Kovacevic: The Streak must end right here
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012
They can do better.
Those four words stuck in my mind at 4:41 p.m. Sunday, as Starling Marte hacked through high heat from Aroldis Chapman, sealed a 4-3 loss to the Reds and — amazingly, astonishingly, after being 16 games over .500 just two months ago — brought the once-proud Pittsburgh Baseball Club's 20th consecutive losing season.
And a second consecutive collapse, now that the biggest post-July free fall in Major League Baseball history is clinched.
Congrats all around.
Yeah, they can do better. If only because there is no worse.
And maybe that — not whether people deserve to be fired — should be Bob Nutting's foundation for his looming investigation into all aspects of the team's operations:
Could anyone do better?
It's unimaginable that the answer would be no.
The front office of Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington, Kyle Stark and Greg Smith has achieved precious little in five-plus years. Results are results: Dave Littlefield's last team in 2007 won 68 games, and this team has won 77, along with the infamous 82 in the loss column.
That's five years to generate a nine-game improvement.
Coonelly and Huntington will point to year-over-year records, but sorry, no credit for digging out of self-made holes.
It's easy to paint the current minor league system as being dramatically better than the one they inherited — Littlefield had many flaws, and they were great — but again, results are results: Littlefield's system passed along the following prospects: Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Nyjer Morgan, Brad Lincoln, Sean Burnett, Steve Pearce, Ronald Belisario, Alex Presley, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Kyle McPherson.
Not exactly barren.
It's doubtful the current crop will produce an MVP candidate such as McCutchen as well as other major leaguers ranging from good to serviceable. The pool is just too shallow. To assume it has better potential is to assume Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon will be Cy Young candidates.
Bottom line: It's not enough to hit only on the $5 million-and-up bonus babies. Anyone with a subscription to Baseball America can do that.
They can do better.
And what of Clint Hurdle, a good man and gifted speaker who now has nine losing seasons out of 10 to his résumé?
This is harder to size up. He's been in place just two years and, although he's presided over the valleys, he's done the same with peaks unseen here in two decades.
But here again, maybe Nutting will find in his review — if he connects with what now can generously be described as a roiling clubhouse — that a change here also is necessary. Collapses tend to make for toxic environments, and it's rarely easy to fumigate.
Nutting might find they can do better here, too.
As for the players, this one's the no-brainer: They absolutely can do better, in performance, leadership and everything else. The best ones need to be retained, and the team needs to be aggressive — not timid, like at the trading deadline — in filling holes. And those players, once found, need to work in the most positive possible atmosphere.
That will require big change.
Listen to this quote from Huntington on his radio show eight days ago: “There are a lot of really good baseball people in the industry who feel very differently than our fans do about what we're accomplishing.”
Does that sound like a group open-minded to big change?
One that's so insular, so arrogant in its thinking that the head of baseball operations publicly expresses that the Pirates' fans aren't savvy enough to grasp the nuances of the team's successes?
After five years, all it takes is a copy of the standings, right?
It's sad that this Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit on the same day the franchise clinched a streak that's lasted half that long. But it also was terrific to see widow Vera and sons Roberto Jr. and Luis at PNC Park for a first-class ceremony at — where else? — second base.
A bit earlier, the first words out of Roberto Jr.'s mouth after we shook hands were about The Streak: “It should stop at 20.”
I asked him to elaborate, and he recalled Nutting opening the team's $5 million Dominican academy in early 2008. The Clementes were there, too.
“I remember thinking back then, in four to five years, this team will be competing to get to the playoffs. At least competing ,” Clemente Jr. said. “But Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke … that crew was really the last one that competed. After all this time.”
He shook his head.
“My hopes were high this summer, too. I'm a Pirate for life. But it's sad to say, here we are in late September, another year has gone by, and nothing's changed.”
So why does Clemente Jr. think The Streak “should stop at 20?”
He looked me dead in the eye and replied, “Because it can't get to 21. Not that number.”
No, it can't.
The Pirates must do, to borrow Nutting's own words, “everything we can,” and make sure that doesn't happen.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.
