As expected, Clint Hurdle was announced as the National League Manager of the Year earlier this evening. My default position is to be skeptical of the Manager of the Year Award because it's so subjective, but instead I want to take this occasion to congratulate Clint Hurdle and talk about some of the really good things that he's done as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I'm usually the first guy to point out when I think that he's done something wrong, and I think on a lot of occasions that's awfully unfair. He deserves this award, so let's talk about why.
When Travis Sawchik wrote his story about the defensive shifts, quite a bit of focus was put on Hurdle. Obviously most of the credit for the shifts goes to Dan Fox and his defensive team, but this sort of thing isn't possible without a manager willing to put the plan into action. Hurdle came from Colorado with a reputation for being an "old school" manager, but in the year that he spent as the Rangers' hitting coach, he apparently dedicated himself to looking at baseball from a slightly different view in the hopes of getting himself back into the manager's seat. After two years on the job with the Pirates, he warmed up to the shifts and employed them extensively this year. It made a big difference for the pitching staff.
That's the obvious one, but I thought that Hurdle also did a good job sticking with his platoons for most of the season. Gaby Sanchez usually played against lefties, and Neil Walker spent most of the second half on the bench against them. He would occasionally ride the hot hand (Sanchez in particular) a little too heavily, but for the most part it seemed to me like Hurdle got his best players on the field given the situation at the beginning of the game. That seems like an obvious thing, but it's really not.
He also did a really good job managing the workload of his starters, which is something that went almost entirely unnoticed. Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton only threw more than 100 pitches twice apiece. Jeff Locke only did it five times. Francisco Liriano only went over 110 pitches once (and he threw 111 pitches in that start). I don't think I can stress the importance of this enough: no matter how well a starter was pitching, Hurdle almost always held them to whatever the club's internal pitch count was, and that kept pretty much everyone (with the exception of Jeff Locke, who's his own story) fresh into the playoffs. It would've been really easy to run a staff with a rookie just two years removed from college, a Tommy John returnee, and Francisco Liriano all filling huge roles straight into the ground in early September, but Hurdle absolutely did not do that. The rotation was exactly where it needed to be to help the Pirates in the wild card game and give the Pirates a chance in the NLDS. I think that Hurdle deserves some credit for that.
Anyway, I think that the it's fair to say this: in order for a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates to make the playoffs, they need a manager that's both wililng to think unconventionally in some aspects. I don't think that I'd necessarily call Hurdle unconventional on the whole, but he was willing to change his style to fit the Pirates in a way that the team needed, and that's something that I don't think is necessarily true about most managers in their 11th season in the dugout. Certainly, I think that this is an honor he deserves.