After the Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up their 2012 season with a 4-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park, owner Bob Nutting said that he was angry and frustrated by the final outcome of the season. On July 28, the Pirates sat at a 58-42 record — a season-high 16 games over .500 — and just three games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the National League Central. They held a spot in the Wild Card standings, but similar to 2011, the Bucs saw themselves spiraling through a second-straight season-ending collapse.
“I think that it’s increasingly clear that there are no easy answers or silver bullets,” Nutting said. “I would love to be able to come back out four weeks after the season and say, ‘ we’ve identified two things that will transform the organization.’ I am more convinced than ever that it’s not one or two things, that it’s a multitude of good decisions that we need to make day after day after day with relentless process and be able to continue the improvement that we have.”
“We clearly have a number of things in the organization that have gone right. And as angry and frustrated as we were about August and September, it’s taken me a month to come back and to recognize that last year was still the best year that we’ve had in 20 years. And we didn’t get there by accident. We had a tremendous number of things that did go well. We do have better, more talented players at PNC Park then we had two years ago, then we had three years ago. We’re moving in the right direction. No easy fixes. The organization is stronger than it felt like it was the last day of the season. And we need to build on those strengths.”
The Pirates finished with a 79-83 record, their best mark in the past 20 years. But there were still a lot of questions to be answered and decisions to be made. Nutting said that instead of deciding after the season ended when there were still emotions, that he decided to dive into an investigation to look at every aspect of the organization. Nutting, who took over the club in 2007, received some criticism for not making changes to the front office staff despite the second straight collapse and 20th consecutive losing season.
“We’ve had some misunderstandings, if not mischaracterizations of the process that we’ve been going through at the year end this year,” Nutting said. “In terms of where we started, I did say at the end of the season that I would take a deep look into every aspect of the organization. That process has begun, it’s not finished. That process is a collaborative effort with the management team, as well as something I’m spending a tremendous amount of personal time and interest on. It’s not limited to a specific time frame. It’s not a two-week or four-week program that we then find three findings that we find that get reported and we put a stake in the ground.”
“I keep seeing comments from people on when will the investigation be over? I just don’t think that’s an accurate characteristics of the process that we have underwent. What we are doing is looking at every aspect of the organization because as well as we played for parts of the year. We can not minimize how strong the performance for the first three and a half months of the season were. We did not finish well.”
“At the end of the season, I was as upset and angry and concerned as anybody else. Our fans were angry. I was angry. I am glad that we did not make snap decisions that last week because we were upset. You never make good decisions when you’re in that environment. It’s been important for me at least, to have a little bit of time and a little bit of perspective to put where we are today in context of where the teams been. We’re looking at every aspect. We’re looking at our free agent signings. We’re looking at draft acquisitions. We’re looking at how we’re bringing talent into the organization. And we’re looking at how we develop talent once we get it. Fundamentally we’re looking at how is he on field execution at PNC Park playing out. How can we impact it? How can we improve it?”
The Pirates did see some improvements that Nutting said overlooked the decision to make a change to the front office. Pittsburgh won 79 games for the first time since going 79-83 in 1997 and showed a seven-game improvement from the 2011 season (72-90); a 22-game improvement from 2010 (57-105).
Looking for a scapegoat is not something Nutting said the organization will do. Only two changes were made to Manager Clint Hurdle’s staff. Their hitting coach (Jay Bell will take over for Gregg Ritchie, who will Coach at Washington University), and their first base coach (Luis Silvero was named Senior Adviser of Latin American Operations, while former West Virginia head skipper Rick Sofield will fill his void).
“As an organization, I don’t think we will or ever have or should fall back on scapegoats, and pretending that there are easier answers than they were and grabbing one or two people and walking them off the plank,” Nutting said. “We will make changes in personnel when appropriate and when necessary. Especially in the heat in the battle, or the anger after the end of the season is the wrong time to judge the body of work of someone’s career, and make decisions hanging someone out. You’re not going to see that as well.”
“The failure for us to finish as strongly as we needed to cannot diminish the amount of success the organization has shown over the past two years. I’ve come away of the strong sense that we need to build on our strengths, continue our progress. We are clearly a stronger organization then we have been. We need and must continue to advance and push forward and make change. We’re making the necessary adjustments to get us there. I feel much better than I did at the end of the season. We are turning the page and looking toward, how do we jump in right now as we’re making decisions that are going to build that club for 2013.”
