SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – We all know the Stephen Strasburg story of 2012 but I’ll repeat it one more time. Strasburg, the Nationals ace, was shut down after he reached 159 innings last season, despite the fact that the Nationals were in a postseason chase. Many among the Beltway populous were not happy.
Teams have become more cautious of protecting young arms and that’s mostly a good thing, I think.
Some question the credibility of the Verducci Effect — the theory pitchers 25 and younger are at a greater risk of injury if they have an innings jump of more than 30 in any given year — but a team like the Nationals apparently subscribed to that type of thinking.
Most clubs ease young pitchers into professional life in some way, if not in a multitude of ways.
Knowing all this. Knowing that Gerrit Cole has already pitched a combined 86 1/3 innings between the Majors and Triple-A this season is Cole is headed for a Strasburg-like shutdown in September?
After all, Cole pitched 132 innings between three minor league stops last year in addition to instructional league. He is on pace to well exceed that total and that would a Verducci Effect red flag.
No one wants to be Stephen Strasburg … at least not in Sept. ’12.
But I don’t think Cole will be shut down in September.
I asked Pirates GM Neal Huntington what the innings limit for Cole is this season. He declined to answer but he did offer this:
“Part of our development plan is to build guys accordingly so that when they get to the big leagues they are hopefully in a position to log the innings without the media attention that some have gotten. We’ll let you know if he ever gets to his workload.”
For starters, Huntington is probably wise to not to put a red line innings cap out on Cole for public consumption. What good would that do for Cole? It would only create a story for the media and public. Great for us, not so great for Cole.
Second, it sounds like Cole is going to exceed his innings by more than the Verducci Effect would recommend….but it should be noted the Pirates don’t place much stock in the Verducci Effect and say it has been proven to be an inaccurate tool.
But here’s the other reason why I believe Cole will be pitching in September: the Pirates are already being careful with Cole.
Cole has made three starts and held elite velocity deep into each of those starts, he could have gone longer,yet he has not thrown more than 88 pitches or 6 1/3 innings. He threw seven innings three times in Triple-A this season and exceeded 90 pitches in starts with Indianapolis.
Conversely, but mid July of last season, Strasburg had already exceeded 100 pitches in eight of his starts.
My guess is the Pirates are not on the Strasburg 2012 plan, they are on the C.C. Sabathia plan of 2001 or the Chris Sale plan of 2012. They are shaving innings and pitches where they can so Cole can pitch in September.
Sabathia surprisingly broke camp with the Indians in 2001 as a 21-year-old and his workload was monitored. He made 33 starts but pitched just 180.1 innings, averaging 5.4 innings per start, and that was by design (And Huntington was with the Indians during that time period).
Sabathia made it through an entire season, pitching into October with just 20 more innings than Strasburg.
The White Sox moved Sale to the bullpen briefly last season to keep his innings down and he pitched into September.
Whatever their plan, I think the Pirates will continue to be careful with Cole to make sure he’s available in September and October if needed.
The other factor to be mindful of is Cole is not coming off Tommy John Surgery like Strasburg, and Cole is as big and physical as you’d ever want a right-handed pitcher to be.
I believe Cole has an innings cap – every young MLB pitcher probably does – but whether that’s 180, 190 or 220 the Priates are going to be careful not to reach it.
WILL COLE GET SENT DOWN?
Of course will Cole remain with the big league club when A.J. Burnett returns?
Cole is supposed to be beyond Super 2 status so it surprised me to see Huntington suggest over the weekend that Cole could get sent down as the rotation crowds. After all, Cole has the best arm in the organization and this is a club whose story is no longer that of development but of contention.
“There’s a business component to it, as far as keeping our depth,” Huntington said. “Gerrit’s probably got the best stuff of anybody in the rotation … (and) he’s made three impressive outings. But the challenge is, if we need another starter (due to injury) later, it may make sense to send Gerrit back so we have a sixth quality starter.”