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Gerrit Cole isn’t getting tired, and he isn’t getting shut down … and redrafting the 2011 draft

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SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER –  On June 24, I asked Pirates GM Neal Huntington what the club’s plan was regarding Gerrit Cole and the rookie’s workload this season. After all, many organizations are treating young arms with kid gloves and the Nationals famously, and perhaps imprudently, shut down Stephen Strasburg in the midst of a postseason run last season.

 

Huntington said Strasburg and Cole were two difference cases, since Strasburg was coming off an injury. He said every pitcher has a workload limit but declined to discuss Cole’s.

 

“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 be able to log the innings without the media attention that some have gotten,” Huntington said at the time. “If he ever gets to his workload limit, we’ll let you know.”

They still hadn’t let us know what the plan was on Aug. 3rd when I asked Clint Hurdle what the limits were on Cole.

 

Said Hurdle:  “We have a systematic plan in place to keep him pitching.” Cole said he wasn’t aware what his workload limit was and he didn’t want to know.

 

We witnessed that the plan involved plenty of extra rest.

 

Two Cole starts have been pushed back three days, and he’s made seven of his 15 starts on more than four days of rest. So even though he’s logged 166.1 innings between Triple-A and the majors this season — 16 more than the 150 innings he logged last year — Cole has had his work load spread out in the second half of the season.

 

On August 4th the subject was again broached with Huntington, who for the first time indicated Cole would be available in October, if needed. Huntington said then if the Pirates have four better starting pitching options than Cole in October then the club is in “great shape.”

 

“We’re confident Gerrit is going to be able to sustain a workload throughout,” Huntington said.

 

Still, many clubs are hesitant to increase a young pitcher’s workload by more than 20 percent. A 20 percent bump would place Cole at 180 innings this season. Cole will probably make three more starts in the regular season which will likely him around 183 innings for the regular season. But he will go well over the 180 innings mark if the team advances deep into the postseason.

 

The Pirates clearly don’t care much about the Verducci Effect, which cautions against increasing a U25 pitcher’s workload by more than 20 innings per year, but studies have proven the Verducci Effect to be a rough if not ineffective tool.

 

Yesterday, Huntington was the most clear he has been in talking about Cole’s role, when speaking to FoxSports:

 

“Every one of our pitchers has a hard pitch count. But based on where he is right now and where we project him going forward, he should be available to us through the World Series as a starting pitcher.”

 

That Cole will be available in October is not news. But many had speculated about Cole’s role being a bullpen one in October. Instead, Cole appears to be heading into October – if the Pirates get to a series there – as a stating pitcher. And if he continues to pitch like he did Tuesday, he’ll be a top-three rotation option in October.

 

The other interesting thing about Huntington’s comments is the Pirates appear willing to go well over 200 innings with Cole this season if needed. That’s a pretty significant jump for a young pitcher. If the Pirates’ weren’t in contention Cole is probably shut down like the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez was after his Wednesday start. But this is a different situation.

 

The other thing in the Cole equation is this: Hurdle has said he would use  his eyes to evaluate Cole, and when given the eye test Cole does not appear to be tiring.

 

Below is Cole’s average fastball velocity by start according to PitchFx.

 

Cole is not going to be Strasburged. And if even he were to be the Pirates were smart not to make any innings limit public.

 

Cole appears to be far from any red innings line the organization will not cross. Is that bad for his future? Who knows? But it’s very good for the Pirates immediate future.

 

REVISITING THE 2011 DRAFT

The 2011 draft class has a chance to be a historic one much like the loaded 2005 group. I thought it would be a fun though exercise to redraft the top 10 selections.

 

My redraft:

 

1. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins (14th – overall)

2. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates (1st – ovearll)

3. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians (8th – overall)

4. Javier Baez, SS/3B, Cubs (9th  - overall)

5. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles (4th – overall)

6. Tony Cingrani, LHP, Reds (3rd ROUND)

7. Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks (7th -overall)

9. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates (5th ROUND)

10. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals (6th overall)

 

In a historic class, it’s impressive for the Pirate to have two pitchers worthy of top 10 overall selections. Sure, tough to miss on the first overall pick but what a steal Glasnow was in the fifth round. Cingrani was another great pick by the Reds. And the Marlins might have reeled in the most valuable young pitcher in the game with the 14th overall pick. (I’m still awfully high on Bundy even with the Tommy John surgery. He could be another Matt Harvey).

 

Your thoughts?

