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Gerrit Cole’s balancing acts

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SAN DIEGO – Most 22-year-olds are still in early chapters of professional development. They are developing in chosen careers. They are perhaps developing as seniors at universities. They are interns. They are fetching coffee. They are in grad school. Something like that.

 

Pirates rookie is Gerrit Cole is still developing in his chosen line of work, too.

 

The fastball command is still a work in progress. He left too many fastballs up, too many two-seamers running back over the plate in allowing 10 hits to the Padres in a 2-1 loss Wednesday.

 

The slider is still a pitch in development. It’s improved, mostly responsible for his 8.1 K rate in the second half,vs. his 5.4 K rate in the first half, but as we saw in the Arizona start and Wednesday’s start, it’s not yet a consistent put-away pitch, like a Francisco Liriano slider.

 

Gerrit Cole isn’t learning his craft far from high stakes and bright lights, he’s learning in a pennant chase

 

The changeup is still in the early stages of refinement. Wil Venable smashed a Cole changeup for a double to lead off the third Wednesday.

 

“Just a few pitches here or there I could have executed better,” Cole said.

 

The challenge for Cole is this: he’s still in the first chapter of his major league career. He’s still far from a finished product. But how do you balance development with winning today which the Pirates must do?

 

How do you  choose between working in a second or third offspeed pitch vs. just shoving 100 mph down opposing batters throats?

 

“That’s what the five days in between are for,” Cole said. “That’s when you can attack your delivery and work on your breaking stuff. When you get out there that’s just competing. If I don’t have a good breaking ball, with two strikes I better get the fastball on the edge of the plate or start changing eye levels…. There’s no thought to working on stuff in the middle of the game that’s what the five days are for.”

 

But is there too much on Cole’s plate between starts?

 

He’s throwing five pitches: four-seam fastball, two-seamer, slider, curve and changeup.

 

Charlie Morton has had success by have pitching taken away from him. Should Cole focus on throwing three pitches instead of five?

 

Should he master options A, B & C before moving on to D & F?

 

It’s just a thought. It’s not that Cole’s been poor. He’s actually been incredibly consistent and has improved his strikeout numbers as the season has gone along.

 

Cole is also still learning to balance emotions.

 

Staying in the moment has always been tough for Cole. He’s something of a perfectionist. Bad pitches, bad plays behind him, stick with him. They can affect his next pitch. Cole looked severely upset when he left the game Wednesday. When Cole returned to the dugout following the sixth inning Wednesday, he sat with his head fixed parallel to the ground, not flinching as Pirates catcher Russell Martin nudged his shoulder several times, apparently in an effort to console him.

 

“I was just telling him to keep his head up,” Martin said. “I like his attitude.”

 

“I just felt like I let a good opportunity slip away,” Cole said. “We had an opportunity to come here and sweep and set the tone for the San Francisco series. I was just disappointed that I wasn’t able to better help the team.”

 

It’s a positive that Cole cares. That he wants perfection of himself. But to deliver the moment Pirate Nation has waited for for 21 years he has to stay in the moment.

 

It’s a delicate balancing act in the center of a diamond with crunch-time of September approaching.

 

- TS

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Comments

  1. Steelag70 says:

    I like the future for Cole. It will be exciting to watch him continue to grow and develop. His biggest obstacle last night was the very inconsistent and pathetic offensive output by his teammates.

    When will they see enough of Jones to realize that he is not going to improve this year?

  2. BostonsCommon says:

    I agree about Cole and his future. There is nothing better than on the job training, and that’s what he’s getting right now. I think he takes all of this in to the offseason, with a chance to go back and look at film, and work in his secondary pitches, and next spring immediately takes the next step into Matt Harvy territory. There might be a few bumps along the road the rest of this season, but he’s definitely heading in the right direction.
    .
    Re: G Jones. Someone has to play. It’s not like the other options behind him are great (Sands, Lambo, Tabata, who’s gutless ass can’t stay on the field?)

  3. Leo Walter says:

    Right now I am not so sure that even Travis Snider wouldn’t be an improvement over Jones. 3 strike outs against right handers ? Replacing Jones might even be the biggest and best reason to make a deal for Justin Morneau.

