This is part three of my interview with Neal Huntington; you can find the introduction and all the other parts here as they're posted.
WHYGAVS: Did you have any previous relationship with Clint Hurdle before hiring him? He seemed to come off of the radar a bit during the search.
Neal Huntington: I did not. I know a lot of people that either worked with or know Clint, but no, I didn't have any prior relationship with him. Obviously the things he was able to do in Colorado speak for themselves in terms of taking a young team and leading it out of some dark days and putting it together and getting to the World Series. He's had success as a coach, both in Colorado prior to managing and in Texas this past year. He's been through a lot as a player. He was the stud prospect that everyone talked about and went through some adversity and he battled back through that to become a role player. Now he's worked his way through the minor leagues as a manager and a hitting coordinator and obviously brings a ton of experience to the table. He's got tremendous energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and passion. Passion for the game, passion for teaching, passion for leading and communicating.
As we went through the process, we didn't just want to throw this thing in reverse and shift our philosophy. We have a pretty strong core philosophy in place as to how we scout, sign, and develop players. We talked from day one that that alignment from top to bottom is crucial to us. Clint is going to add to that dynamic. We're aligned philosophically. We're not always going to agree or see eye to eye, but our belief is that we'll be able to communicate through our differences and he's going to bring a ton to this organization. He already has and will continue to do so. He didn't have to come here and he chose to. I think that's a strong statement on his willingness to accept the challenge and also his belief in what we're doing. He's been up front about that; he's talked about the impression that he had from Greg Smith, Tyrone Brooks, Kyle Stark, the work that he did on us behind the scenes and how we go about things and he wanted to be a big part of the turnaround.
So Clint researched you as much as you researched him?
In talking with him and hearing him speak, yes, he'd done a lot of work on us. He asked challenging questions. He wanted to know our conviction of doing this the right way, our conviction of building this to where we believe it's going and based on the fact that he's here he must've liked the answers that he got.
The readers on my site and all over the internet like to debate pitching vs. defense -- sort of a chicken vs. the egg kind of thing. Does a good defense have to be in place when you have young pitchers coming up? Is that something you're concerned about? Obviously the defense was not very good last year and maybe that was to be expected without Wilson and Sanchez ...
Well there's a couple of answers that are valid to that. One, fielding percentage is not the way to measure defense. There are a lot more advanced metrics out there. Some are kind to us, some are not. We've got our internal beliefs.
So Dan Fox and his team have their own internal defensive metrics for you?
We do. Dan's got to be one of the best in the game and he and his team make a significant impact for us.
One of the main reasons we went and got Lyle Overbay this year was to upgrade our infield defense. It's not just the ground balls that he's going to field; it's the picks, the confidence a player has throwing to a guy with soft hands. Lyle brings all that to the table. That gave us the opportunity to upgrade what was going to be our right field defense with Garrett Jones instead of Ryan Doumit. There's a significant upgrade from Doumit to Jones there. Matt Diaz and Jones as a platoon upgrades our offense and Matt's been OK on either corner.
We need to help Ronny Cedeno get better. We believe Neil Walker -- remember he came to the big leagues with 21 games at second base in his life, not in a season, in his life -- is going to continue to get better. With the work that he's done with Maz and Nick Leyva this spring, his double play pivot is much better, his footwork is better, his angles are better. We believe he's going to be a better second baseman. Pedro Alvarez physically just wasn't in a spot to be a good defensive third baseman last year. He's gotten better. We believe that with Nick and through repitition, Pedro will be a better defensive third baseman this year. He's probably not going to win a Gold Glove, but he has the ability. He has the physical tools to play third base; he has the feet, he has the hands, he has the arm strength, he has the arm versatility. It's a matter of applying it pitch in and pitch out. He can't take a play off defensively. He doesn't have the physical athleticism of the gifted third basemen that he can take a pitch off. He's got to be locked in every pitch defensively, Neil has to be locked in every pitch defensively, Ronny's got to be locked in every pitch defensively.
You can help your defense by striking more batters out and when we look bigger picture, we'd like to get guys that can strike more hitters out. They're not cheap or easy to find. We'll take ground balls over flyballs. We'll take strikeouts over balls in play, but you marry your personnel to what your structure is. I guess the very long-winded answer to your question is that we can improve our pitching by improving our defense and we can improve our defense by improving our pitching.
You mentioned Pedro and a lot has been made of what kind of shape he was in before camp started. Now that I've been down here and seen him in person a couple times, he looks, if anything, to be in better shape than he was last year.
Yes, he is. The weight gain was misrepresented. Pedro is bigger than he was at the end of last season, but every ounce of weight that Pedro Alvarez put on this offseason was strength. Is the body composition ideal? No, but the weight gain was made to be that he put on a lot of fat; Pedro put on strength. The body is toned up and he is moving better. He's a big, strong, physical man and sometimes big, strong, and physical might just outgrow third base. He's working hard, though, and he doesn't want to leave third base. We don't want him to leave third base, but he's got to be able to play adequate defense over there.