 

-TS

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Comments

  1. Jim S. says:

    I’m with the Bucs on their handling of Cole’s pitch load this year. This is nothing like the Srasburg situation because Cole is not coming off a serious injury, as SS was. I believe they are carefully monitoring his inning-by-inning workload, carefully avoiding repeated high stress innings and focusing on keeping his pitch count below 100 in most games. Cole has done his part to prolong his season as well, by mainly being efficient in his outings. I don’t think he is at any more risk with a few extra October starts than he would be without those starts, simply because the team has been diligent about monitoring his workload – just not solely by innings pitched.

  2. NMR says:

    -Great blog, Travis. Lot’s of fun.
    .
    Couldn’t agree more with Huntington’s decision and the way he’s handled the question all along, including that interview. Showed a lot of respect for Mike Rizzo by going out of his way to explain the differences between Cole and Strasburg.
    .
    -Now the fun part. Man, what a draft.
    .
    No real problems with your list except for Cingrani and Glasnow. Robert Stephenson and Kyle Crick both seem safer bets with just as much upside while guys like Hultzen and Guerieri have higher floors (assuming healthy). Henry Owens and Alex Meyer also probably deserve to be in that discussion.
    .
    1. Fernandez
    2. Lindor
    3. Bradley
    4. Cole
    5. Bundy
    6. Baez
    7. Stephenson
    8. Rendon
    9. George Springer
    10. Crick

  3. Brendan says:

    Travis,

    This strikes me as a situation in which we’ll simply have to trust the Pirates and their methodology for monitoring/managing fatigue and injury risk.

    As you note his velocity has remained pretty consistent, a good sign that fatigue is not creeping in. From what I’ve been able to glean the same is true of his command?

    A decrease in command is as I understand it a another red flag for a pitcher who’s fatigued/potentially injured. I believe a significant decrease in command was what caused Jeff Locke to shoot to the top of Fangraphs’ “Pain Index” a few months ago.

    For those unfamiliar, the “Pain Index” attempts to project which pitchers might be fatigued/injured/likely to be injured. I believe the metric they employ utilizes both a component that tracks velocity as well as command (the logic being that inconsistent command is indicative of mechanical issues, which is indicative of fatigue, etc) among other things.

    Taking a quick look at Cole’s game log I don’t see an obvious issue there. His walk rate has remained pretty consistent, although not sure about the percentage of pitches he’s thrown for strikes vs balls.

  4. Will never understand the “re-draft” garbage.
    .
    That’s like saying, “I would never have pitched to Cabrera if I knew he was going to hit it to Bonds!”
    .
    “I never would have brought in Guisti if I knew he was going to let Johnny Bench hit the homer in 1972.”
    .
    “I would never have signed Derek Bell if I knew he was going to go into Operation Shutdown.”
    .
    “I would never have shifted Clint Barmes out of normal position if I knew AJ would induce a grounder to where Barmes normally plays.”
    .
    “I would never have drafted Daniel Moskos if I knew he was going to be a stiff.”
    .
    There are no do-overs in baseball. Talking re-draft is just mental masturbation!!

  5. Brendan says:

    Geez. It’s just a jumping off point for discussion, thought, and analysis.

    And I think the vast majority of human beings–at least the ones not named Dave Littlefield–wouldn’t have selected Moskos 4th overall, that one didn’t require much hindsight.

  6. Chris says:

    The key word is “pitches”, people. They are tracking his pitch count, not necessarily innings. For example, a 9 pitch inning is not equivalent to a 19 pitch inning. Does anybody have a year over year pitch comparison for Cole?

  7. Leo Walter says:

    ” …just mental masturbation!! ”

    Much like many of your comments

  8. NMR says:

    Exactly right, Brendan. It’s a framework for discussion. Who has done what, where, and how.

  9. Travis Sawchik says:

    They are tracking his pitches and high-stress innings

    Cole has become more efficient as the season has gone along. He was averaging 20 pitches per inning at Triple-A

  10. Travis Sawchik says:

    You’re right Groat, studying history is a foolhardy exercise

  11. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, NMR

    I thought about including Hultzen and Guerieri, but I prefer shooting for upside. I also thought about including Springer. Such a deep draft class

  12. Travis Sawchik says:

    Nice post, Brendan

  13. Brendan says:

    There certainly are no shortage of compelling discussions to be had about the the Pirates in the here and now. That said I was thinking this morning about next season and the offseason. If you’re Neal Huntington how do you approach the offseason, and how does what the team does on the field over the next month effect that approach–if it all?

    This is perhaps a topic for down the road and expansive enough that it probably deserves its own post. But it strikes me that there’s something of a history–although it may be merely andecdotal–of teams taking a step back after a ‘breakthrough year.’ The 2008 and 2009 Rays for instance, or of course the 1989 and 1990 Pirates, and most recently the 2012 and 2013 Nationals.

