Yesterday the Pirates fired Double-A manager Matt Walbeck after he won the Eastern League championship and manager of the year award, which had many people scratching their heads.
It still seems like an odd move given how successful Walbeck has been–winning four manager of the year awards and three championships in six seasons in the minors–but Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette talked to sources who revealed some of the behind-the-scenes reasoning.
Apparently last season the Pirates were upset with the “lack of extra work, pregame work, and other preparations involving the players” at Double-A “compared to other affiliates.” They talked to Walbeck about addressing those issues this season, but still weren’t happy with the results.
Of course, when asked about those issues Walbeck told Kovacevic that he didn’t view it as a problem:
It was great. One of my main objectives this season was to follow the guidelines within the minor-league system. Early ground balls. Bunting. PFP. I felt like I became a better teacher because of it. Look at the innings pitched. Look at the games played. You can go up and down the roster and see the number of players who were healthy and realize, within that, that it was a successful season.
It’s tough to argue with Walbeck’s on-field results, but then again on-field results aren’t really the primary purpose of a team’s minor league system. Clearly the Pirates felt that he wasn’t developing prospects in the way they want prospects to be developed. Whether or not the Pirates’ way of doing things is particularly effective in the first place is another issue, clearly.
They also believed that he wanted to move up the organizational ladder–which is something that Walbeck has since confirmed–and obviously weren’t interested in promoting him to Triple-A or the majors. Despite that, I suspect Walbeck will have no trouble landing another managing gig at Double-A or Triple-A, and may even find a coaching job in the majors next season.