Going by the numbers
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates lean heavily on advanced analysis in every facet of their baseball operations.
They do traditional scouting of major and minor league players, but they also compile reams of statistical information.
General manager Neal Huntington believes in the numbers and doesn’t make major decisions unless he thinks he has data to back them up.
Manager Clint Hurdle is on board with most of it, as seen by his willingness to embrace the defensive shifts suggested by the analysts last season. But Hurdle also believes there’s a balance between what the numbers say and the non-statistical side of the game.
“Our system continues to get ratcheted up, based on technology and based on these men that work it,” Hurdle said before Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs.
“We’re sharing the human element from our perspective, to their analytical side. We’re kind of hybriding the two, which is making sense for everybody.”
Dan Fox heads the Pirates’ analytical department and serves as a chief aide to Huntington. He is assisted by Mike Fitzgerald, an MIT graduate.
The general manager also leans on his personnel advisors and tries to blend the two different sources of input.
The two sides seem to be functioning harmoniously in the Pirates’ organization. That isn’t always the case, as some teams have been plagued by a divide between traditional baseball people and the new wave analysts.
“We’re bringing them down to the clubhouse and an environment they’re normally not part of,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes that statistical analysis can be very sterile and you lose sight of the fact there’s a heartbeat tied to every number. They’re getting a better feel for that, and they’re educating us dramatically along the way. It’s a real good fit with Mike and Dan, and we’re continuing to evolve.”
Without giving details, Hurdle said the Pirates have a defensive program in place that is new for 2014.
SUBHEAD: Choice spot
For the second straight game, Hurdle had right fielder Travis Snider batting second, following Starling Marte and before Andrew McCutchen.
“We’re optimistic that the on-base percentage will play out at the major league level close to what he’s done in the minor leagues,” Hurdle said. “He’s healthy, he’s had the best spring that we’ve been able to see, and that’s the best he’s moved around on the bases and in the outfield since we’ve had him.
“I’ve liked the look of it in spring training and we’ll see how it plays itself out during the season.”
SUBHEAD: New system
The Pirates got a favorable first impression of the new replay challenge system in Monday’s opener.
The Cubs lost their challenge, and the Pirates won theirs, getting a reversal on a pickoff play at first base in the 10th inning.
“This is all new,” Hurdle said. “We had five opportunities to have practice games in spring training (but) three of them were rained out and one there wasn’t even a call (to challenge). Short sample size. I know the umpires are making every effort to make it work. We’re all going to learn a lot, and we’ll see where it goes. It’s already proven itself to be very interesting.”
SUBHEAD: Storm clouds
The Pirates and Cubs are scheduled to conclude their series today at 12:35, but rain is forecast throughout the afternoon.