Koll: Neal Huntington Continues To Baffle Me

Neal Huntington
Photo credit Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
By 93.7 The Fan

The Neal Huntington Show here on 93.7 The Fan is becoming must-listen radio and it’s probably not for the right reasons.

Give a boat load of credit to the Pirates general manager, no matter what is going on with the franchise he puts that headset on or picks up that phone call on the road every Sunday and goes on the air to talk about what is going through his mind.

The problem is what seems to be going through his mind, what he wants to tell the fan base, doesn’t always seem agreeable. It was no different this week when Huntington was talking about what all has transpired with his team this year. He decided to cite some statistics for us to chew on as the Bucs plan for September.

“We want to again re-establish that this isn’t the end of the world and that this really tough stretch, as statistically unlikely as it was, it happened. If you run 10,000 simulations on teams that are supposed to be a .500 team, eight times would you run into a 4-24 stretch according to FanGraphs. So a less than one percent chance of what we just experienced. But what we experienced is real.”

This one is really tough to take. I'm going to try to overlook the offense of using numbers and computer simulations to explicate why this losing streak shouldn't have happened to them. Let’s take it piece by piece.  

The first thing I think of is whether Neal Huntington went to FanGraphs himself or most likely fellow staffer did, just with the sole purpose of finding some kind of statistical loophole to explain away the deficiencies of this team and this season.  Did he really dig through a database online to find the numbers that would best support this being an anomaly? That’s what he’s left to do?

The second thing is the mention of a “.500 team.” Is Huntington calling this team a .500 club going into the season here? Is he saying that this team should have been .500 this year and this 4-24 stretch derailed them from that? Is he admitting that he constructed an average team, knew he had done so, expected the team to finish around .500 and still billed it to the fan base as a contender?

It would certainly seem that way to me although it could also be interpreted as Huntington citing that his team was around .500 before that awful stretch and that’s why he dubbed them that. I’ve also come to understand that the simulation in which he citing is based on a model in which the team finishes with 76 wins (less than .500), not 81.

But what holds me back from believing that Huntington knew it was a .500 team from the start is his stubborn confidence that this organization has the talent to contend and is better than they’ve shown on the field.  

As Huntington continued on his show, he talked about the offseason and what the plan looks like moving forward.

“How do we learn from it and how do we grow from it and build some momentum for next year and repeat 2012 to 2013. We get that that rings hollow to some of the fan base, but it is real. We’ve been here before.  We’ve done this before. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. It’s not guaranteed, we need to be better. I need to be better.”

“The talent is there, how do we put it together how do we add to it and make it better and that’s the question that we have to answer here in September and as we go through the offseason. How do we add to this group? How do we maximize this group? Because again, I’ll get crushed for saying this, the core of the ’13 team was that 2012 team.”

Well I don’t know if I’ll crush Huntington but I do want to compare and contrast that 2012 team to the team currently running out there in Pirates uniforms, similar to what was done on The Fan Morning Show this morning.

The core that Huntington is referring to was led by an All-Star centerfielder in Andrew McCutchen. It was then followed by a second baseman in his prime in Neil Walker and a young third baseman coming off a 30 homerun season in Pedro Alvarez. They also had a rotation leader in AJ Burnett with a top pitching prospect in Gerrit Cole on the way.

In 2019, the Pirates are again led by an All-Star, this time first baseman Josh Bell. They follow that up with a centerfielder who is in the prime of his career in Starling Marte and another outfielder who is quietly putting together one of the best rookie campaigns in the league, Bryan Reynolds. Their rotation leader is…? Their top pitching prospect on the way in Mitch Keller has been far from consistent.

In comparison it might seem pretty similar but consider this, the Pirates team also had a young Starling Marte on his way for added depth and a farm system that was ranked 11th after the 2012 season. Not having an established rotation leader is a huge problem that shouldn’t overlooked either.

The offseason after 2012 might have been Huntington’s best work. The Pirates signed free agents Russell Martin, Jason Grilli and Francisco Liriano and traded Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt to Boston for Mark Melancon (and Stolmy Pimentel, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus). He did well to build on that team and deserves the credit for that.

But what Huntington is banking on then is striking that same gold in this offseason. It’s finding those very same diamonds in the rough, reclamation projects, that perfect cast of characters on the cheap.

He even said so himself on the show Sunday, “What externally is available for us to add to the rotation whether it’s depth or is there another Francisco Liriano out there, is there another Volquez out there, is there another JA Happ out there? We’ll explore that.”

That’s apparently the plan. To try to unearth the gems that everyone else is looking past. Have we not also experienced the times in which that strategy has failed like say Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong, Drew Hutchison (if not received via a pure salary dump), and Jordan Lyles?

What Huntington is admitting to is hoping that he can hit on every move he makes again this offseason to build on what he thinks is a talented enough roster to compete. I didn’t even mention what might be the main difference between 2012 and this year’s squad. That 2012 team finished 79-83. This year’s outfit will have to at least hover around .500 (19-20) to get to 70 wins. They would have to go 28-11 from here to reach 79 wins.

That’s real.

Statistically unlikely stretch or not, this Pirates team just simply isn’t talented enough to throw a few pieces together off from the free agent dust that’s left after all the bigger names have gone elsewhere.

I continue to be baffled by the way Huntington evaluates this roster when looking ahead and I just don’t see a way they can suddenly turn into contenders with this offseason plan.

It makes no sense to me. The Pirates are on a sinking ship and refuse to overthrow the limited cargo they have to save themselves from future mediocracy.

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