Winter Meetings interview with Clint Hurdle
Q. Imitation is a form of flattery in baseball. It's pretty common. What the Giants did last year, they had a lineup that could hit some long balls but basically they were a team that predicated on manufacturing runs. Do you think that's going to be an influence game wide, that teams might look at putting their lineups together differently?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, I think it's been happening. I think there's much more attention to on base percentage, more focus on stretching out at bats, connecting the dots on offense. And I think you look at the Giants' surge, and it's a very good team that caught fire with Pagan and Scutaro the last two months in the season as good as any 1 2 tandem in all of baseball.
One of the areas that we've got to be more proficient is the top of our order. There were some challenges for us there last season, so we've got to find personnel that can fit the kind of criteria we're looking for to fill those spots. As an industry, yeah, we try and keep an eye on who's doing well, and I think that's been going on, and it's talked about now more than ever.
Q. An ideal situation with the players you currently have at your disposal, who would you like at the top of the order?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm not even going to go there right now because that'll get printed with here's who we're leading off. I don't know right now. I've got some thoughts. I've got some thoughts on who I'd like to hit second. When you look at our personnel, you definitely want people up there that can move. It's not so much the standard as it used to be. How many prototypical lead off men are in the game right now? There's probably a handful of guys that played in the '80s or '90s that you're looking to lead off, guys that are actually in the game right now. But a man that can get on base, can score runs, the second guy used to be a guy that could handle the bat. Now it's maybe a guy that can walk, handle the bat, stretch out an at bat and a guy that needs to get on base.
Our challenge offensively is for all our men to show improvement all along those lines, better quality at bats. We had a 3 hole hitter that with the season he still didn't drive in 100 runs. I think he drove in 95 runs all said and done. You would have liked to think there would have been more opportunities there for him. We've got to find ways to get those two spots more often. I think there are some names we're considering. I know there's some names I'm considering, but we'll see how it plays out.
Q. You said the past couple years you talked about being more of a premium on the stolen base, having more success there. It really hasn't translated yet on the field. Last season your stolen base success rate was one of the lowest in the league. What can you do to drive that up?
CLINT HURDLE: The most important part is the mentality, and we took strides forward from the 2010 season that the Pirates had in '11. We stole more bases. We stole over 100 bases. We backtracked last year. We trimmed it down dramatically. We were caught stealing the same amount of times in '12 that we were in '11, but with a reduced number of bats. It's the mentality first and foremost. They call it a stolen base for a reason. You're taking something that's not yours, and you've got to have that mentality.
We've got to help our guys find their way there, then we have to -- we're going to implement some new ideas in Spring Training to increase the reps, increase the focus, and to recreate as much as we can the game type situation as far as them working to get better and working to get cleaner breaks when they do decide to go.
Q. You guys did have some success in home runs. When the power goes up, does the work on the bases
CLINT HURDLE: I think it can. Guys, once they're hitting the ball, they don't feel the necessity maybe looking for those opportunities, or sometimes you hit the ball right before a guy was planning on running. The combination that you're looking for is being able to score runs when you have to, and sometimes that home run is not in play, so that's when you go back to the speed. There's certain pitchers that don't give up a lot of home runs. You can't count on hitting home runs against those guys. They can work hand in hand.
But again, one of our pluses on offense last year, we did show an increased ability to drive the baseball from both sides of the plate, and then to the big part of the field, as well. It wasn't all pull home runs. That's something I thought we'd have more of in '11; we didn't. It played out better this year, and I think it's something that will continue to show up and it will be a strength for us.
Q. How do you look at the finishes the last two seasons, and how do you contend longer next season and not have those collapses early?
