With the Pittsburgh Pirates seemingly in free fall, who is the most to blame for their late summer collapse?

 

As I write this, the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting blasted by the not-so-good Phillies 5-1. Gerrit Cole‘s comeback start did not go as the team had hoped, and if the Pirates don’t come back, the team will have lost four in a row, and 11 out of their last 13 games. Some are going so far as to call this The Collapse 3. This collapse, while it doesn’t feel as crushing as the first two back in 2011 and 2012, is certainly disheartening. Before that first loss to start this collapse back on August 29th, the Pirates had just swept the Brewers in Milwaukee in a four-game series and had moved to within just a half-game of a Wild Card spot. Then Tony Watson blew a game against the Cubs, and all went downhill from there.

Just because expectations were lower heading into this season doesn’t mean that management, the front office, and the players shouldn’t be held accountable for what has transpired here in September and this season. Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle’s jobs almost assuredly aren’t in jeopardy, but they have both made their fair share of mistakes. Andrew McCutchen isn’t to blame for the entire offense going cold, but his performance this season has brought his future with Pittsburgh into question (although for the record I think he starts the 2017 season with the Pirates). Who deserves the blame for this collapse?

The first fingers will probably point towards ownership. But after that, most will throw the blame at Neal Huntington, and he certainly deserves some of it. For one, he failed to address the biggest and most glaring need this off-season in the rotation with much more than a patchwork fix. Jon Niese was going to be nothing more than a back-end starter when he was brought in, Juan Nicasio was a big project at best, and Jeff Locke should have been gone ages ago. You can’t expect to compete with the rotations sported by the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Nationals, and Mets with a rotation made up of three number-five starters.

This failing to improve the rotation put the Pirates in the scratch-and-claw position they found themselves in in August. Huntington also traded away Mark Melancon, and we’ve all seen how Tony Watson has adapted to the closer’s role. Yes, Huntington has made some nice additions (Ivan Nova, David Freese, etc.), but his lack of additions in the off-season have hurt the Pirates more than the additions have helped them this season.

Clint Hurdle hasn’t been terrible this year. Haters of Hurdle will continue to hate him, but he hasn’t been much different than in year’s past. However, his decision to keep Watson in the closer position for as long as he has has not been a good one. For a team trying to make the playoffs, Hurdle has to be willing to adapt and change and do anything possible to spark the team to success. That means moving Felipe Rivero or Neftali Feliz to the closer role and maybe returning to Watson next season.

Hurdle also has to be more willing to bench McCutchen, who is having a terrible season. Give Josh Bell more time in the outfield. Be willing to do something drastic. One of Hurdle’s biggest faults is his sticking with players for too long, and it hasn’t helped the Pirates much this season.

But don’t let the players escape without blame, namely McCutchen. Gerrit Cole has also had a poor follow-up to his great 2015 campaign. But one player does not a team make, and while some players have under-performed, others have exceeded expectations. So it ends up balancing out for the most part.

Many have said that Huntington’s moves at the deadline left the players on the team in shock. And so we come full circle. Many people deserve blame for the way this season has gone and for this recent collapse, and I can’t assign more blame to any one party. But I am particularly disappointed in Neal Huntington. All he needed to do was add one decent arm to this rotation in the off-season, but instead of giving $10 or $15 million to one quality arm, he decided to allot that money to multiple sub-par arms in Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. That was not what the Pirates needed. Unfortunately, what’s done is done, and Huntington, Hurdle, McCutchen, and the rest of the team will have to learn from their mistakes and shortcomings. At this point, hoping these issues can be fixed may have to wait until the off-season.

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Photo Credit – Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons

Tyler Waite

Tyler is a data analyst by day and an aspiring sports writer by night. He's been a Pittsburgh sports fan his entire life, but has a special place for the Pirates. He is fascinated by the analytical side of the game, and wants to impart his analysis as both a writer and as a fan to Pirate fans everywhere.
  • 20Stoney

    I think you hit on it all. Your top position player is supposed to be McCutcheon. Your top pitcher is supposed to be Cole. Cole is the only remaining pitcher from the rotation that started the season. What does that say about the rotation they put together? The Melancon trade obviously took something out of the team besides having a good closer. I do like the upside of Rivero. I think he is better suited to close than Watson. It’s time he’s given a look. There’s nothing to lose.

