Clint Hurdle’s Excellent Decision

The Pirates downed the Rockies in 14 innings on Friday thanks to a game-winning double off the bat of Jose Tabata. But the real hero of the game was manager Clint Hurdle, whose strategic decision to send Andrew McCutchen to the on-deck circle as opposed to relief pitcher Garrett Olson likely confused Jim Tracy into pitching to Tabata in the first place.

The Pirates bench was empty and, due to a double-switch made earlier in the game, the pitcher’s spot was due up second in the order, behind Tabata and before McCutchen. After Franklin Morales walked Josh Rodriguez with two outs in the 14th frame of a game knotted at three runs each, Tabata stepped into the batters box.

Knowing that the next scheduled hitter was a reliever, and that the Pirates’ only other pinch-hit options were pitchers, the safe course of action is to walk Tabata. This puts runners at first and second, but with a vastly inferior hitter at the dish.

The situation cannot be effectively measured by WPA without incorporating the strength of the batter. The Pirates might appear to have more of a chance to win the game with runners at first and second as opposed to just having first base occupied, but the difference is likely offset by the gap in productivity at the plate between Tabata and Olson. It’s interesting to ponder: does Tabata up with a runner on first give you a better shot at winning than a reliever up with first and second? I vote yes without hesitation, meaning Tracy’s decision should have been clear.

But Hurdle effectively removed this course of action from Tracy’s consideration, opting to create the illusion that the dangerous McCutchen was due up after Tabata. If McCutchen actually was due up, then pitching to Tabata makes sense. In other words, Jim Tracy made the right decision to pitch to Tabata given what he thought were the circumstances. But there was a stark contrast between that and the actuality of the situation, which proved to be costly.

After the game, both managers tried to justify their respective rationales. Hurdle denied he tried to deke the opposition, justifying his decision based on McCutchen’s experience over Olson’s with aiding runners rounding third. Tracy explained why pitching to Tabata made sense: the hot hitter would still need an extra base hit to win the game.

Further, he “reasoned” that walking Tabata would put Rodriguez in scoring position, where he could score easily on a bloop hit. Had both of these managers taken their truth serums before being interviewed, Hurdle would have laughed while remarking how he got away with a fast one. Tracy would have awkwardly admitted he did not know the situation.

There are two main discussion points here. First, was Hurdle’s maneuver legal? Second, why wouldn’t the managers know the game situation? Perusing the major league rulebook, and the section specific to batters, I found absolutely nothing to suggest that Hurdle stepped out of his legal realm. In fact, the word “deck” only appears in the rulebook twice: to define a save situation, and to indicate that an on-deck batter shall enter the batters box in a timely fashion.

Managers strategically use the on-deck circle from time to time to try and prevent an intentional walk, or to prevent the opposition from making an optimal pitching change. In those situations, however, the team merely shuffles through available bench bats who could legally bat following the current hitter. What sets this situation apart from the rest is how McCutchen was actually in the lineup, and how his presence in the on-deck circle might be considered a form of batting out of order. But it’s not. A rule would only have been broken if Tabata reached base and the Pirates tried to extend their deke by actually sending McCutchen to the plate.

As for how Tracy could have fallen for such a tactic, well, these things happen. As embarrassing as it may be afterward, I would feel much more comfortable as a Rockies fan knowing he fell for the maneuver as opposed to truly believing that pitching to Tabata was the right decision with the knowledge that a relief pitcher was due up next.

What is infuriating from a fan’s perspective is that managers are paid primarily to know the situation at all times and to make decisions accordingly. Hurdle took a chance on Friday, and succeeded because he understood his job duties more than his counterpart.



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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


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CircleChange11
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CircleChange11

Second, why wouldn’t the managers know the game situation?

Seriously, dude? All of the things a manager has to keep track of combined with a 14-inning game? Combined with another manager being intentionally, and uniquely deceptive.

I am surprised that the bench coach, or whoevers job it is to look at the lineup card continually didn’t say anything. But a double-switch in previous innings of an extra-inning game would be something that quite a few coaches/managers would overlook … especially when AMac would have been batting behind Tabata in every other at bat during the game.

