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Why Gerrit Cole is still pitching: the Pirates used their eyes not an arbitrary number, plus Starling Marte as Billy Hamilton, and what A.J. Burnett said


ST. LOUIS –  You might be familiar with the Verducci Effect, a theory by preeminent Sports Illustrated scribe Tom Verducci that supposes young pitchers (25 and under) are more susceptible to injury when  their workloads increase by 30 innings or more over a previous season.


The theory is imperfect. It’s rudimentary science as it’s built around arbitrary lines. And it’s been disproved to a degree. (Tom, I’m still a huge fan).


We really don’t know much about why pitchers get hurt. But what Verducci gets right is this: too much taxing on young arms can lead to injury. There’s acute injury, where one pitch thrown incorrectly leads to a ligament snapping, and there’s wear-and-tear injuries. I watched Matt Harvey once throw 157 pitches vs. Clemson while he was at North Carolina. When Dylan Bundy‘s ligament snapped I received a text from an Orioles official who noted  Bundy once threw 293 pitches during a four-day stretch in high school.


Workload concerns are what led the Nationals to shut down Stephen Strasburg last season at an arbitrary number. A random innings number  is why the Marlins limited Jose Fernandez’s work this season.


Sports Illustrated injury expert Will Carroll believes workload is important. But he told me what the Nationals did “wasn’t science” it was pick an arbitrary number. Carroll said we simply don’t know much about why pitchers breakdown.



Searage to Cole today: ‘No pressure kid.’


The Pirates did not set a similarly arbitrary number with Gerrit Cole. We can deduce this.




He’s pitching tonight.


There’s a good chance Cole will reach 200 innings today. He’s thrown 192 1/3 entering today between Triple-A and the majors. It marks a significant jump over the 150 innings he totaled in 2012. It crosses Verducci’s red line.


The Pirates were monitoring Cole’s performance levels this season.


The Pirates were not willing to reveal what hard limits pitches/innings they had set for Cole, which was smart. (The Nationals created a media frenzy by doing so last year).


The Pirates were not willing to reveal the data that goes into that decision. But part of the decision process was old school: it was the eye test.


Pirates officials said the Pirates were monitoring Cole’s performance level, analytically, to indicate if there was encroaching fatigue. . Moreover, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said they were using the old-fashioned eye test.



And Cole has passed the eye test with flying colors: a 5-0, 1.65 ERA record since Sept. 1


*Cole’s fastball velocity average was 95.4 mph on June 28th. It’s 96.1 today. He’s actually become stronger as the season has gone along.


*Cole has been more efficient with pitches as a Pirate than at Triple-A where he was throwing 20 pitches per inning in April and May


*His strikeout rate has soared (10.5 since Sept. 1).


Since we know so little about why pitchers breakdown perhaps Cole is an important case study for baseball: in an age of 21st information the human eye can still tell us a lot as still perhaps a better observer of a pitcher than any spreadsheet data. The human eye can still tell us if a guy is fatiguing or not. And Cole certainly is not. (The human eye can be aided by using PitchFx to monitor changes in delivery that suggest fatigue a  tool some teams are using.)


The Pirates let Cole tell them if he was hurting or tiring. And that’s why he has the ball tonight.




Look, I’m a believer in Starling Marte.


He’s one of the Pirates’ most valuable assets. But he hasn’t been right since returning from a hand injury. He never got a rehab assignment. He struck out in 11 of 27 at bats since returning in Sept. And he’s combined with Neil Walker for a 1-of-31 batting line in the NLDS.


And tonight is a tough matchup for Marte. Adam Wainwright has a great breaking ball and Marte swings and misses at 43 percent of breaking balls and has trouble identifying them. Jose Tabata is a much better breaking ball hitter.


Hurdle said not to expect any lineup changes tonight but what about ensuring that Marte gets on first base? What about using him like Billy Hamilton, as a mid to late-innings pinch runner who then stays in the game as a defensive replacement.


Yes, it guarantees perhaps only one time for Mate to use his legs on the bases but the way he’s going he might not reach first at all.


Just a thought.




From Joe Starkey’s column today:


“He’s a warrior and a competitor,” Ray Searage said. “And he didn’t take it well.”


– TS



  1. Brendan says:

    I believe I’d mentioned Fangraphs Pain Index in a previous comment. In short it attempts to project which players are fatigued, pitching hurt, likely be the victim of injury, etc. From what I can deduce two of the metrics primary factors–the red flags that suggest fatigue/injury are inconsistencies or dips in velocity and command. The former being a byproduct of being unable to repeat delivery because of fatigue. Cole has shown none of those signs.

