Just a few more thoughts after some sleep.
It’s not like I can stop this train now, but the Jerry Meals hate-bandwagon is uncalled for and I think it makes Pirate fans look bad and I really think it should stop. He made a bad call, that upon video review was a much, much more difficult call than it initially seemed to be. You can see below that I was as mad at Means as anyone right as the game ended, but the fact is that McKenry made a swipe tag that at the very most, just dusted Julio Lugo’s upper thigh. I’m certain he got the call wrong (there’s no clear evidence he didn’t tag him and you can tell from Lugo and McKenry’s body language after the play what they thought happened) and I suspect that the circumstances dictated the way he made that call (most often, umps seem to err on the side of the fielder in very close swipe tags), but it’s hard for me to feel that the call is indefensible or the Worst Call Ever. It sucks that circumstances may have dictated the way an ump called what he likely saw as a 50/50 play, but some calls are simply hard to make in real time.
That’s the kicker for me. I don’t know if having instant replay in baseball would’ve actually reversed that call (I think it might have, Meals said after seeing the replay that it seemed like he got it wrong and the camera angle from the first baseline is pretty convincing), but seeing all of the replays and angles of that play made it clear that the home plate ump was in a very tough place to make a decision there. I’d still be angry today if there was a replay review that didn’t reverse that call, but I’d feel a little better knowing that a second set of eyes got to see such an important play. I’ll reiterate again what I say in the post below: it’s crazy to me that we rely on imperfect humans to make decisions that they’re just not capable of making when the technology exists to help them. It’s unfathomable in any context outside of baseball.
That said, let’s talk about Clint Hurdle. I like Clint Hurdle. I think it’s hard to deny that the Pirates play hard for the guy, that they’re a little more sound fundamentally, that there’s an extra something that he brings to the club that’s helped them this year. Still, I absolutely hate the amount of credit he gets for this team’s record. It’s disrespectful to the players, in my opinion, to give a manager that much credit. When the Pirates break a losing streak or win a close game and people say, “This would’ve never happened with John Russell,” it drives me nuts because that’s something that’s impossible to quantify or prove. Hurdle brings something unquantifiable to the table, but it’s meaningless without the players pulling the cart.
One thing Hurdle does not bring to the table is a mastery of in-game tactics. I’ve written a million times before that in-game tactics end up counting very little for or against a team when a season’s all said and done and so I tend to let things like Pedro Alvarez bunting in the Nteenth inning go. It’s awful strategy to use Alvarez to move a runner over for Overbay and Cedeno, but it doesn’t guarantee that a run won’t score, nor does letting Alvarez swing away guarantee that a run will score. The players are still heavily involved and in the end, stuff like that counts for very little. The one play that does drive me nuts, though, is that squeeze play in the ninth inning. It was obvious the Braves knew it was coming, and Hurdle still went for it. It wasn’t Xavier Paul who caused the out, it wasn’t the Braves who made a great defensive play to earn an out, it was Hurdle who packaged an out up, but a bow on it, and handed it to the Braves. There’s not one example of Clint Hurdle’s in-game tactics helping the Pirates win, nearly as much as that decision hurt them last night. According to FanGraphs, the Pirates had a 59.7% 69.7% chance of winning with Xavier Paul up, runners on first and third, and one out in the ninth inning. With a runner on first and two outs, their chance of winning dropped to 43%. (It looks like Brandon Wood did advance to second on the play, which was neither recorded by Root Sports, nor FanGraphs. I think that brings the Pirates WPA to somewhere around 53%) That’s all on the manager and that’s an insanely huge shift in WPA that didn’t involve the players one bit and I think that’s unacceptable. Couple that with his refusal to bring Joel Hanrahan into the game in the 19th when Dan McCutchen ran out of gas (this much more speculative, but is there any chance Joel Hanrahan lets Scott Proctor make contact?), and Clint Hurdle hurt the Pirates just as much as the umpiring did last night.