CLINT HURDLE: As silly as it sounds, we've just got to play good, solid baseball. We've got to sustain momentum. I think some of it does come with experience. I think some of it comes with guys being in situations they've never been in before, not all our men but enough of our men to develop an attitude where we're just going to work to get better every day. We can finish the season stronger, not just finish the season but to finish it stronger, improvement every day. They truly -- I thought they had a much better understanding going into this season about the 162 game schedule. We got to taste that again. It's a hard season. It's a long season. You've got to be a good club to win your division. You've got to be a good club to work your way into a wild card opportunity. We weren't good enough. I think the sting of not being good enough and knowing where we were at one point in time, that we are good enough to play good baseball. It's up to each man to find out how they can improve, whether it be mentally, whether it be physically, whether it be mechanically or fundamentally to sustain the success that we did show through 120 games.
Q. When you won that Sunday in St. Louis, did you think this might be a stepping off point for us and we can take this somewhere?
CLINT HURDLE: I thought it was maybe another mile marker along the road of something significant, but I'll tell you when I felt the best was after we beat the Cardinals at home in back to back games. We played arguably as good a baseball game as we've ever played in 24 hours. I thought that might jump start something. But the beauty of our game is you don't win it on paper. You've got to go play every night, and I think that can get lost in translation, the importance of playing every night, showing up in a consistent way every night and not carrying baggage from the loss the day before, or sometimes that has collateral damage. And I think our guys are getting opportunities to learn how to let things go, move on, the importance of doing that versus what can happen if you do hold on to some things.
Q. I don't mean this facetiously, but last year the constant mantra was finish. Have you given any thought to what the buzz word might be for next season?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, I've given a lot of thought to it.
Q. We're not going to get it?
CLINT HURDLE: No, I don't do reality TV or reality radio. We'll come up with that in house. We've got some thoughts. One of the things I'll share is I think finish can mean different things. I think finish, it was meant to finish a play, finish an at bat, finish an inning, not just finish the season. As important as I thought that would be for us to understand, I do think they walked away -- the fact that we did not finish, we know what finish means but we've got to go define it by play, but we have given some thought to some things this year and I'm sure we'll have something for you in Spring Training.
Q. Have you had a chance to meet with Jay Bell?
CLINT HURDLE: Repeatedly. We brought him in here for this reason to get to meet our scouts, to get to meet some of our baseball front office personnel. We interviewed him right before he took off for the qualifying rounds with Team USA. I was out in Arizona over Thanksgiving, we spent a day together, our families together. I've known Jay for over 20 years. We spent a number of hours already just kind of having conversations and dialogue. I think he's going to be a welcome addition to everything we're doing.
Q. Has there been any discussion about having an assistant hitting coach?
CLINT HURDLE: Yes, there has, meaningful discussion.
Q. It's a possibility?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, definitely, because Coach Strittmatter, I don't know if you know, he left. He went to Colorado; he took a revolving coordinator job with the Rockies for a number of different reasons. So we're going to have an opportunity to fill that position.
Q. Lineup question. This is more philosophical. Your lead off hitter is going to get more at bats over the course of a long season than your 5 or 6 hitters. How do you optimize at bats for your hitters by having them one, two, three?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, it's important. It's definitely something we've taken into play. That extra at bat, you always would like to have your better hitters have that extra at bat that could come their way during a game. And I'm not sure where your question is going other than to say, yeah, we definitely consider that. We talk about that and we understand the importance of it.
Q. So you may put a better hitter in the 2 spot as opposed -- you touched on this earlier, a bat control guy rather than, say, the 5 spot driving in runs?
CLINT HURDLE: I'm not so sure we're ever going to have that kind of lineup that plays out definition wise. Plus the definition has changed from 1980 to 2013 for me, and what we're looking at right now is how do we optimize the best hitters that we have, because I had discussion a number of times, well, why don't you get McCutchen back for lead off. You know what, if our six, seven, eight guys were getting on base a lot, that makes a lot of sense. But where we were last year, that makes zero sense because that wasn't happening enough. That's the challenge that we've got going in. But we've got to find a way to stack some offense. I think the improvement that our guys are going to show this year, another year of experience, another of 450, 500 bats for these guys, I think that's going to play out extremely well for us.
Q. If you're not as strong as you'd like to be 6 through 9, and you do have strong 1, 2, 3, would you ever consider hitting your pitcher eighth to have a better on base guy in front of those guys?
