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Starkey: Hurdle should be on hot seat

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Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Clint Hurdle loses a lot.

That is not a criticism. It's a fact.

Hurdle has managed nine full seasons in the major leagues and has posted eight losing records. In part of another season, he was 18-28 before getting fired.

Of the 125 managers who have worked at least 1,000 games, Hurdle ranks 113th in winning percentage (.462).

In two losing seasons with the Pirates, Hurdle's winning percentage is .466. In August and September, it's .330, meaning his teams have won 38 of 130 games with the pressure on.

Add it all up, and Hurdle is 113 games under .500 for his career, tying him for 32nd-most all-time with two others: long-ago Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins manager Cookie Lavagetto and some guy named John Russell.

Of course, it took Russell only three years to go 113 games under. But you get the point: Hurdle, while he inherited challenging situations in Colorado and Pittsburgh and reached a World Series with the Rockies, isn't exactly fashioning a Hall of Fame résumé.

On the other hand (and I find myself saying that a lot in analyzing Hurdle's work), the Pirates' win total has gone from 57 the year before Hurdle arrived to 72 and then to 79.

That makes him plus-22. The arrow, even if it started in a historically low position after Russell's 57-105 debacle, is pointed up.

All of which raises a question: Has Hurdle merited an extension on a contract that runs for one more year with a club option for 2014?

Absolutely not is the only sensible answer.

The manager should be on a white-hot seat entering next season. And he should, theoretically, have plenty of company in team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and assistant GMs Kyle (Hoka Hey) Stark and Greg Smith.

That is assuming owner Bob Nutting hasn't secretly signed all five to lifetime contracts.

Things sometimes take a while to surface in this organization.

Nutting allegedly is conducting a one-man investigation into what has gone awry, and won't that be rich: A non-baseball man analyzing the baseball operations department.

Is that like a non-military man conducting military-style operations in the minor leagues?

Just to make certain Hurdle hadn't been secretly extended or fired, I emailed Coonelly for a comment on Hurdle's job status.

His reply: “If the Club decides to exercise the Club option or otherwise extend or alter the original contract, we will make a public announcement.”

Excellent.

Let's get back to Hurdle's résumé.

His best attributes are his booming personality and relentless optimism. He is likeable. He is a natural leader, and you had to admire him for diving into this cesspool in the first place.

On the other hand … does he get the most out of his talent?

Hurdle believes his team was better than 79 wins. That is arguable, given the pedigree of player on hand. Maybe he wrested from this group all that anyone could have.

On the other hand … his insistence on often fielding less than his best team was maddening. Rod Barajas can't play anymore, but he consistently stayed in the lineup.

Other complaints:

• Hurdle's strong allegiance to shortstop Clint Barmes, one of the worst hitters in baseball. Hurdle already has penciled in Barmes for next season. The Pirates won't even entertain the idea of an alternative?

• Hurdle's insistence on using Joel Hanrahan almost exclusively in save situations and thus keeping him out of other, sometimes more critical situations.

• Bizarre strategic decisions, ranging from keeping James McDonald in too long (six-run lead vs. Padres) to taking Wandy Rodriguez out too fast (3-1 lead at Cincinnati) to using travel-weary Daniel McCutchen in the 10th inning at San Diego to the insane double steal against Chicago, the same crucial game in which Hurdle went to Rick van den Hurk instead Jeff Karstens with a 9-5 lead.

• Maybe worst of all, Hurdle's reputation as an excellent batting instructor hasn't translated. Even if Gregg Ritchie held that title here, Hurdle, you'd figure, has a major influence on the team approach — one that produced the second-most strikeouts, fewest walks and 10th-most runs in the National League.

Lack of talent has something to do with that, obviously, which is why Huntington should be seated on that bench over there, next to Coonelly, Smith, Stark and, yes, Hurdle, at the start of next season.

Which bench, you ask?

The burning one.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

 

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