November 12, 2013
Internet Baseball Awards
NL Top Manager
Given Pittsburgh’s storybook season, there should be little surprise that Clint Hurdle was named this year’s Internet Baseball Awards Top Manager. It’s the second time that Hurdle has been honored as the internet’s choice for the best NL manager, as he previously brought home the virtual hardware in 2007, when he led the Rockies to a Wild Card berth and their first World Series appearance.
Hurdle took over as Pittsburgh’s manager in place of John Russell following a 57-105 season in 2010—the franchise’s worst showing since 1954. The Pirates improved to 72-90 in Hurdle’s first year at the helm and 79-83 the next, but the club was still without a winning season in two decades after consecutive years of stellar starts were followed by second-half collapses.
Despite the late-season swoons, Pittsburgh’s front office showed its faith in Hurdle last offseason by extending its skipper through the 2014 season. The Pirates went on to finish the 2013 season with a 94-68 record and clinch the no. 1 Wild Card spot in the National League. Playing in front of a city that hadn’t seen playoff baseball since 1992, the Pirates dispatched Cincinnati in the NL Wild Card game before falling to the eventual NL champion Cardinals in five games.
In September, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune wrote about the Pirates’ aggressive defensive alignments and Hurdle’s growth as a manager since his time in Colorado. After being fired by the Rockies midway through the 2009 season, Hurdle, who was widely considered an old-school, 20th-century skipper, became more openly accepting of sabermetrics and worked with MLB Network as a studio analyst for the remainder of 2009.
“It was definitely a transformation in understanding the game. It has been for me for the last 10 years, especially the last five years,” Hurdle told Sawchik. “You have to get involved in the information. You've got to read. You've got to study. You can't just stick your head in the sand and just say, ‘It doesn't exist. It doesn't count. It doesn't make sense.' ”
Since Neal Huntington took over as Pittsburgh’s GM in 2007, the front office has been one of the more sabermetric-friendly in the league, but as Ben Lindbergh has written repeatedly, that means little if the manager hasn’t bought into the philosophy and isn’t willing to go through with plans as designed. Fortunately for the Pirates, Hurdle has soaked in the information fed to him by the organization’s analytics department and has been open to implementing strategies that Huntington and Dan Fox have put in motion.
One of those strategies is defensive shifts, for which the Pirates laid down the foundation in recent years. They went full throttle with the strategy in 2013, implementing 494 shifts, the third most in the NL and over four times as many as they had in 2012 (according to Baseball Info Solutions). The defense ranked fifth in baseball in park-adjusted defensive efficiency this season, up three spots from 2012 and significantly ahead of their placement in years prior. In 2010, the Pirates were second-to-last in park-adjusted defensive efficiency and were 21st in 2011.
Hurdle received 385 of the 546 first-place votes, and St. Louis manager Mike Matheny garnered 90 votes to finish runner-up for the second straight season. Don Mattingly went from the hot seat in May to an NL West title and collected 39 votes for third place. Fredi Gonzalez finished fourth after leading the Braves to their first NL East division crown since 2005. Rounding out the top five was last year’s IBA Top Manager, Davey Johnson. The recently fired Dusty Baker finished a distant ninth despite the Reds securing a wild-card berth.
You can see the full results of the Internet Baseball Awards National League Top Manager voting here.