  • Morrie Somach

    The collapse is a direct result of the first game of the series in Chicago when they blew a 3 run lead in the 8th inning. Then, with the heart taken out of them, they got shut out next game and then choked up in the 3rd game of the series by not being able to complete the comeback. Then the floodgates opened and we find ourselves getting blasted last night at home by the mighty Phillies. I would trade McCutchen with that big, lengthy salary and get some great prospects to rebuild. A new manager wouldn’t hurt, either.

  • Morrie Somach

    The collapse is a direct result of the first game of the series in Chicago when they blew a 3 run lead in the 8th inning. Then, with the heart taken out of them, they got shut out next game and then choked up in the 3rd game of the series by not being able to complete the comeback. Then the floodgates opened and we find ourselves getting blasted last night at home by the mighty Phillies. I would trade McCutchen with that big, lengthy salary and get some great prospects to rebuild. A new manager wouldn’t hurt, either.

  • Daniel Reed

    Bucs brass knew this was going to be a bridge season between previous run and bringing in some new/young talent. It’s been a disappointment. But I think your 2017 team will have a similar roster infused with some of the youth we’ve sampled this year…and be much better, without being handicapped with bad contracts moving forward.

  • nick

    They just don’t have it this year. I wouldn’t call it a collapse. McCutchen is not having a normal season either by any means and Cole has been injured. Plus they play the Cubs 20 times and they beet everybody down

  • nick

    They just don’t have it this year. I wouldn’t call it a collapse. McCutchen is not having a normal season either by any means and Cole has been injured. Plus they play the Cubs 20 times and they beet everybody down

  • leadoff

    What has happened to the Pirates is very complicated, usually teams with as much talent as the Pirates have will win their fare share, Huntington is responsible for the talent, they have an abundance of talent. Hurdle is responsible for getting the most out of that talent and for some reason he has not been able to do that. You can say a move here or there would have fixed their problems, but that is not a solution. They have Watson as the closer because they have no one else. The starting pitching was ticketed to have a makeover this year with the influx of young pitchers, that had to happen. One good arm could not save them, witness Nova and they have had him since the allstar break, he is pitching as good as anyone in baseball and he can’t save them, infact the team has gotten much worse since he has been here. What is really wrong with this team is players underachieving both on offense and on defense and the fact that this team is coached so poorly on fundamentals. Cervelli does not have a home run and does nothing but complain to umpires. McCutchen appears to have lost his confidence, a hit to him now is like a gift at the eighth grade picnic, he can’t play the outfield anymore either. Cole has been a major disappointment, something you cannot say you saw coming. None of the problems they have now could have been predicted.

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  • “you can’t please all the people all the time… and last night, all those people were at my show.” – Mitch Hedberg

    Players didn’t perform at expected levels period. Not one pirate other than marte is close to batting .300 and no one is close to 30 HRs. Pitchers None of the starters at the start of the season are in the rotation. None. not one. Cole injured and when he was in there was a crap shoot, Niese sucked, Nicasio couldn’t cut it, they Finally gave up on Locke and Liriano career might have drove off a cliff. The pen crapped the bed as well.. out side of Melancon there was no one semi-reliable for a good month. and now the only two hitters in Marte and Harrison are out.

    None of this was expected… yeah some regression here or there but come on… It is a freaking miracle they’re .500 let alone still have a remote shot at the playoffs.

    Sure you can say the front offices and coaches should be able to predict these types of things, i’ll give you that. But if you can name one person who said Cutch was going to bat under .260 at this point in the season and ment it.. you should give them a contract.

    Players didn’t play. players got hurt. There really isn’t much more to say. Other than some tweaks I dont’ see much changing from now until opening day. I find it hard to believe they could field a team much more talented for under $110M.