  4. NMR says:

    For all intents and purposes, Cole does only throw three pitches.
    .
    The curveball only comes out when he doesn’t have the slider, and the changeup usually only comes out against lefties.
    .
    I think expectations just need adjusted. The “ace” tag gets thrown around way, wayyy too much these days. Think about the number of actual aces compared to the number of guys who are supposed to be aces.
    .
    Gerrit Cole’s fastball is just too hittable to ever be an ace. Not only doesn’t he get swings and misses, but he routinely gives up hard contact. Very few of those 10 hits last night were cheap.
    .
    The kid has an ERA in the mid-high 3′s in his first taste of major league ball. That’s pretty damn good. I have no doubt he’ll improve on that, as long as he stays within himself. Trying to be something he’s not will hurt more than it helps.

  5. BostonsCommon says:

    “Gerrit Cole’s fastball is just too hittable to ever be an ace.”
    .
    Ever?!? C’mon, you don’t really want to go there do you?
    .
    I really think he lines up well with Harvey, who had a 3.30 FIP and 3.49xFIP last year. Cole is almost identical this year, 3.34 FIP and 3.44 xFIP. Harvey was striking out waaay more, @ 10.6/9 IP, but Travis already addressed Cole’s improved K numbers over the second half.
    .
    He’s going to be a good ones guys, maybe even a great one.

  6. BostonsCommon says:

    Even if you grab Morneau (and I’m not opposed to it), you still have the problem in RF. The idea was to put Morneau at 1B and move Jones to RF, but if you want to get rid of Jones, then who is playing RF?
    .
    It will be really disappointing if this comes back and bites NH in the ass. I know the prices for a RF at the deadline were high, but he had a chance to address this problem and he didn’t. And were still talking about it a month later..
    .
    It will be a shame if were still talking about it in October, as the one regret we collective have, the one thing he could have changed, and the one thing that could have made the difference.

  7. NMR says:

    Wow, no. Cole’s fastball isn’t anywhere close to Harvey’s. It’s about way, wayyyy more than velocity in the big leagues, Boston.
    .
    Harvey gets swings and misses on almost twice as many fastballs as Cole. His batting average against is 80 points lower.
    .
    Couple that with the fact that Cole has yet to develop consistant plsu secondary pitches and I just don’t see how you can throw the “ace” tag on him. Harvey had to harness his stuff with better command. Cole had to develop the stuff, AND learn to command it.
    .
    “He’s going to be a good ones guys…”
    .
    ^How is this not exactly what I said?

  8. BostonsCommon says:

    I didn’t say Cole was an ace just yet, but he’s trending in the right direction.
    .
    “His batting average against is 80 points lower.”
    .
    Harvey 2012: .200/.293/.338/.631 with a .268 baBIP
    Cole 2013: .259/.304/.355/.660 with a .301 baBIP
    .
    I guess Cole is getting hit a little harder than Harvey did in his first season, but not dramatically, and there is definitely some luck involved there. Is a .017 difference in slugging cause for concern? IDK, maybe, but I still like where Cole is at, and love where he’s heading.

  9. NMR says:

    Cole never dominated in college like an ace. Scouts said it was because his fastball was too hittable.
    .
    Cole never dominated the minor leagues. Scouts said it was because his fastball was too hittable.
    .
    Cole is not dominating the majors and his fastball is getting hit.
    .
    I don’t see anything that makes me believe that is going to change.
    .
    Again, we’re talking about MAYBE ten pitchers in all of baseball who deserve that “ace” tag. My issue is more with throwing it around to the point that it loses meaning than complaining about Cole. He looks to be the solid No. 2 that many said he would be.

  10. leefoo says:

    NMR….I am with you 100%. Not a Cole fan.

  11. displaced bucco says:

    Cole is still an infant & a hard worker. He will get better & will win some more games this year. That if we ever get some production out of our #5 & #6 hitters.

  12. Chuck H says:

    Sure, he allowed 10 hits, but only 2 runs, so he kept some runners on the bases. Even
    established pitchers allow more hits than innings on occasion, but if they keep the other
    team from scoring, that’s the plan. All he needed was a few more hits and a couple more
    runs and he would have been a winner last night. Cole is going to be a great pitcher in a
    year or two, just give him a chance. I like him.

  13. National Mart of Records,

    You are right on the money with this!!

    Cole has never dominated in any year of college or any of the Minor League levels. Why should he be dominant in the Majors? Maybe he will grow in a few years into an upper rotation pitcher, but he is far from that NOW.

    Plus, his pouting on the mound frequently in last night’s game sent up some red flags.

