Dave Cameron did a fantastic analysis of this last week on Fangraphs, which is well worth a read, but four out of the five items he touches on can be traced back to one thing: they finally started paying attention to the right numbers.
It wasn't just the front office, either. The coaches and players did, too. About two weeks ago, the Trib's Travis Sawchik wrote what I think might go down as the most revealing piece of sports journalism anyone has done in this city for a while when he did a feature on the Pirates' use of defensive shifts.
Shifting is one of the items Cameron touches on in his breakdown, but from that piece came this nugget:
“We had a buy-in that we were going to do it starting in spring training,” Hurdle said. “We brought Dan (Fox) in, and I brought in all my coaching staff.
“I know this game is built upon tradition, and players are territorial. They have comfort zones in the infield. You lay out the factual information … and with facts, there's no argument.”
The signings of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin proved great moves. So too, for that matter did bringing back Charlie Morton on a one-year deal. But that Neal Huntington was able to get Clint Hurdle and his staff into a place where they were open to the idea of managing with a sabermetric bend to the game goes beyond just employing defensive shifts -- it's an absolute game-changer.
Last October, Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout hosted a bloggers' round table with the Trib's Dejan Kovacevic. This was in the wake of the reporting on what appeared to be the militaristic, non-baseball culture the Pirates had established in their minor league system. During the hour-plus chat Dejan did with the bloggers, I brought up the question of numbers, and what if any role Dan Fox was playing in the team's decision-making.