What is infuriating from a fan’s perspective is that managers are paid primarily to know the situation at all times and to make decisions accordingly.

Listen to yourself, man.

Hurdle took a chance on Friday, and succeeded because he understood his job duties more than his counterpart.

Eric, I think you need to step back and look at your comments. Hurdle tried something that happens what 1 out of every 5 seasons? 10 seasons? 20 seasons? Ever? … and Tracy was supposed to know?

Technically, you are correct, the manager is ultimately responsible for every situation and scenario. But then, to “fit the bill” a manager has to essentially be perfect or inhuman. Makes me wonder if Hurdle would have tried this with any other team … other than the one that he used to work for. It’s pretty damn shady.

As long as you apply the same extremely high standard to your own performance, you are justified (IMO) to do the smae with others. But, if not, then this seems like holding a manager to a ridiculously high standard given the circumstances. Frankly it sounds like something a person would say if they didn’t know any better … like when they guy next to you at the game says out loud “why doesn’t this bum just throw 9 strikes and get the inning over with already?”.

CJ in CO
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CJ in CO

It’s absolutely Tracy’s fault, “dude”. I’m willing to wager at least 10 fans in the ballpark – and possibly many, many more – noticed the shenanigan. And if so, someone in the Rockies dugout should have.

“All the things a manager has to keep track of” most definitely includes being aware of lineups. I’m appalled that you even mention this. In my job I run a forecasting model and I have to keep track of thousands of inputs, and routinely am very under the gun with pressure to deliver results at the drop of a hat. If I were to deliver faulty results and then complained that I had too many things to keep track of, well, that complaint wouldn’t go far.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Seems like over the top criticism for a situation that may occur once in a career (if ever). It’s nowehere near the same situation as a manager jostling the on deck hitter trying to bait a pitching change, or things of that nature. I’m not saying people should not be held accountable. What I am considering is the rarity and uniqueness of the situation.

Lots of people have to keep track of many things. Are any of them on the lookout for things that “never happen”? Or do we spend our greatest energies on the “most common aspects” that generally cause us problems?

The batting order switch would have been posted on the scoreboard, yes? If so, and even considering other things … then perhaps the pitching, batting, and bench coaches along with the manager should have recognized it, and I might be wrong in my criticism of the criticism.

Jack Weiland
Guest
Jack Weiland

Dude, it’s criticism. He failed to do his job. Hardly over the top. Unless I’m wrong and the headline of this title is “Jim Tracy The Stupid Stupidhead and Why He’s Such a Stupid Person In General and Insofar As His Entire Baseball Career Is Concerned.”

Deep breaths.

Liem
Guest
Liem

This seems like a perfectly reasonable critique. The manager has all the resources at his disposal to keep track of substitutions and batting order, including a giant LED scoreboard in the outfield. Keeping track of these details is something even a high school manager should be doing.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

I looked up the batting order yesterday (and posted a retraction & apology) later on in the thread.

You guys are 100% correct, and I do appreciate the tone of the corrections.

My brain and my rear-end traded places for a little bit. I think everything may be back to “normal”.

MikeS
Guest
MikeS

I’m not familiar with the stadium, but don’t most ballparks list the current lineups somewhere on the scoreboard? Maybe Tracy thought the scoreboard was wrong but it could serve as a failsafe to his lineup card in the dugout. At the very least he could have seen it and said “wait a minute, something is wrong here.”

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

“But a double-switch in previous innings of an extra-inning game would be something that quite a few coaches/managers would overlook … especially when AMac would have been batting behind Tabata in every other at bat during the game.”

That’s just not true. Neil Walker was hitting behind Tabata until the double-switch.

Small Sample Goodness
Guest
Small Sample Goodness

Way off base CC.

Benign
Guest
Benign

Actually, McCutchen had not batted immediately after Tabata at all during the game. Tabata bats leadoff, Walker bats second and McCutchen bats third. Walker had been taken out of the game a few innings earlier as part of a double switch and it had been pitchers or pinch hitters in that spot from then on.

Brian Cartwright
Guest
Brian Cartwright

All he had to do was look at the scoreboard in cf –
1 Tabata LF
2 Olson P
3 McCutchen CF

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