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Hurdle talks analytics, Cutch, Steel City in Q&A

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 21: Clint Hurdle #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates watches batting practice before the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at PNC Park on June 21, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) (Justin Berl/Getty Images)
July 3, 2018

In a recent sit-down with, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle answered questions on a wide range of topics, from his respect for Andrew McCutchen to his love for Pittsburgh. I know what the record says. But in your own words, how is the season going?Clint Hurdle: The season has

In a recent sit-down with, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle answered questions on a wide range of topics, from his respect for Andrew McCutchen to his love for Pittsburgh. I know what the record says. But in your own words, how is the season going?
Clint Hurdle: The season has continued to evolve with opportunities and challenges. We've had very good spots of play, and we have had very challenging spots of play.
Overall, inconsistencies have been problematic at times. There have been volumes of games where the starting pitching has been really good. There have been times the bullpen has been locked-down solid. There have been times the offense has been very productive.
There also have been times where, offensively, it has been hard to score more than more than two runs. There have been times where the bullpen has not been able to [prevent the opposing team from scoring]. There are times when the starters haven't given us distance. We've had to overwork the bullpen. Defensively, our awareness sometimes has been challenged as well. We've made more errors than we would like to make. There are more unearned runs on the board than we would like to have. Last year, you were given a four-year extension. What made you decide to take the extension? It seems like the team is rebuilding.
Hurdle: I believe in the organization. I spent seven years here. They know me, I know them. I know the owner, Bob Nutting. I know the team president, Frank Coonelly. [General manager] Neal Huntington and I have a professional, good working relationship. I know our player development people very well. I believe in everything we do -- the Draft, scouting.
Also, by offering me that contract, they are telling me that they believe in me. … The combination of my belief in them and their belief in me was very strong. It didn't take me a lot of time to work through it. The opportunity is great. There will be hard work involved, and we believe it's going to be so worth it in the end. So you are saying that you think the future is bright in Pittsburgh?
Hurdle: I do. That's probably the exclamation part of it. I believe in the people that we brought up, the young players that are involved right now, gaining experience. The coaching staff is in a solid place. They are teachers, they are educators, they are listeners. The Minor League system is vibrant. So I definitely believe the future is bright. You are 60 years old. Are there some things you would like to see change in this game?
Hurdle: I don't know if it's up to me. I need to be a standard bearer, not a gatekeeper. The game is changing in some areas. I think tradition can be awesome. Tradition can also be a vision killer. Growth is inevitable and change is inevitable. That's one thing you can count on. Our game is changing in some directions. Will it float back to some of the standard operational values? I don't know. It may.
Some things run in cycles as well. But I do know you have a new group of people who are investing in the game. You have ownership that can be younger at times. You have general managers that have more youth on their side. And the people they put into play are looking at the game in a different lens than the one I grew up with.

Baseball cards are a thing of the past. You don't get traded like you did before. So … there is more importance put on different numbers. It used to be ERA, RBI, batting average. Now there are different numbers. There's analytics that provide a unique lens in which to look at the game differently. There aren't things that I need to try and change. I need to be aware of [analytics]. I need to adapt, improvise and overcome where it makes sense. And there are some things I'm going to hold on that I believe in. What are you trying to hold on to?
Hurdle: The respect of the game -- the name on the front of the jersey and the name on the back. Not every team has a name on the back, but you are representing a family. You are representing an organization, a city where you live. Sometimes I think we all need to be reminded of that.
I also think we need to be reminded of the fact that players play the game, and so many young people watch them. Players have an opportunity to model behavior you want to instill in others. I do believe performance and behavior can go hand in hand. There is a yin and a yang to it.
I believe in the respect of the game, keeping it special and significant. It's about community. It's about everybody. I also encourage our guys to fear nothing when they are up here and respect everything. So, those are some of the things I hold on to. Do you like analytics?
Hurdle: I've learned to appreciate them. Initially, when I came in, they were overwhelming, because I didn't understand them. Anytime, in my own life experiences, if something was brought to me and I didn't grasp very quickly, it could freak me out. This was a case here.
I needed to sit back in 2009, and I started working for the MLB Network. I started dipping into analytics. I started talking to some people that were starting the push that this is real. This is where the game is going. I had to sit back and make a decision. My decision was, this game is going in this direction and if I don't find a way to get on board with it, it will leave me in the dust. Is there something about analytics you would like to change?
Hurdle: There is something I think we need to consider sometimes: Analytics are vacuum-based. It's all numerical evaluation. The probabilities are locked in, or if something is going to happen a thousand times, you are going to get this result. …. We've been able to hybrid statistical information, analytical values to the game with human analytics.
I always remind [analytics experts that] there is a human heartbeat tied to those numbers that can be real. It doesn't tell if a player is arguing with his wife at home. It doesn't tell me if a guy's mom is sick. It doesn't tell me the things you need to know within the clubhouse. The analytics scream this on this day, but I know better, because I know that's not the guy that's going out there and playing tonight. I try to keep both of them in play. How weird is it not having Andrew McCutchen on the team?
Hurdle: It's different. It's definitely weird. He was in front of me from the day I've been here until this past January. I was closer to him than any other player. We have been through a lot together. I watched him date Maria. I watched him win the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger Awards, MVP. I watched him during hard times. A couple of different times, I told him it was best to sit him for two or three days and not play. We talked about so many different things on and off the field. What do you miss most about McCutchen?
Hurdle: The confident swagger. He had tremendous conviction and belief, regardless of what was going on. It helped him to become the player he has become. Is there anyone that has replaced him on and off the field?
Hurdle: I don't think you are going to find anyone to replace him. Different guys have picked up different things. Jordy Mercer has provided a quiet leadership in that clubhouse. David Freese has experience in the game. He was a World Series MVP. He provides stability, direction in that clubhouse. Corey Dickerson has been a positive light in a lot of ways. Sean Rodriguez has been a very strong-minded man. He honors the game and has some old-school values he shares with these young players. We've had a number of players who have stepped up and tried to take different roles. Is it hard to believe that you are a better manager and coach than you were as a player?
Hurdle: I actually told people for the last few years that my career took off when I stopped playing. Why do you think it worked out as a coach and manager?
Hurdle: Maybe it's all the experiences that I learned as a player, because I had ups and I had downs. I was a high draft pick -- a lot of expectations. I got to see elite players. I got to see work ethic. I got to see why players didn't have success. I didn't have the success I should have had.
The moving around on the field really helped [as a coach and manager]. … The best thing that ever happened to me from a coaching and managerial standpoint was going behind the plate and learning how to catch, watching that whole game from a different angle. And then I developed relationships with pitchers. I was able to understand starting pitchers better, relief pitchers better. I understand setting up hitters. It was a big benefit. As you look at the Pirates, what the biggest thing you want to see improve?
Hurdle: The biggest thing for me right now is the consistency of our game. Yeah, we would love to score more runs -- and at times we do score more runs and we give up too many runs. Our men play hard. They do respect the game. What does Pittsburgh mean to you?
Hurdle: It's blue-collar people. Your word is your word. Your handshake is real, it counts and it matters. Don't make excuses. You show up and you do the work. A dollar has value.
I love the vibrancy of the North Shore and have seen how it has grown the last eight years economically. The fan base is tough right now, but they come out when we win. To go through those three years when we were in the playoffs and see that fan base rise and get loud and proud again was exciting.
For me, Pittsburgh has a lot of the values I grew up with, which is you tell the truth.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.