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.
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).