CLINT HURDLE: Talked about it long and hard, understand the reason why it's done, and in the right scenario with the right guy -- you also need a guy that's an on base percentage guy that's going to hit ninth. So it's definitely something that we have talked about internally.
Q. Do you feel a need or an interest at this point in adding pitchers from the outside, a starter from the outside of the organization?
CLINT HURDLE: You know, I wouldn't say -- well, need? Yeah, everybody needs another pitcher. You talk to 29 other managers out there, I'm going to guess most of them are going to say they'd like to have another pitcher. Externally you say, you're talking about getting an experienced guy because you don't have those guys within your system. We have young men that are going to grow up and look for opportunities, whether it's the two men we brought up at the beginning of the season or someone else that's on the cusp. But we have had those discussions, as well, and we're working our way through a lot of different branches. The biggest branch was cut a little less than a week ago. If we're able to acquire a catcher, first critical point, we're going to go this way. If we didn't get Russ Martin, we're going to go this way. So we're following a different avenue now that Russ is with us and a part of our organization.
We understand the depth and the importance of pitching; everybody does. And experienced pitching can also have a tremendous benefit. It's tough to break in two young starters. Sometimes that's what you need to do. That can be a challenge.
CLINT HURDLE: Absolutely, those two guys we're talking about, yeah.
Q. Is there still a possibility for them to compete in Spring Training?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, absolutely.
Q. Can you talk about Donald's second half and how that impacts your thinking about next season?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, I think obviously if he would have had a second half like the first half, he'd be a lockdown probably No. 3 guy in your rotation. I do think we saw enough good -- I love the way, the challenge that can be presented, and we do work in an industry and sometimes in society when something doesn't go right, I think we have more fear of being wrong. We talked about this earlier today, gosh, is he a first half guy or a second half guy? I'm thinking he's a first half guy or somebody in between. I think the experience is going to help him. There's probably not the confidence level that he's got going in that he had in the first half going into the beginning of it. But the beauty of our game, it's a brand new start.
We're going to accentuate the positives. He's continued to see the good stuff, why it went on, how it went on, the challenges that came in the second half, what was learned by them. I still have a good feeling about James McDonald. And what I don't believe people put enough resolve into or thought into, this is a converted guy. This guy hasn't been pitching since he was six. It was the first time he had a large amount of success bundled in a half of a season. I think that was a new experience for him, as well.
Q. Do you remember at the end of Spring Training he got laid up big time, came back, had a terrific first two, three months. Was there anything specific after that outing in Spring Training that he did not repeat when he started to go back in season, either mentally or physically?
CLINT HURDLE: This game is predicated by a first thought all the time. If the first thought is not positive, it's hard to have success. I really believe that. And you went from a guy that had success upon success, and then the momentum, the positive traction that was built through the first half -- the conversation we've had, and pretty much we've both gotten to the same place with, his focus going into the season was I need to do A and B well, we'll see where that takes me. He did that well, he looked up at the end of the first half and he said, my goodness, look at this, if I can do C and D well, I can take this to another level. Sometimes you've got to be good and great. You want to be great, you be good for a long time. I think that's a valuable lesson that James was able to walk away from last season. I think he tried to add more. That got things out of hand. And then when you try harder to recapture, whatever, it just got him to a very challenging place, so I think he's going to find a way to try to re simplify things, keep it consistent about first pitch strikes, making them beat him with swings and going with what's working at the time. He doesn't have to have a forward pitch every time. Second half of the season, he didn't feel -- if he didn't throw all four of them good coming out of the bullpen, I don't know what's going to happen tonight. But in the first half it was I'm throwing for my 45 pitches, I'm letting it go, and I'm going to go get after it.
Q. Have you talked to Jason at all? I think he's in the house. Or at any point over the offseason?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, just conversation because he lives in Orlando. I was down in Florida a couple different times, so we have had some communication.
Q. Still interested in bringing him back? I understand it takes two sides.
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, we have interest in bringing Jason back, most definitely. Jason has been a very good pitcher for us in a Pirate uniform.