Except that I have to ask, can "they" do better, really? Who is the "they" we're talking about? The team as a unit or the individual players? Starling Marte who struck out for the 45th time in 154 abs to end the games, can he do better? Given his minor league history of not being to control the strike zone and a walk to strike out ratio that would cause most organizations to question his status as a prospect let alone ever consider allowing him to hit in the top of their order in the majors, the evidence suggests not any time soon, if ever, will he do better. What about Jose Tabata who violated one of the cardinal rules of baseball getting thrown out at third with no outs and erasing what would have been the tying run in the ninth? Given that this is just the latest in a long line of bad moves, botched plays and lackadaisical effort in critical situations mired in continued questions about his true age, seems a stretch to me that he can actually do better. Maybe Clint Barmes, a player who's best offensive seasons were merely mediocre while playing in the two best hitters' parks in the modern history of the game but now plays in PNC Park with a valley in left center that kills right handed hitters, surely he can do better. On second though maybe not. Rod Barajas, age 37, enough said. Clint Hurdle, surely he can do better, right? I'll bet someday he'll even learn how to assemble a major league lineup, one that recognizes the value of walks and on base percentages over fast out machines with sub .300 on base percentages at the top of the order, how to properly use platoons where needed and maybe just maybe he can learn the futility of trying to steal bases in critical situations with fast guys who get caught stealing nearly as often as they succeed. Of course all of these things are the same exact things Colorado sports media criticized ten years ago so maybe we don't want to hold our breath waiting for him to do better? McCutchen, Jones and Alvarez? Sure maybe they can do better but how much more is realistic and when was the last any team won with three decent to very good hitters in their lineup and six sure outs like the disaster were currently being forced watch? CAN THEY, they as in the Pirates as a team, do better? Perhaps. Best of all they can even do better mostly with the players on the current roster, but if next season begins where this one is leaving off, with a manager who knows more about cliches than sabremetrics, the fastest guys in the league when it comes to running from the batter's box to the dugout after they strike out once every third at bat and walk once every twentieth only to get thrown out tryign to steal second, at the top of the order they won't do any better. The good news for Pirates fans is we'll likely know on opening day, based on that game's lineup, whether or not the they will do any better in 2013. The bad news is save for three, if the names look anything like the names on the lineups we've seen the past six weeks, the answer will be an emphatic no they can't do any better.
Submitted by: Mike on Monday, October 1, 2012
20 years down the drain. My oldest child is 29, there hasn't been a winning season he can remember any longer. That's sad. Especially when I tell him about watching Clemente, Stargel, and Teke, and he has no one he can point to as a "fond memory". So, where is the failure, and what can be done to salvage next year? It's easy to blame the players for the collapse - they were doing so well before the ASG, and so poorly afterwards, they must have given up, or given into the mid-year curse. But that doesn't explain player history. So many players have left or been traded, and have gone on to do so much better than they did while a Pirate. I think we need to look elsewhere - at the coaching staff, and at the on-field decision makers. I have watched the pitching, from what we were told at the beginning of the season was one of the deepest in the league, drop possible win after win. In most of these cases I find myself not blaming the pitchers, but the on-field managers making the "keep or pull" decisions at the wrong time. Pulling a pitcher while he is still going strong, putting in someone who lets 3 or 4 runs score before pulling him, leaves fans scratching their heads and asking, "what were they thinking? How did we lose this game when we were ahead?" Or, the opposite side, keeping a pitcher in when he clearly is having a bad day, and not pulling him until it is to late to save the game. Should we get better talent? Yeah, there are places where we could use someone better - catching for example. But from where? What good player in his right mind would want to play for a team who just lost 20 straight seasons? What could we possibly offer them to come here instead of a team with playoff possibilities? We don't have that kind of money. And we certainly don't have the kind of coaching that says, "hey, come here for a few years and we can really help you turn your game around." We need to learn to work with the talent we can afford, and put the money into getting the kinds of coaches that can develop their talent, then keep that talent here, rather than trade them off for someone lesser (in talent and cost) as we have done for so many years. Next year, instead of three solid fans attending from my family, there may be only one. One who remembers the "good old days" and still has hope that 2013 may be the year that we break 500.