    Without doing too much research it strikes me that in these cases the organizations in question were in the nascent stages of forming a real solid core/base from which they would work over the years to come. At that point however the core wasn’t entirely in place and they’d benefited in that first year of success from more things breaking their way than not (injuries, etc). The following year things tended to break their way less often and they briefly regressed a bit.

    The Pirates though have actually had their share of injuries, particularly to the starting pitching, and overcome those injuries thanks to the depth they accrued.

    But none the less it’s possible given volatile nature of relief pitching the bullpen regresses a bit next year, there are a few more injuries to important position players, and who knows what else.

    Hopefully you’ll be adding two potential impact talents at some point next season in Taillon and Polanco, as well Nick Kingham. The majority of the roster will be returning. But how do you approach RF, 1B, and SS in the offseason? The back end of the rotation? The bullpen (as good as it’s been, history suggests Huntington won’t simply bring back the same group and given year to year variance in RP performance he probably shouldn’t)?

    These aren’t close to being pressing questions right now, right now we should sit back and enjoy meaningful September baseball for the first time in two decades. But they’re interesting matters to ponder. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, Travis.

  14. NMR says:

    Whew. Great topic, Brendan. Lot to think about there. Don’t have it in me to go in depth right now, but I will say that 2014 may depend on AJ Burnett – will his performance live up to the costs to keep him or will management improve the team enough with the money saved from letting him go?

  15. RobertoForever says:

    Cool info Brendan. Hadn’t heard of the pain index. I will have to look back at some pitchers from this year and last year, Wainwright, Karstens, Wandy.

    Good contributions

  16. leefoo says:

    Travis….interesting…I was always going “In hindsight, do I take Jose over Gerrit” and totally foogot about Glasnow.

    I think I’ll keep Cole AND Glasnow, thank you.

    Mental Master Foo

  17. leefoo says:

    Travis…I just noticed…….you don’t have a Number 8?

    Foo

    .

  18. leefoo says:

    Brendan….great post, but is there a “Pain Index” for fans not used to going through a playoff race?

    :) :) :) :)

    My nephew is in agony. I keep telling him to relax….but then, he’s never seen a playoff game.

    Foo

  19. RobertoForever says:

    Love these questions too. I agree with NMR that alot of pitching questions depend on AJ. But Wandy’s health is in that mix as well. Wandy cost to the Pirates stays pretty consistent, and if AJ doesn’t sign that frees up 8 million or so.
    .
    .
    With 1b, Morneau is making $14 mil currently. What does he cost and do the Bucs use $5 mil of what would go to Jones and try to ink him for a 2 or 3 yr deal at 8 or 10 mil per. Does Justin even want to stay. May not know the answers to that for a while. Not a fan of resigning Byrd.
    .
    .
    In the OF, I see them going with McCutchen, Marte and a platoon of Tabata/Snider. With the job being Polanco’s when he is better than them.
    .
    .
    And as much as his defense worries me, I see Mercer as your everyday ss, with maybe a cheap veteran as backup (see McDonald).

    Will definitely be an interesting offseason.

  20. Brendan says:

    As I mentioned above, there’s an entire offseason to discuss these matters. So I’m sure we’ll dive into them then.

    It sounds like you’re a proponent of minimal moves in the offseason, at least at this stage of the game?

    I don’t necessarily disagree. I’d assume Mercer is the everyday shortstop, perhaps they resign Barmes to a backup if he’s will to accept a salary commensurate to the role.

    I’ll be curious to see what they do at 1B. It seems likely Jones is non-tendered. 8 to 10 million feels a little high for Morneau at this stage of his career, I’d be leery given his injury history. But we’ll have to see how the market plays out.

    I’m very much hoping Polanco is ready and able to ascend to the majors circa June 2014. To what degree you can construct your team under the assumption that’s a given I don’t know. If he’s not ready and you only have the current internal options of Tabata/Snider/Lambo that’s not exactly ideal. At the same time I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to sign to Byrd or anyone else to a multi-year contract (which is what I’d assume he’d seek). So it’s an interesting decision.

  21. NMR says:

    Hey Travis, heads up if you follow Jim Callis…
    .
    He answered a question on Tyler Glasnow for his new mailbox segment with MLB.com and said that he thought Glasnow could be a top 10 pick in the 2014 draft, if he were to have developed this way in college.
    .
    Nice job!

  22. NMR says:

    At this point in his career, Morneau’s offensive profile is one of a solid second baseman.
    .
    If this season taught us anything, it is to save your money for IMPACT additions whether at the plate, on the mound, or in the field.
    .
    Morneau is far from any of those.

 
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