    Certainly you can’t overwork pitchers, the strain and effort from pitching when very fatigued is often what leads to injury. But at the same time there’s certainly no one size fits all measurement.

    Innings in particular have always struck me as incredibly imprecise. After all there’s a huge difference between a 6 pitch inning and a 30 pitch inning. Ultimately the task of monitoring a pitchers workload it seems to me is much more complicated and nuanced.

  2. Nate83 says:

    Good. AJ Burnett should be unhappy. He also shouldn’t be pitching. It was the correct decision by the Pirates and the correct reaction from any pitcher that wants to compete. If Cole wins tonight I hope AJ goes out their in game one of the Dodgers series and shows exactly why we shouldn’t have passed him over for this deciding game. Unless of course he pitches sometime tonight.

  3. Travis Sawchik says:

    I think you have Brendan, and I suspect the Pain Index is a more accurate model than Verducci Effect.

    I know Will Carroll is working on a system that would use computer models to track changes to throwing mechanics to identify and preempt injury. And I know the Pirates analytics dept has some proprietary things going on. The team that gets this right first will have a huge competitive advantage.

  4. Travis Sawchik says:

    Cole was a no-brainer choice. Do you use Burnett in bullpen tonight? He wouldn’t be my 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice. Hurdle indicated Burnett doesn’t like idea of pitching from pen and changing routine.

  5. In a Game #5 situation, projecting to be low scoring, I want to put the strongest DEFENSIVE team on the field. A ball misplayed or a ball not gotten to can turn a game around much more quickly than one individual offensive base hit.
    Giving a team 4 outs is the quickest way to lose a pressure game.
    I do not question FOR ONE SECOND starting Marte, Walker, and Barmes. None of their backups are as accomplished defensively.
    Plus, don’t forget “hidden vigorish” by them on offense!!

  6. Mario L says:

    Hurdle doesn’t wanna mess w/ lineup “Cause so far its Winning” or however he’s making those decisions in his own mind. Simple fact that if your only real LEGIT power threat @ any given pitch/at-bat is batting #6 & get fewer at-bats while Morneau is only 32 but runs like he’s in quick sand let alone has shown NO POWER whatsoever & could possible be thrown out @ 1B on a single & has produced NOTHING in terms of RBI’s in the PRIME RBI spot. Oh look Hurdle wants to live & DIE w/ Morneau hitting into DP’s & no power. By batting Morneau in #4 why would any opposing pitcher give Cutch anything to hit & with Pedro batting #6 again why would any mgr/opposing pitcher give him anything to hit with Martin batting behind him even though Martin has been hot these playoffs.

  7. NMR says:

    -Starling Marte is no better than an average base stealer at 73% on the year and has been picked off twice as a pinch runner since returning from injury. Yadi says no.
    It wouldn’t have been popular, but Tabby was clearly the right choice to play this series.
    -Gerrit Cole will set a personal major league record for longest start if he reaches 200 IP tonight, so yeah, but holy crap. 200? Are we sure his arm is even real?

  8. BostonsCommon says:

    “He wouldn’t be my 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice”
    Agree. As a power FB/CB pitcher, AJ would add very little to a bullpen that is already chalk full of those types. In no particular order, I would take these guys to come in for 1 inning.
    Wilson, Watson, Grilli, Melancon, and maaaybe Morris.
    That said, AJ is obviously going to play a big role should the Pirates make the NLCS, or even go beyond.

  9. NMR says:

    I just hope Clint was watching Joe Maddon last night.

  10. BostonsCommon says:

    Madden got put in a tough spot. Bases loaded, no one out, top of 2nd, in an elimination game and you just pulled your starter…
    Soo many ways that game could have played out and the Rays were in it to the very end.
    What move is your beef with?

  11. NMR says:

    Oh man, completely the opposite. Maddon did everything he could to give his team a chance to win. Never once hesitated, unlike how Clint handled AJ in Game 1.

  12. BostonsCommon says:

    Ohhh. Just completely misunderstood you… But yes, we are in complete agreement then. I thought he made just about every move he could.
    When the Rays got out of the second, I thought for sure they would go onto win.

  13. Andrew says:

    Gerrit Cole was not a not a no-brainer choice, Burnett is still a very good pitcher, and the sample size people are reasoning from is less than worthless, 85 PAs in Busch stadium, innings in the post-season. Burnett should be used in the bullpen, changing routines, there is nothing routine about win or go home. The bullpen should be emptied tonight, what Madden did was by The Book, and Burnett should be available.