Q. When we first talked down in Florida, we were talking about free agents and you said it's not always the prettiest girl at the dance, that's something we need to change. I think after you guys signed Martin, a lot of people think back to the Tigers when they were coming off a 100 loss season and they brought in Pudge, a guy with a little bit of name value, a little bit of money, and that got some momentum building for them. Not to say you're going to follow that same exact template, but could there be other parallels there?
CLINT HURDLE: I think there could be. It was one of the thoughts that I had probably removed from the situation probably the next day. There's a number of things that need to be done on the way to you becoming a good organization, a championship organization. Games aren't won on paper. We have found a way to create, I think, a better environment. We've created a better team on the field now to sustain and fulfill and finish the season off to win something. Our first focus was a catcher, we went out on the market and we recruited heavily to get Russell in. I do believe he's going to make a difference on both sides of the ball.
I understand trends, I understand past performance, I also understand people. And I'm a guy that's going to bet on people as much as I am about numbers and trends from time to time. He came here for a reason. I think New York would have been a good fit, as well. He talked about it. That's always going to be a good club. Who can he impact more? I think he's looking for another challenge, not just the challenge of coming to Pittsburgh but a challenge of reigniting his career offensively, being a guy rather than just another guy. So we're very happy to have him, and he's very motivated to get back from vacation. We've got film and tape going his way already. He can't wait to get hands on with this group, and I think it's a good fit. It's a guy with a lot of energy that's done some things professionally that we don't have a lot of in our clubhouse that I think he can add.
Q. Do you feel -- if for whatever reason Joel was no longer a Pirate next season, do you feel there are people you have at your disposal who can handle that late game role, the back end of the game?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, I mean, yes. Everybody thinks that you've got to have a guy that's done it. There's a bunch of guys that never did it until they got their first opportunity. You'd like to have somebody in waiting, but sometimes you don't know who a guy is going to be. Really never had the opportunity to pitch in the eighth inning last year, he's been moved upon that.
I can remember -- I wasn't in the organization, but when Joel first came over there was a large volume of people that never thought this man would be anything close to a Major League credible closer. He's put together two very successful seasons. He's established himself in a very good place there.
For me it's as much about opportunity, it's not so much about having a bona fide guy. We've got big arms, I think, that play swing and miss stuff, eight guys better leverage situations and ground ball situations. So I think we have those guys available to us.
Q. What do you want to see in catching?
CLINT HURDLE: You know, I'm not so concerned about an encore. I know one of the things he's going to try to bring with him next year is the baserunning, stolen base facet of his game. But I mean, the season he had, he's just going to try and find a way to get a little bit better. How that's going to play out and translate, when you have back to back Player of the Month awards, you get a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove, that's pretty good. I think if you do that again, that would be tremendous. You know what, if it comes up where he doesn't win all four of those awards, it's still going to be very good.
What I like about him, he demands so much of himself. It's not about awards, it's not about trophies, it's him finding a way to get a little bit better and to help us win the game we're playing that day. That mentality drips on other people. That mentality plays well in the clubhouse, and he's a guy whose actions usually speak much louder than his words, and guys have a tendency to pick up and want to follow and want to keep up with him.Q. I believe I asked you this mid September, but with the perspective of the whole season in the books, I wonder if -- Andrew had a relatively slower last couple months of the season than he had through August, which was tremendous. Did you see any common elements in what he went through last season as he had in 2011 as far as how much he took upon himself and how he made tried to do too much and maybe he could learn from that?
CLINT HURDLE: You know, if you're looking for a perfect player, you're not going to find him. Do you know how many players in baseball had an OPS or -- I'm just saying, let's keep it in perspective. His age, he's always going to have the opportunity to learn things. Yes, he did. Did I see the second half this year what I saw in '11? No, nothing even close. I saw a guy trying to carry a club on his back single handedly at the plate, trying to make a difference with every swing. I saw a guy that was still trying to be a difference maker at the plate that was pitched dramatically than what he put up the first four months of the season. I saw a guy that brought his game up to a level that we haven't seen in Pittsburgh in a long time. I think there were definitely those conversations, this guy will not beat us. So can a guy maybe not have the perfect patience that he had the first four months and maybe lose a little bit of that? Most definitely.
