While I started gathering thoughts for my post about Neal Huntington's future with the Pirates over the weekend, I kept getting stuck on the idea of how much blame a front office (or a coaching staff, or the players, or anyone really) should get for a collapse like the one the Pirates have endured this season. This is not to say that no one deserves blame for this sort of thin, this is to say that this kind of thing is not at all a normal event in baseball and so while it's easy to say, "It's happened to Hurdle two years in a row, FIRE HIM!" or "It's happened to Huntington two years in a row, FIRE HIM!" I'm not at all certain that that's the right or best way to look at things.
At the end of July, as the Pirates' play started to trail off a bit post-All Star break and some of the more skittish fans started to worry about the team collapsing, Rob Neyer looked at the chances that the team would fold up like they did in 2011 and came to this conclusion:
Now, it wasn't difficult to predict that the  Pirates would not finish in first place, or qualify for the postseason at all. It would have been exceptionally difficult to predict they would utterly collapse, going 22-46 the rest of the way and finishing 24 games out of first place. A collapse of that magnitude is moderately historic and simply cannot be predicted.
Which is why, without knowing anything else, we would not predict a similar collapse, or even much of a collapse at all, for this year's Pirates.
He then went on to detail all of the things that, to that point, made the 2012 Pirates better than the 2011 Pirates. In other words, we all knew the 2011 Pirates weren't as good as their 100 game record, but that collapse was still hugely unlikely. To that point we had every reason to believe that the 2012 Pirates were better than that, and even if they weren't that much better, well, that sort of collapse is difficult to duplicate.
Of course, we know now that the Pirates haven't just duplicated last season's collapse, but surpassed it. Jayson Stark tells us that this is the worst collapse after 108 games in baseball history and frankly, by the time this wretched season is all said and done, it won't even be close. Two years in a row, I've tried to tell myself (and anyone that reads this site) that expecting the Pirates to collapse because they played over their heads through 100 games is just gambler's fallacy and two years in a row, I've been wrong.
Instead of finding out some way to assign blame for this whole thing*, I just feel like throwing my hands up in the air and screaming "WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?" There was no obvious reason for this collapse looming behind the scenes on game 101, there's no obvious link between what happened last year and what's happening this year. There must be some connection, of course, but it's not something that we can say, "THIS! THIS IS WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE AND ONCE THIS CHANGES IT WILL ALL BE OK FOR THE PIRATES!" To be honest, even if you believe that these successive collapses are entirely the work of a front office that is incapable of building a good roster or a manager that can't keep his players focused for 162 games, the statistical probabilities of this happening for two straight years are staggering.
I'm a scientist. I like real answers. I don't like ascribing things to curses or throwing my hands up and saying, "God hates Pirate fans." It's just that sometimes, the Pirates make it really, really hard not to do those kinds of things.
*People are quick to do this right now, but I think that this is way more complicated than people are making it seem. Go back to the day of the Wandy Rodriguez trade and imagine that by the end of September Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke and Kevin Correia would all be mainstays in the rotation. Would you have known then that not only would James McDonald not find himself in the second half, but that Erik Bedard would be so bad the team would jettison him entirely and Jeff Karstens would get stuck in a weird injury limbo and AJ Burnett would regress back towards where you'd expect 35-year old AJ Burnett to be? And if you could have anticipated all of those things back in July, what else could you have done besides trading for Wandy Rodriguez and hoping that it was enough? That's not to let anyone off of the hook here, but to re-iterate that I think that this collapse is a complicated issue and when you try to assess jobs for managers and GMs as this season winds down that you have to look at a full picture of two years or five years and not assign undue weight to 50 games, even if those 50 games are awful, even if those 50 games are the freshest things on our minds. And again, this isn't me sugar-coating things for anyone or trying to duck handing out blame; I'm slow to base anything in baseball on the outcomes of 50 games, no matter how great or awful
1) Brad Lincoln
2) Way back when, when we had Jack and Feddie and Jason and Nate the best outfield in basebal, our highly touted Gm broke eerythingup. It wasn't a perfect team but it had promise and players who WANTED to play in pittsburgh. What did we get for them? Nowhere near their value. That was the team to build on - add Andrew and walker (wo STILL needs an extended contract) and some decent pitching and we wouldn't have been back to square one.
3) Trading Lincoln was the worst mistake of the current trade deadline. He was the glue we needed to hold together the middle innings.
4) All we got inreturn were clones - history of "potential" never realized by their former teams, pop-fly hitters, fair to dismal fielding. They were all the same and they all failed.
5) Wehad a catcher with power but he was part of the "Wilson/sanchez" team and NH had to get rid of him to make this "his team."
6) Barmas is CH's pet and he should never have been signed and certainly NOt to the contract he got. He's another one with "potential" that never panned out.
7) The same with out every-day catcher - too old, too expensive
8) CH gave up on the running game - we don't steal (nd we sure don't throw anyone out!!), we don't hit and run, we don't do anything creative. we were way too dependent on the home rum - something always fatal if you're not the 27 Yankees.
9) 'Cutch mailed in his at-bats the last half of last year and he sure didn't impress the second half of this year. . When Walker went down, we couldn't win a game
10) The old adage is, you can't fire the whole team so you fire the Gm and/or the manager. Sorry, but CH didn't hold the team togeher. He played scared and never tried anything creative.
@SLKotar This is the closest to my EXACT sentiments over the last couple of years and down the stretch this year. Well said. Sadly, IM still going to Bradenton for spring training and STILL going to the game on the 4th of July...but management is REALLY making me feel gullible for giving my money lately. Sigh......
Guys, a bit of reality check as a non-pirates fan. The real Pirates are the ones that played the second half of 11 & 12. The 1st half team simply over-performed. What do you expect from the lowest payroll in Baseball? Pirates pitching is a laughter. You do have the basis of a competitive team with McCutchen (who IS a superstar), Jones and Alvarez. Your pitching could be there in a few years with the likes of Cole, Taillon & Heredia, but you are a long way from there. In that sense, NH and CH have done a terrific job, but unfortunately have created false expectations among the fan base. Sorry but that's the truth if you put your heart aside.
Pat, one thing I've been bothered by is NH blaming part of the Pirates collapse on 'bad luck'. This is not what you want to hear from a GM down the stretch...especially since I've watched these games and the Pirates bad play of late had definitely NOT been the work of bad luck....just bad baseball. ;(. Fire NH...expect accountability.