  14. Chuck H says:

    I am disappointed that Hurdle didn’t change his lineup around a bit. For instance:
    Morneau shoul not be the cleanup hitter, no way. He has not shown the power he had with the Twins, and there are too many auto outs at the top of the order and a couple at the bottom of the order. Marte couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Lately he has been letting the good pitches go by and then swings at one in the dirt. He definitely should not
    be in the leadoff spot. Walker has been a complete disappointment in this playoff series.
    I thought he could hit. Pedro should be in the cleanup spot. He does hit a home run every
    once in a while. I’m afraid that if Hurdle goes with the posted lineup, it’s the end of the
    line for the Bucs. Cards 2 Bucs 0. SORRY!!! I hope I’m wrong!!!

  15. Ron says:

    Amazing season. i’m not second guessing anything. They took at 66 million payroll and produced a winner. Am I disappointed – absolutely. Had to turn the channel in the bottom of the 8th. Hated to see it end but I’m a realist and I knew that they let it slip away in game 4. Next year could be great. they got a solid pitching staff and some great players. If Pedro could average .300 with his power he could be a monster next year. Hold on to Byrd and let Morneu go. Find a replacement for Mercer/Barmes.

  16. NorthPirateFans says:

    Frankly, IMO there’s a lot less mystery to this issue than I think the old school guys want there to be, at a least in broad terms.

    The earliest work on this issue done back it the 90’s made a pretty compelling case that a pitch counts above 100 per game on young arms increased the likelihood of injury and with each pitch above that count the risk increased dramatically … they also made a pretty good argument that over 110 pitches was a real danger zone and pitchers who threw 120 pitches or more in as little as one game saw their risk of serious injury skyrocket.

    So let’s take that assessment, apply it to some Pirate pitchers who are and aren’t still pitching and ask the questions a different way.

    Why is Gerrit Cole still pitching? Well if we look at his game logs for the season we see that he only hit or exceeded the 100 pitch mark two (2) times this seasons, a 101 pitch game and a 102 pitch game.

    Why isn’t Jeff Locke still pitching? Well his game log reveals seven (7) 100 or more games, 100, 100, 100, 102, 103, 104 and 108. The most interesting reveal in his numbers, the 108 game marks the low point in his ERA (2.15) and not only did he get knocked around hard the very next game, his ERA rose by 1.37 runs from that point on until he was finally shut down.

    And lastly, where is James McDonald and how might this apply to him? Well in 2012 his total of 100+ games is fourteen (14) 100, 100, 101, 101, 103, 104, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 110, 114, and 120. The 120 pitch game of course is the June 21st complete which, as with Jeff Locke, represents his ERA low (2.19) and the beginning of his very precipitous and rapid decline from there on out.

    While the search for more precise analysis goes on, the reality is that it is already pretty clear that the number of games young pitchers are allowed to throw more than 100 pitches and the degree to which you allow that threshold to be exceeded by correlate very strongly to the “fatigue” and ultimately injury issues. And this hold true all the way back to the Jason Schmidt debacle.

  17. NorthPirateFans says:

    The big problem with the Verducci Effect is that for these purposes and inning is an utterly arbitrary and meaningless measuring device.

    And “inning” in terms of the workload it puts on a young arm could in theory be anything from as little as three pitches to infinity. The notion that an inning as used in this context measures anything is silly on its face.

  18. NorthPirateFans says:

    As I pointed out in my earlier message, 200 innings, while a nice personal mark to hit, really isn’t very meaningful as a measure of his work load over the course of the season.

    He’s been surprisingly efficient in his starts and a managed to keep his work load in each of those innings pretty low. He’s only hit or exceed 100 pitches twice all year, 95 a few more, he’s averaging 91 pitches per outing and a little under 15 pitches per inning.

    If he can keep that up, he’ll stay healthy and pitch a whole bunch of innings.

  19. 2 defensive plays in last night’s game:
    ——one Marte gets to and makes a diving catch, allowing no score
    ——one Tabata does not get to, allowing a single, with the runner eventually scoring
    Baseball is not just played in the batter’s box. On a team like the low-scoring Pirates, stopping runs from scoring may be more important than being a cog in the possibility of scoring a run.
    Starling Marte has/had to play because of his defense. Tabata proved it more than any argument I could make.