    I think Bucs have to “let him grow” and hope. However, those calling for Cole to be the #3 Starter in any Playoff series because of his “upside” are looking at Cole with their hearts and not their eyes.

  14. leefoo says:

    G2M2S….you are right on. I am still waiting for him to look dominating even for an inning or two.

    I’ll be glad if his ceiling is a # 3. A # 1?? Ain’t gonna happen.

    I’m ‘old’ enough to remember people getting excited about Benson. How did THAT turn out?

    .

  15. Foo Man Chewing,
    .
    It got Kris Benson the girl . . . . the girl off the Pole (he said derisively).
    .
    Making it rain will get anyone that.
    .
    I hope Cole develops——he is only 22——but there’s miles to go before he arrives just as a #3 or #4 Starter. His #1 pitch has too much solid contact to it, and his #2 and #3 pitches are like a grab-bag gift: sometimes good but mostly not.

  16. Jim S. says:

    I’m with Groat and NMR on this. Cole has never shown dominance. It just appears that way to people because guys that touch 100 must be dominant. Well, not if your 100 is right over the heart of the plate too often, and your breaking stuff is not deceptive enough to have batters thinking it is another fastball coming at them.

    But, he’s already good and he’s just 22. No reason in my mind not to think he won’t at least get a little better and be a horse. One thing I like about him already is that even when he gets hit it is usually just “death by a thousand pin pricks.” Teams are not really teeing off on him. They are hitting a lot of balls through the infield, and the occasional line drive. But, it is primarily all singles. This has allowed him to put up a similar stat line almost every time out: 6 or 7 innings, similar # of hits, 4-5 K’s, few walks, not a lot HR, and 2/3 ERs. I’ll take that from a 22 year old – or any other age.

    We’ll see if Taillon is more of a #1 than Cole. I’m not convinced of it at this point. He also looks the part of a solid #2. Kingham looks the part of a solid 2/3. All 3 look like workhorses to me – guys that will give us a chance to win every night.

    Now, Glasnow, that is a different matter. He is obviously not a complete pitcher yet. He is just turning 20 this weekend. And, he has not ascended beyond High A. So, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. But, the potential is ridiculous. I don’t care if it is only High A when a guy strikes out 13 and gives up 0 hits over 5 innings. That guy has ridiculous potential. He puts up similar outings quite frequently. Still just a prospect. Still not a sure thing. But, he has as much potential at this stage than any Pirates prospect in my lifetime.

  17. NMR says:

    Hey Jim,
    .
    I kind’ve went off on a bit of a tangent there, as usual, but I think you got my main point that Cole’s issue isn’t number of pitches, it’s quality of the one he uses most.
    .
    Bringing Tyler Glasnow into the picture is a PERFECT addition to the conversation. For years we’ve heard not to expect big strikeout numbers from Pirate pitchers in the low minors because they focus on fastball/changeup command. I do think this is true, but it also demonstrates how devastating Glasnow’s fastball appears to be compared to Cole and Taillon. Even at lower levels, it takes more than just velocity to dominate.
    .
    I completely agree with you that Cole will get better, possibly significantly so, and is a great asset to this team. He’s big, athletic, and has squeaky clean mechanics. I could easily see six years of 200 IP with an ERA in the low to mid 3′s in a Pirate uniform. That’s damn good production.
    .
    Just not that of an ace.

  18. Jim S. says:

    Agreed, NMR. Cole should be very good. Harvey is already elite, and I don’t see anything in Cole’s resume that says he can do what Harvey is already doing. Doesn’t mean a small adjustment won’t suddenly vault Cole to elite status because the velocity always gives him a chance. But, saying it is more than a possibility at this point is a bit much, I think.

    Glasnow … wow! He doesn’t seem to be subscribing to the pitch to contact theory, and there is no reason to force him to do that.

  19. NMR says:

    I’ll admit that the ridiculous 2011 draft class also takes some luster off Cole in my mind. You’re talking about Dylan Bundy, Archie Bradley, and obviously Jose Fernandez along with monster shortstop prospects like Lindor and Baez. Not gonna get into the who-should’ve-been-drafted second guessing game, but man.
    .
    Ha, I’m not sure if Glasnow could pitch to contact if he tried! I’m personally not holding my breathe because of his control issues and the fact that I don’t think he has a consistant big league curveball, let alone changeup…yet. But I love pitching, and I love fastballs. Which means I can’t wait to see this kid at the upper levels.

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