Your asking the wrong question to the wrong guys. Ask the players when they are going to perform together and get it won together. Talent is here to win at least 85 games-execution has not been consistent..
Your asking the wrong question to the wrong guy. Ask the players when they are going to perform together and get it won together. Talent is here to win at least 85 games.
I took a while to respond so that I am sure to be clear on this.
I do not for one minute believe Pat to be a shill.
I do believe that his questions to NH and the gang are the type that would qualify as a meatball over the plate (kinda like our starting rotation throws!)
Like another poster noted, there is always a positive spin on things.
My point is that NH and gang will go out of their way to grant an interview to a blogger, but a former sports journalist/now blogger Smizik can't get his questions answered.
Smizik even offered anyone $10 if FC in his monthly chats would answer ONE question..... At the beginning of the offseason FC stated he would get "weapons" (FC word). WHO are these weapons we acquired?
This is my point. Toss meatbalsl over the plate and love all the decisions the front office make...you get INTERVIEWS. Question some of the moves made by a front office who accumulated 299 losses in 3 years (each progressively worse) and a respected former sports journalist/now blogger CAN'T GET A SINGLE QUESTION ANSWERED!
So basically I was asking, if Pat was aware of this and does he feel like he and other fellow bloggers are being used for PR purposes. Also does he realize the benefits he receives as such.
I think the Bucs are better than most think, young team with potential. The brass is what it is, the players have to still play. I think with enthusiasm brought by Mr. Clint and giving our minor leaguers some A game experience in the spring hurt the won lost record but endeared these players to our org and team management.
Nice interview with Huntington. Now the big question is how long he's going to be able to hold onto Tabata and Walker:
The keys to 2011 and beyond.
I find it interesting that you and other bloggers can get these interviews with the Buccos top brass. Why can't a blogger/former sports journalists get his tough questions asked?
I would like to ask you if you think your writing is biased towards the front office so that you may keep getting access to NH and others?
Do you ever wonder if you and other bloggers are used as PR pawns for them? The top brass graces some bloggers and they become all star-eyed and continue to give positive press to a front office that has seen 299 losses in 3 years, each year getting progressively worse! But some bloggers keep giving the front office positive press and get interviews with the top brass!
I would have more faith if NH and or FC would answer Bob Smiziks tought questions. After all he is a retired sports journalist by trade and now blogger.
Why can someone who hasn't worked in the field of sports journalism get interviews, but not a man who has covered sports for decades as a journalist?
So when you write pieces that defend the front office, obscure the time the Nutting family has been in control of the Pirates, I like others view it with with a skeptical view.
@PittPanthers90 Your keywords - "Smizik" and "Nutting" speak volumes about your own credibility.
What a weird minor stir this has created. But, a little bit of disagreement seems to spark interesting comments. I tend to about 50% agree with PittPanthers90. I usually end up agreeing with everything that Pat writes. (To the extent my opinion matters - it doesn't. I'm just a fan up in Alaska taking part in a long distance water cooler conversation.) But, I agree with PittPanters90 b/c I notice that Pat will devot a lot of energy to defending management decisions. On the other hand, I rarely see thought-out and carefully written posts criticizing management decisions. In other words, Pat ends up rallying for the Pirates, but remains silent about any criticisms. I like reading this blog a lot, but I would also be curious to hear what, if anything, Pat thinks could be done better by the Pirates.
As to citing specifics - this is a blog post, not an academic paper. I read this blog b/c it is fun. I'm not going to turn fun into a research project.
(2) Do you really think I am questioning anybody's integrity? Like cocktailsfor2 mentions, this is an opinion blog. Anybody, including me, is free to post opinions. Playing the integrity card is poor form, it puts words in my mouth.
(3) I don't know Pat, but I assume he is capable of handling criticism. And, this criticism is pretty mild. I am saying I agree with all Pat says, I am just curious to hear more instances of where he thinks the process could be executed better.
(4) I went over the last 7 pages of posts. Lots of the posts are just news reporting, a lot analyze a player, and there are little parts of opinions stuck into the posts here and there. But, when Pat devotes a significant portion of a post to express an opinion that concerns management, by my count, he was in favor of management 6 times, and he was against management 0 times. The pro-management columns were "Pirates chose Josh Rodriguez over Pedro Ciriaco, world ends," "Josh Rodriguez and the final roster spot," "Rebuilding by trading veterans," "Chuck Greenberg to resign as Rangers' CEO," "Give this Pirate team a chance," and "Bob Nutting on expectations." This is the trend I notice. When a whole post is devoted to discussing management, it is usually to defend them. Maybe Pat thinks that everything that management does is perfect - but I doubt it. I would be curious to read a post or two about what Pat thinks could be done better.
(5) Finally, I think all that this shows is that we are all ready for the season to start. I think once we get to start watching (or listening) to some baseball it is going to start being a lot of fun.
