GM Huntington defends his staff, methods

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HOUSTON -- In the midst of a second consecutive late season collapse, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said he ultimately bears responsibility for the team's on-field failures.

But he is not worried about his job security.

"The day that I start making decisions to save my job is the day I should be man enough to resign," Huntington said Saturday at Minute Maid Park. "That's not the best thing for this organization."

Huntington, who signed a three-year contract extension last September, is finishing his fifth season as the team's general manager, including what ultimately could be the team's 20th consecutive losing season.

Since Aug. 1, the Pirates have gone 14-32, a .304 winning percentage that is worse than the .318 percentage the team carried over the final two months last season.

But Huntington remains committed to the plan and the people he has put in place.

"Our course hasn't changed since we've come here," he said. "We assess ourselves as accurately as we can. We've learned from some mistakes."

While the Pirates made three trades near the July 31 deadline, they have relied on players who spent most of the season in the minor leagues to make their final postseason push. That group largely has struggled.

The Pirates rank near the bottom of the league in fielding percentage, stolen bases and caught stealing percentage. But Huntington defended his scouting department and player development staff, which, he said, based on the statistical development of the minor league teams, excels.

The Pirates' minor league organization is ranked first in infield defensive efficiency, a measure of turning grounders into outs, and fourth in outfield defensive efficiency, a measure of turning flyballs into outs. The Pirates have struggled advancing baserunners, but the minor league organization ranks second among all teams in advancing runners from first to third. Stealing bases, as it is in the major leagues, is a struggle, which Huntington attributed to an emphasis on aggression.

He expressed support for assistant general manager of development Kyle Stark, whose job security is not threatened as long as Huntington is around. But Huntington said there is a disconnect between minor league successes and major league performance.

"There's no question we have work to do," Huntington said, "but metrically, our guys at the minor league level are doing what they're supposed to be doing."

He also defended his commitment to "non-traditional" development techniques, including a three-day training session that paired Pirates minor leaguers with former Navy SEALs last week.

The Pirates hired Acumen Performance Group to put its minor league players through Navy SEALs drills, Huntington said, to supplement on-field drills. It is the same group that worked with some minor leaguers in extended spring training.

"Navy SEALs training isn't about physical tests," he said. "It's about mental toughness. It's about mental discipline. It's about the ability to compete when all adversity's hitting around you. It's the ability to block out all distractions. I think that plays pretty well on a Major League Baseball field."

The organization, which has been around since early 2011, worked with the Buffalo Sabres, and its techniques have been used by the U.S. Olympic Committee, chief executive Bill Hart said.

The team was so pleased with the results it plans to use the group again.

The Pirates also played host to a think tank of about 30 sports psychologists, college coaches and others last fall to talk about different ways the organization can pursue success.

"We knew that we needed to take a bit of a non-traditional tact" because they would lose a battle of resources otherwise, Huntington said.

pirates

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published September 23, 2012 12:00 AM


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