  20. NorthPirateFans says:

    The problem with your assessment is that you assume not making that play leads to a score when if fact you can do nothing more than speculate it may or may not have and the circumstance it occurred in suggest it wouldn’t have.

    The ball Matt Carpenter hit in the third inning came after an out had been made and prior to three more consecutive batters being retired with the Cardinals already up 2 – 0. Getting players on base and trying to score at that point is far more important to the Pirates than preventing one runner from reaching base, let alone taking the risk of laying out as Marte did and turning a long single/likely s double into a triple or maybe even an inside the park home run had he not made the catch … and how many times have we seen him let a ball get by trying to make that exceptional play and have it turn into a disaster when he fails to do?

    The problem with those arguing for the value of defense is the implication that every out not made somehow automatically results in arun scored, when it doesn’t, while at the same time dismissing the run diminishing potential of the outs they make at the plate.

    Here’s the bottom line, last night Marte made ONE out in the field that most any other players don’t make … at the plate he made four outs … in the five game series he made ONE out in the field that he’s likely the only player on the team capable of making … at the plate he made EIGHTEEN outs … that’s not close to be a good trade off.

  21. NMR says:

    Your post above nailed it.

  22. NMR says:

    Groat takes one play and uses it to justify six games of failure? Nah….so unlike him. :)

  23. NMR says:

    Beautiful, North.

  24. Were you not watching the game last night?
    Tabata does not catch the ball and a run ends up scoring. No assumption.
    Jay walks with 2 outs and Freese hits it over the fence. Of course, base runners allowed matter!! Pitcher walks; runners on base that could have been put out by fielders. Jay becoming a base runner ultimately provided a lead that Pirates would never vault!
    Shoot, Pirates scored their run because Card shortstop failed to throw to 2nd on Byrd for the easy force!
    Carpenter went 1/19 as well, and no Cardinals ever discussed replacing him with an inferior fielder to get a 1/4 at the plate instead of an 0/4.
    I would LOVE managing against you——I’d kick your tail!!

  25. So, you would have lobbied to play Descalso instead of Carpenter after the first 3 games?

  26. NorthPirateFans says:

    I was watching the Pirate Cardinals game along with the rest of the country, which was apparently not the same one you were watching.

    The catch Marte made came in the bottom of the third inning, after Wainwright led off with a ground out and ahead of outs by Beltran and Holliday when the Pirates were already down 2 – 0, not the bottom of the second inning as you seem to be misremembering. If Tabata or Byrd were playing in left you’re probably correct that the out isn’t made but the most likely out given what transpired after and how Cole was pitching to that point was that Carpenter gets stranded at second base.

    Of course reconstructing a game out come like this and playing the what if game is mere speculation regardless how you wish to decide it might have turned out.

    What is not speculation is, that the moment that play was made the Pirates were already down 2 – 0, and given they only managed to score one run last night getting some runs on the board was far more important to the outcome than preventing a hit or even a third run.

    2 – 0 or 3 – 0, what’s difference if all the offense can do is muster one run, it’s still a loss. A couple of hits or hits out the lead off spot would have been of much greater value last night, or at various points in the series, than the one out made in the field.

  27. In a tight game with two good teams, pitching is paramount.
    “Outs not made” are sometimes more important than “outs made.”
    An unnecessary foot in the door too often leads to runs in this kind of game.
    You assume Gerrit Cole pitches to Carlos Beltran, the most dangerous RBI man in Missouri, and Matt Holliday the same way with a runner on 2nd base. Too many assumptions.
    OK. I like blondes, you like redheads. You are allowed to disagree. Yet don’t diss me (or Hurdle) for holding alternative (AKA correct) views toward Marte.
    I prefer an 0 – 4 with 100 % confidence in defense over 1 – 4 and allowing the ball to drop in and a run scored, which actually happened late in game with Tabata.

  28. NMR says:

    UH, what?

  29. NMR says:

    “…with 100 % confidence in defense…”
    Says the guy who allowed a runner to reach scoring position because he wasn’t paying attention in Game 4.
    Dirty little secret is that Marte routinely has “mental lapses” that everyone else would consider “lazy” if Jose Tabata had committed them.
    I’ve literally seen high school teams with a better idea of what base to throw the ball to in a given situation.

  30. NMR says:

    Wait, are you insinuating that Descalso is equal to Tabata?
    Groat, man, you are better than that. Who in their right mind would bat a guy with a .290 OBP leadoff?
    The difference between Carpenter and Marte is that the Pirates had an option. The Cards did not.

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