Some Thoughts on Giving Credit if the Pirates Win Something

I wanted to add a few thoughts to the recent discussion over who would deserve credit if the Pirates win something while some of us are still alive.  This type of discussion is always problematic because so many factors go into a good (or bad) season, and because so many of a GM’s moves are intended to impact more than just the immediate season.

The simple answer is always that the current GM should get the credit.  He’s the guy who acquired or retained all of the players who contributed to the good season.

But I don’t find that a meaningful method of evaluating a GM.  What if a guy is GM for ten years, wins one division title and loses 85+ games the other nine years?  Giving “credit” for that one year feels a lot like giving a broken clock “credit” twice a day for being right.

Neal Huntington’s tenure isn’t far removed from this.  In a dozen years, he produced three wild card appearances, one other (barely) winning season, and eight losing seasons, including five of 90+ losses.

So Huntington probably deserves “credit” for those three successful seasons, but you also have to recognize that some of the characteristics of those winning teams played a role in a greater number of failures.  The three wild card teams had three basic components:  players Huntington inherited from the Worst GM in Modern Baseball History (Cutch, Marte, Walker, Watson, Hughes), outstanding veteran pickups at modest cost (AJ, Martin, Liriano, Volquez, Cervelli), and a series of outstanding bullpens that were cobbled together mostly out of spare parts.

What you don’t see in that list is prospects originally signed and developed under Huntington.  Throughout his tenure, Huntington stressed that the Pirates’ only hope of success was through building a strong farm system.  It was also the one area — although only in the early years — in which the team under Huntington made a real financial investment.  The only players originally signed and developed under Huntington who made a significant contribution to those three teams were Gerrit Cole, Pedro Alvarez, and Jordy Mercer.  (Gregory Polanco didn’t have his first decent year until 2016.)  And the best of those — Cole — notoriously got dramatically better the moment he went elsewhere.

So when you credit Huntington for those three playoff teams, you have to ignore the fact that he failed miserably at his core mission.  I think this will be relevant in case the Pirates produce a playoff team that has a core of, say, Cody Bolton, Travis Swaggerty, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Mason Martin.  After a dozen years of failure in developing a productive farm system, would Huntington deserve “credit” for that playoff team?

By the same token, I’ll be reluctant to “credit” Ben Cherington if the Pirates have a couple good years in 2024-25 after a string of AA teams like the one we’re seeing this year, and then go back to losing.  I just can’t evaluate a GM’s performance based on one year, or on a couple years out of a decade or more.

Bonus Link:  FiveThirtyEight has some interesting analysis about left-handed pitchers.  It appears that chronically ignoring LHPs just because they aren’t 6’4″ with mid-90s sinkers is stoopid.