Reporting Colin Dunlap
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Clint Hurdle is doing a better job than Dan Bylsma.
The Pirates manager is getting better yields than Mike Tomlin, too.
There, I’ve said it.
As the Pirates have a 46-30 record after the weekend’s 3-game sweep of Anaheim, it is safe to say that Hurdle, in his third season managing the club, has exceeded expectations set forward by most fans for 2013.
Hurdle, who thought out-loud during an appearance on The Fan Morning Show during Spring Training and talked through an equation in which the Pirates could hit 95 wins this season, is probably even surprising himself.
But here is the fundamental question: Is he doing a better job, proportionately than the men who lead the Penguins and Steelers?
The thought here is an overwhelming “yes.”
At least right now, on this very day, it is.
Today, as it stands and is currently constituted, Clint Hurdle is the best leader of one of the three big teams in Pittsburgh.
Hurdle has constructed a 197-203 record in command of these Pirates since taking over prior to the 2011 season. His club notched 72 wins in his first season, followed up by 79 wins in his second.
Were there collapses both times; spans of time in which it all fell apart and precipitous slides concluded the 2011 and 2012 seasons? Absolutely.
But here is also fact: In the season before Hurdle arrived — the final season for the Pirates under John Russell — the club went 57-105. Before Hurdle’s arrival, the Pirates had not won more than 70 games in any season since 2004.
He has done it twice now in two tries.
You go ahead and pin your focus on the collapses at the end of the last two seasons; I will look at a manager who improved the team by 15 wins in his first season and then pushed that to seven more toward the good side in his season.
And, who knows, in this, his third?
Also remember, and this is the pillar point here, that Hurdle is doing so with a team that, according to data compiled by USAToday, has a payroll of $79,555,000. That team payroll ranks 20 out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball, seemingly a million miles behind the Yankees, who are shoveling out $228,835,490 this season.
In addition, the Pirates (again, headed into play Sunday) were second in the National League Central behind only the Cardinals. But, in terms of payroll, the Pirates sat dead last in the division, behind the Cardinals ($115M), Reds ($107M), Cubs ($104M) and Brewers ($82M).
In short, in order to win, it isn’t a luxury but a necessity that Hurdle gets the most out of players such as Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Starling Marte and Mark Melancon — all of whom make below $600,000 this season but play pivotal roles.
Hurdle has done precisely as much.
Now turn your attention across the parking lot to Heinz Field — if you can see it among all the trash left behind from the Kenny Chesney concert.
Mike Tomlin, who is a wonderful coach in his own right, has been to the Super Bowl twice, winning once. He has a 63-33 record as he heads into his seventh season.
Tomlin coaches in a league with a salary cap, generally thought the aid in leveling the playing field. It is the thought here — and there is no scientific data to back this up — that Tomlin also has talent commensurate with at least half the teams in the National Football League.
I would struggle to say the same thing about Hurdle. Of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the thought here is more than 15 have better talent than Hurdle.
Conversely, I struggle to come up with 16 teams in a 32-team NFL that, from a purely talent standpoint the past few years, were better than the Steelers.
That said, was an 8-8 season last year and an exit in the AFC Wild Card Game the season before better than what Hurdle has accomplished? No.
There is also the well-publicized story of Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who has been able to propel his team through masterful regular seasons.
Bylsma, again, did so in this work stoppage-shortened season, as the Penguins went 36-12.
But, even as general manager Ray Shero assembled a super-team at the deadline in this league that also boasts a salary cap, the Penguins were ousted — in a sweep — in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Bruins.
Certainly no one will ever be able to take away the Stanley Cup Bylsma won at the tail end of the 2008-09 season, but you can just as quickly point to him coaching only 25 regular season games that year and, since then, having playoff flubs against Montreal, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and now Boston.
This isn’t at all a statement that Tomlin or Bylsma aren’t good coaches; although I think the Penguins should have gone in a different direction after the latest playoff meltdown.
However, when you really sit and think about it, when considering all the constraints, is Clint Hurdle the best the city has right now?
I think so.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here