I'm Slowly Starting to Turn on Derek Shelton

Photo Credit: John David Mercer/USA Today

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I know what the first comments will be on this one.  "It took you this long??"  

I know, the Pittsburgh Pirates have seen little to no success under manager Derek Shelton.  But I've been giving the guy a break to this point.  The organization gave him a string and two plastic cups and asked him to make an iPhone.  You could even say I've felt bad for the guy taking on the role of punching bag for the last three seasons.

However, if I use the analogy that Shelton's cake can only be as good as the ingredients he's given to make it, I'd still like to see him use these ingredients the right way.  If you're putting an egg in, make sure to crack it first.  It's becoming abundantly clear that not only is Shelton using his ingredients incorrectly, he may not even be the one baking the cake.  Are you hungry yet?

No Control of the Lineup

Exhibit A of my slow turn away from the Pirates manager is Ke'Bryan Hayes' off day on Sunday.  In the month of May so far the Pirates have had full off days on May 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and the 6th due to scheduled off days and rainouts.  Now, they did have doubleheaders on both May 4th and May 7th, however, that is a lot of rest for a team this early in the season.

The Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher on Sunday was right-hander Tyler Mahle.  In his career, Ke'Bryan Hayes is batting 6 for 9 with a homerun and two RBI against Mahle.  Pretty great numbers.  However, Hayes was given the day off despite the whole team having four of the first eight days of May off.

This tells me that the Pirates have set lineups and off time that are days, maybe even weeks, in advanced.   This, to me, mitigates the need for a manager.  One of the manager's major roles should be to adapt a lineup each day to matchups, trends, how the player is hitting, how the player is feeling, etc.  If the lineups are simply being spit out by an analytics machine (yes, I'm somewhat oversimplifying it) then one of the manager's major roles is not being fulfilled by the manager.

Hayes may have been scheduled for a day off May 8th.  However, when you are trying to win a series against a divisional opponent, some modification should be made.  Especially when the rainouts, and all that additional rest, were unforeseen.  If Shelton isn't trusted with the day-to-day lineup, what good is he?

Questionable Pitching Decisions

Exhibit B of my slow turn against Shelton is the starting pitcher for the Pirates tonight.  We have seen over the course of two games now that Bryse Wilson fares much better as a long reliever than he does as a starter.  Two games is not a large sample size, but his 26 career starts are enough to make some observations.

In his 26 career starts, Wilson is 6-8 with a 5.20 ERA, .287 batting average against, and a 1.52 WHIP.  In his two long relief appearances this season, he's pitched 7.2 innings, given up zero earned runs, and batters are hitting just .111 against him.  Logic dictates that he continues to serve in this role.  

Not tonight.  Tonight Wilson will take the mound against the best team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Why?  We have seen Wilson starting does not work.  Employ an opener like you did for Wilson's last two appearances and then bring in Wilson for the long relief.  Stick to what works until it doesn't, in my opinion.

This decision tonight is simply a microcosm of Shelton's mismanagement of the pitching staff.  And it's silly decisions like this that have caused fans to question Shelton his whole tenure.  Like still going with Chris Statton over David Bednar in save situations, or continuing to leave in a starter one too many batters while also seemingly pulling pitchers too early who are pitching well.  Shelton seems to have little success with the personnel decisions he is allowed to make, although which those actually are is a gray area.

Simple Fundamentals

The final exhibit to justify my newfound dislike of Derek Shelton is actually why I have liked him to this point.  I think two things you can pin on a manager is fielding and baserunning.  Baserunning mistakes are a little harder to measure, especially with base stealing factoring less into games nowadays, but measuring fielding is easy.  Especially when you filter by fielding percentage and see that the Pirates are dead last in the league.

When the Pirates tied for 1st in fielding percentage last season, I applauded Shelton.  It was his only saving grace, but I put a lot of weight into that when grading him.  Now that his one saving grace has turned into the worst in the league, what can Derek Shelton hang his hat on?  

If you're not going to be the best hitting or the best pitching team at least excel at the fundamentals.  With the Pirates falling to the bottom in every statistical area now, I have no reason to continue supporting Derek Shelton as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager moving forward.  I thought he could stick around once these Pirates do start to taste some success, but now I see him as just the placeholder until they are ready to truly turn the corner.