Well said, wk.
Also, what's wrong with hrying to look on the bright side of things?
And no, I certainly don't see instances of Pat slurping mgmt to get access. Perhaps he really *does* like some moves that others don't? And if he does, he typically gives reason why he does.
It's an opinion blog. He gets to post his opinion.
It's a 'stir" because the implication is that Pat is tailoring his statements in order to gain access to Pirate management--in other words, that he's acting as a shill for the ballclub, as opposed to providing his own opinions. When you question a writer's independence, you're questioning his integrity, and if you're questioning a writer's integrity, you damn well better be able to provide specifics rather than just tossing out vague and nebulous speculation.
@apk @cocktailsfor2 @PittPanthers90 @apk: One thing to add, I said I agree with PittPanthers90 only about 50%. The "access to management" theme I do not track - I agree with you that I would grant priority access to polite people who are reasonable - which includes Pat. All I'm saying is that it seems to me (I've been reading when I can for about a year, so maybe I've missed something) is that I read a lot of analytical posts that seek to justify the management. That said, I do not disagree with the posts. The point I've been trying to make in the last few comments section is just that I would like to see Pat deploy his impressive analytical tools to isolate a few of the bad moves the Pirates have made, and not just focus on why a particular decision is acceptable. But, I don't know, maybe I don't really mean that. Like you, I like reading the positive stuff more than the negative stuff.
Finally, I like your description of Pat a lot - " a diehard fan who remembers the 90s glory days and has grown up to become a scientist" - I bet that particular demographic is underrepresented in most opinion polls. And, it makes me want to make the next whygavs night. Maybe I'll buy a tee-shirt even if I cannot make the game.
@nickjuneau24 @cocktailsfor2 @PittPanthers90 Nickjuneau24, I don't know that that's entirely fair. I think if you look at some of the more long-form things that Pat does, it becomes pretty obvious that he attacks most issues from a very specific frame of reference: that of a diehard fan who remembers the 90s glory days and has grown up to become a scientist. Thus, he tends to approach most issues analytically, and usually comes to a conclusion akin to "there's no real conclusion here, but I can at least see the logic in what they're doing." When he can't, he calls them on that, too.
I think if you look back at the Littlefield Era, so many things were so illogical that Pat was ready to pack it in. Now, (though I hate to speak for him) I think that one of the biggest things that keeps him going is knowing there's at least a method to the madness, and that the scientist in him can't help but stick around to see how Huntington's experiment plays out.
This is one of the things I like most about this site-- it doesn't try to make conclusions about questions that don't yet have answers. And that's why someone like Smizik's blog is, I think, a relatively worthless place for any legitimate analysis of this franchise. It's a hell of a breeding ground for flame wars and barroom arguments over the greater philosophy of the franchise, though. If you were Huntington, who would you give interviews to? The outlets that are at least trying have a peaceful, thoughtful discourse about the work you're trying to do, or the bully pulpits that nitpick every little sentence you make? The places that are perfectly willing to say things like "I think Matt Diaz is the leading contender for this year's Ryan Church award" and then actually back it up with cogent analysis (without ever mentioning his salary) or the guy who basically calls losing Nathan Adcock a colossal failure after 9 spring training innings? Would you grant access to guys who are willing to put in work like checking all of Charlie Morton's Pitch F/X data or the grumpy "real journalist" who' still pissed that we traded Javier Lopez, but can't really explain why outside of "it was a salary dump?"
If I were Huntington, I know I'd find it really easy to tell who are the lost causes that aren't worth talking to (because their minds are made up to hate my team until it wins 90 games (as is their right)) and who are the people that are at least willing to give my plan a fair shake-- and I know who'd I make time for.
I suspect you've been here long enough, and have read enough, that you must have some particulars in mind when you imply that Pat is shilling for the Bucs' front office-- I don't know what they would be, but I'm sure you can cite something. As for the hard-bitten Bob Smizik, do you have some specific reference to show the Pirate front office won't talk to him? I mean, I would understand if they didn't, as you can only answer the question "Why won't you sell the team to Lemieux and Burkle?" so many times.
@PittPanthers90 I don't see how this piece "defends the front office" or obscures the "Nutting family's" (i.e. Bob Nutting's) control of the Pirates in anyway - especially since Pat doesn't once mention Bob Nutting in this piece.
And by the way, there is no journalist in America that is going to ask a guy who has one year left on his contract (or 10 for that matter) to bash his employer on record. I bet if I asked you to talk to the press about what an a-hole your boss was, you'd probably have the same fear of repercussions as anyone else.
Personally, I am glad that Neal Huntington is so candid in these interviews, as he has been since day one. Dave Littlefield surely did not address the media with the same openness, and after a few years I still think it's a breath of fresh air.
I still think the Pirates have a chance to be even worse than last year. Their offense is far from proven, and their pitching staff and bullpen may be even worse than last year's. However, to bash Pat for this interview is totally off base.