But as far as -- I would say he showed more seasoned experience, he made some outs, but it wasn't with anxiety, it wasn't with anxiousness, it wasn't from losing perspective and trying to do things he wasn't capable of.
Q. What difference do you think it might make for Travis Snyder to be there from day one instead of coming over the middle of the season and go through Spring Training and really get acclimated?
CLINT HURDLE: I think it's going to play out big. We like Travis. There's a lot to like about Travis. I felt bad for the kid because it was almost two weeks into his time with us and we actually thought he was getting to a pretty good place and he hurt the first leg. He basically played without a foundation from the waist down the entire time he was with us.
I'm really looking forward to it. I think he's going to be a very good player for us on both sides of the ball. And along those veins, I'm looking to Gaby Sanchez to be in a much better place. He just had a sideways year last year for whatever reason, it didn't work in Miami. I thought he was working to a much better place toward the end of the season with us. Those are two guys you can plan in your lineup that have shown the ability to dig in with some at bats, to stretch out at bats, to see more pitches, their hitting awareness might be a little bit longer than some of the guys we've had. So I think you plant those two in the lineup, it gives the lineup a chance to grow, as well.
Q. Same question about Starling Marte?
CLINT HURDLE: Absolutely, and he's had a very, very good winter ball from the first day he started playing until now. And Giles has his eyes on him. I get the daily report. We've had people down to see him. He's excited. Obviously he wanted the opportunity to play winter ball. I think we're having conversations right now on how much more he needs to play winter ball. He's in a very good place, and I think he's another guy that coming in, the experience of being there last year is going to help him through more of a seamless transition and the opportunity to get off to a nice clean start with us to start the season.
Q. This is the first offseason with a couple years that we haven't been writing offseason stories or talk on the radio about Pedro. Is that pretty much what he needs, kind of a distraction free winter?
CLINT HURDLE: I think it's a benefit for anybody. And he deserves a lot of credit for there to be a lot of that talk has dissipated and gone away for a number of reasons. Number one, the level of play. Is he always going to be a lightning rod with some spikes up and some spikes down? I think that's going to play out for a while as he matures as a hitter, but he's always going to be electric and a player at the plate. He got into that role this year. He wants to be a third baseman. He works very hard at that. We'll see how that continues to play out.
But I do think he's in the most comfortable place he's ever been in professionally and especially since he's been in a Pirate uniform.
Q. Where is Walker in terms of his injury?
CLINT HURDLE: He's done with all the medical recovery and activity and therapy. He's finished with all that and actually started his strength and conditioning program within the last two weeks. Probably two weeks ago, I had lunch with him while he was geared up for that. He's in a very good place, very good place, ready to go.
Q. A little bit off topic, but talking to different managers about payroll disparity and obviously it affects you guys and other teams. How do you view that? Is it starting to get a little out of whack?
CLINT HURDLE: I pay attention to my own house. That's basically -- keep my focus right where it needs to be. Don't pay attention to things I don't have.
Q. Any interest from any of the guys in the WBC?
CLINT HURDLE: We just had some conversation about it. We're starting to have some conversation about it. And actually I think Pedro was on the Dominican Republic's roster, expanded roster early, and he doesn't -- I don't think he's -- right now he's kind of apprehensive and not real comfortable pursuing it, but I'm aware there could be a few other names coming out. We'll have those conversations when we're sure of the names and the opportunity.
Q. Does it depend player to player for you from your perspective, from the organization's perspective, pitchers different than position players, things like that?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, it can be, and I -- you want to be smart, you want to do what's best. Yes, we have a season to play, and some of them feel an obligation to represent their country. And for me to try and down trod that or blow that, I would never do that. I want to hear the young man or whoever tell me why he wants to play if he wants to play, and then we'll go from there.