Monday, March 21, 2016

Hurdle juggles batting order -- an experiment or a sign of things to come?

  • By Bill Allmann Times Sports Correspondent

March 20, 2016
Andrew McCutchen
(Chris O'Meara)
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Baseball, more than any other sport, honors its traditions and is most definitely not quick to change.
And one doesn’t have to be Goose Gossage to notice that.
So when Pirates manager Clint Hurdle started to juggle his lineup this past week, people noticed. Most notable among those was Hurdle himself.
“The challenge for me is that for 47 years, the baddest dude in the game hits third,” said Hurdle after moving 2013 Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen -- also a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner -- to the second spot in the order this past week in spring training action.
“That started to change a few years ago. It makes some sense, so I have to kind of rearrange my thinking. There are guys who have done their homework and dug into lineups, done the metrics and how you stack them. The upside is that it gets Andrew to the plate 20 or 30 more times and he hasn’t driven in 100 runs in the third spot.”
Moving McCutchen up a spot wasn’t the only tinkering Hurdle did this past week. First baseman John Jaso -- a former catcher to establish a standard for his speed -- batted first. Saturday, it was Jordy Mercer in the leadoff spot, with McCutchen hitting second and Josh Harrison third.
“We’re trying to do is manufacture something since we haven’t had a high on base percentage guy,” Hurdle said. “We haven’t won the division so who’s to say it’s not worth a look.
“We have to examine all the opportunities.”
One of those opportunities also involves catcher Francisco Cervelli. He will also be seeing different spots in the batting order during the second half of spring training, especially after recording a .370 on base percentage last season, his first season with over 266 at bats in the majors.
“Cervelli was the first guy we had with those numbers and we wanted to let him go for a year for a full year,” Hurdle said. “I’m not at all concerned if we go with batting Jaso (.380 on base percentage last year), Cervelli, then McCutchen. We’ll watch and see.
“Could there be a lack of speed? It’s not a perfect world. I think Jaso can go first to third, so he won’t clog the bases. That’s not a concern.”
It’s also not a concern about the players’ reactions as there was none. The question remains, though, as to whether any of these machinations tried in the second half of the spring training season at McKechnie Field will ever see the light of day at PNC Park. There, the stakes are definitely higher.
“The funny thing is that from the worst projection we could put out -- hitting the pitcher first or fourth -- to the best is only a swing of 50 to 60 runs,” Hurdle said. “It’s one of the things I want to take a look at in the second half of spring training.
“I’m going to wait and see how it works.”

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