Twitter yesterday and while that platform can be a cesspool of hate and despair I may have one of the smartest and most measured group of followers out there. Let’s talk about some of the answers here because I didn’t ask the question looking for a specific answer as much as real curiosity as to whether people were already writing him off or if he had a path beyond a good record.

Tom jumped in right away. Let’s parse this out. Injury and just not enough good options probably account for the first two points. The second part, I’m sorry Tom, that’s baseball now. Nolan Ryan isn’t coming back, I miss it too.

Next up is Wayne

Wayne has some very specific asks. As you can see the leave the starter in is a bit of a theme. I do think fans tended to miss the very real conditioning problem the Spring Training start and stop had on arms all over the league, but I watched the games too and it sure seemed like our competition had pitchers going much deeper. Tucker at short is something many of us have been questioning. Can’t say I disagree with that but I also don’t know how much of that whole thing was Shelton.

I love this answer from Benjamin

I love it because it gives very specific areas of focus. Somehow get the fielding percentage to improve (that would show coaching) and prevent those nasty double digit losing streaks. Both of those would help show he’s got the chops in my mind.

Mike has a very simple ask…

This was something I never really understood, because while I could see it was a season of evaluation, to me that never meant let’s never let these guys get a rhythm.

Next we have possibly the most fair ask of them all and it comes from a guy who follows both the Blue Jays and the Bucs.

Now, I already mentioned to Steve I don’t think I’d take consistency or a steadying hand from what I watched in 2020 but his last line is perhaps where I realistically fall.

Any signs of progress.

More importantly, I’d like to see progress rewarded. If Hayes goes 4-5 with two doubles, a homer and a couple singles and you planned to sit him tomorrow, maybe don’t. If he isn’t nursing an injury, let him play. If a pitcher is sitting at 80 pitches and has it working, let’s see if he can get the next set of outs.

If anything I think while baseball was headed in the direction of what we watched Shelton do last season, we had Clint Hurdle and crew here in Pittsburgh really only scratching the surface of the way players are coached today.

In other words, Shelton was a shock to the system because Hurdle never bent toward it enough to expect it. I liked it if I’m honest, Hurdle was an old school baseball man trying to find a way to deal with nerds telling him how to do his job. Not enough nerds mind you, the Pirates were loathed to fully commit to analytics outside of insane shifts.

Here’s my issue though, if you’re going to stake your reputation on analytics you can’t trust them halfway. You can’t make 80% of the calls based on the numbers and then make 20% based on gut. It doesn’t work that way.

Remember in the World Series when everyone got hot at Tampa for pulling Snell while he was pitching a gem? Well, that’s an example of 100% adoption of the analytics department guidance. They say his number stink after he’s faced a lineup twice, and while they might have been wrong that night, playing the percentages got them there.

And I should say, I hated the move. I guess if I’m honest I myself am loathed to fully accept the analytics side of the game.

All of that being said, I don’t think analytics made Shelton put up about 56 different lineups in a 60 game season. If you think about it, that’s kind of impossible as there was no data to actually use.

I don’t think it had much to do with the ability to win a game and instead bringing Del Pozo in to face the heart of the order while viable, rested options sat looking helpless through the bullpen fencing.

2020 was the year of starters burying their head in their hands on the bench.

So what do I expect? Well not winning for starters, I really can’t hold him up to that standard until such a time as I feel he has the players to do it. But I do expect to start being able to predict his moves more frequently.

I’m also curious as hell how he’ll handle the National League style game. He rarely pinch hit last season and the National League with no DH presents much more opportunity for moves like that. Should be an interesting challenge even if only for one more year.

There’s a lot of wrinkles we’ll be looking for in 2021, but possibly none more important than seeing if the Pirates hired the right guy to manage this ball club.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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