Nutting said today that there will be no changes made to the front office. General Manager Neal Huntington and his staff at the top will all stay put in Pittsburgh. Although, Nutting did admit that he did consider making a change.
“We’ve always been willing to make changes of personnel when required…I really don’t like speculating on individuals futures. I don’t think it’s fair to them, it’s certainly not a way to do effective work.”
“If you’re angry you count to 10. If you’re really angry you count to 100. If you’re incredibly infuriated and frustrated, you wait four weeks. I think we considered all kind of alternatives, but at the end of the day, the progress that organization has made when you look at the seven game improvement last year, more than 20 game improvements over the last two years, improvement in the rankings in the development system, we do have a much stronger organization than we did. It took some time to make sure the emotion at the end of season didn’t cover over the process that the organization has made and I believe will and must continue to make through next year.”
The Pirates saw back-to-back seasons with collapses. In 2011, the Pirates were in post season reach for the first four months before they saw their final record sit at 72-90. Like the year before, the Bucs saw another collapse hit in the final two months of the season, which forced their 20th straight losing season just four games before the season ended. Nutting said there are similarities between the two, and that he’s working to make sure that a third does not happen.
“I wish it was easy enough to put a finger on, here are the two things that created. I really believe there are more complicated pieces that roll in that we can identify. How much of it was injury? How much of it was training? How much of it was clubhouse cohesiveness? How much of it was leadership? How much of it was all of those factors?”
“Those are all factors that we need to address differently this year. We didn’t finish well in 2011. We started off in spring training that, ‘we’ve got to finish’ I think we’ve said the right words. What we need to do is make sure we have organizational support and belief behind them.”
Like the free agent market, the Pirates have seen some misses in the draft. The Bucs chose to select Mark Appel in the first round this season, and were unable to sign him. In the past, Pittsburgh was able to take advantage in this area and spend more than any other team in the three years prior. But the new rules that went into effect in 2012 put a limit on what they were able to spend.
“As we look at the draft, I think it’s too early to draw real conclusions on our last five drafts, where we’ve missed and where we’ve hit, and why?,” Nutting said.”But there is no question that we need to do a better job at identifying talent and making sure as we’re developing through the system that we’re giving those players every opportunity to improve.”
“It’s a little bit early to get a real assessment of where we are with the draft. But we literally went through a player by player, who was in that round? Who did we miss? Why did we miss it? Who was the scout? I’ve been in those sessions. I’ve asked some self assessments to be done. That’s he kind of process that I believe has been and will be essential because these are areas that the Pittsburgh pirates have to be excellent.”
“The rules are different. I believe that we were extremely effective and understanding of taking advantage of the old rules. Many of those inefficiencies are gone. I do think we will get better as we are rolling forward in the new system. I understand and support the draft we made last year. I am extremely disappointed that we were the only team that didn’t sign its first round draft pick. It was an opportunity for reflection. I don’t think we made a bad pick. I’m not sure that it was the right result.”
The Pirates were criticized for their SEALs training camp they had during Instructs this offseason. While there were reports of injuries and concern, Pirates Prospects touched base on what the real idea was behind the training. The method they wanted for their players was to develop them into ballplayers, and for growth overall.
“I believe that our primarily focus is to develop baseball players, to build championship players at PNC Park,” Nutting said. “That’s the job of our development system. We should not be, will not be, are not a military organization. We should not be or are not running a boot camp. That is not the intent. We should be focusing on baseball drills. I believe that 90 percent of the time, effort, energy that we have put into our development system has been focused on baseball appropriately. That’s certainly an area where we’ve made significant discussions in review. At the end of the day, I know and we know that we will not, should not be running boot camps.”
“I believe that we need to and should continue to look at how elite organizations in any arena train, develop, talented baseball players to perform at the very highest level. Are there lessons that we can take from? Absolutely. Fundamentally always remembering that our primarily focus is to develop baseball players.”
While Nutting said that he got both negative and positive feedback from the players that took part in the training, scaling that part back moving forward is in discussion.
“If we can find the appropriate balance, where we have the safety of our players utmost in mind, that we have the baseball development utmost in mind, we can supplement that baseball focus with additional drills, team building training, I think that we should be open to and find ways to do it within context and so forth,” Nutting said. “I think we got as much positive feedback and much negative feedback from some of the players. There were mixed messages. A lot of players felt it was extremely positive experience.”
“One of the insightful comments that I heard was from some of our Latin players. They do not have the same background and respect culturally for the military as we do as Americans. I think some of that cultural sensitivity is important.”