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In case you didn’t know, Gerrit Cole is a freak

CLARK BUILDING – I was in Natrona  Heights last night for a Clint Hurdle speaking/fundraising event at the local VFW. Hurdle captivated the room for 40 minutes and then took several questions from the audience, which numbered 150 or so, an audience that had greeted Hurdle with a standing ovation. Some grown men wore Hurdle T-shirts. Hurdle lingered for 30 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.  He’s become a popular man in town. If this whole managing thing doesn’t work out maybe he could run for mayor of Hampton Township.

Hurdle was asked again about the first base situation. He said Neal Huntington is still working on it, but added Andrew Lambo deserves a look … somewhere.  No change there. Hurdle was again asked about A.J. Burnett. Somewhat interestingly he noted he had not spoken with Burnett since November. He said he felt he was getting in the way.

 

But what interested me was the response to a question about why the Pirates handled Gerrit Cole’s workload different than the Nationals handled Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

 

“With the Cole situation there was some common fabric some with Strasburg and there are some things that weren’t the same,” Hurdle said. “We had a game-plan from the start of spring training on what we envisioned Plan A would with Gerrit Cole be and would Plan B would be. He’s the only (starting) pitcher last year who  from the time he picked the ball up in spring training pitched through the end of the year. A.J. was on the DL. (Francisco) Liriano started late. (Charlie) Morton started late. (Jeff) Locke missed time. The man’s physical toughness, his durability, his strength. his delivery… we felt good about the way challenged him.  We did an analysis on the number pitches that could be thrown. We monitored strength and conditioning workouts in between starts and his strength never decreased.”

 

Two things to take away from the answer: a lot more goes into determining workloads than arbitrary innings limits … and Cole is an unusually strong human.

 

It’s interesting to me that a 22-year-old rookie showed the most durability among all Pirates starters last season and threw 196 1/3 innings in 2013, when including his spring training and postseason work. And he threw a lot of high-stakes innings after Sept. 1, beginning with an outing where he out-dueled Yu Darvish for Win No. 82 on Sept. 9 in Texas.

 

He threw about 150 innings in 2012 when factoring in instructional league work.

 

If you didn’t already realize this Cole is a rare dude. He was still hitting 99.6 mph on the gun with his fastball in Game 5 of NLDS. In one game at Anaheim in June he threw eight pitches of 100 mph or faster. Major League starters had combined for one pitch reaching 100 mph (by Matt Harvey)  until that moment in 2013. Similar to  Justin Verlander, he seemed to get stronger the deeper he went into starts, the deeper he went into the season.

 

This is what Triple-A pitching coach Tom Filer told back in June:  “When we tell (Cole) that’s enough at 100 pitches. He’s like what? I feel great. He’s going to be a workhorse.”

 

When it comes to young arms we love the radar gun readings and we love the break of a plus offspeed pitch. But perhaps the most amazing part of Cole’s rookie campaign was his strength and durability. What he did in 2013 isn’t normal and the volume of quality innings he can log in 2014 and beyond should excite BUCN.

 

- TS

 

26 Comments

  1. Great stuff, Travis!

    I remember reading some comment from Cole last season about his durability, and his background. Basically, he was talking about why he was confident that he would not wear down. I think the question I remember was something to the effect of “How long has he been throwing close to 100?”

    We hear all the time how the Pirates project these big, strong, tall kids that they draft out of HS to ramp up their speed over time, to where they might sit in the mid-to upper 90′s someday if all goes well. Usually, they sit in the 90-92 range at draft time, occasionally bumping up to mid-90′s, with the upside of consistently gaining several MPH when they get stronger and fill out.

    It struck me that Cole basically said he was pushing 100 in HS, and that he wasn’t occasionally touching that range. He said that was his normal range. He also said that he was not used to being fatigued from throwing 100+ pitches in that range. I honestly cannot remember anything about the recruitment of Cole in HS, and his eventual drafting by the Yankees. So, maybe he is mis-remembering, as pitchers occasionally do from time to time. But, if he truly was throwing in his current range of high 90′s & occasionally touching triple digits at 17, as I believe he said, this kid has been a full grown man for 5+ years now. That tells me his body was ready for his workload last year, unlike just about any 22 year old I can remember.

  2. -As a resident of the City, I’m glad to have Clint Hurdle representing the baseball team. Seems like a great guy.

    Travis, in your experience, do you find that coaches/GMs/players ever actually provide anything new in situations where they get asked the same questions, over-and-over-and-over-and-over again? This winter has been all about that for the Bucs. Sometimes I wonder if these guys just get sick of answering the same questions the same way. I know I would.

    -First and foremost, Gerrit Cole is blessed with exceptionally rare genetics. That much is clear. Men just aren’t supposed to throw things that hard. But it is interesting to contrast how his performance held up compared to Jeff Locke, considering their body types are much different. I’d love to see Jeff add some good lean muscle to his legs and core. Kid just couldn’t hold his mechanics together last summer.

    • NMR, I think in this case the Pirates really don’t know what Burnett is going to do. At the Winter Meetings, even Burnett’s agent wasn’t sure what he was going to do. I’m sure the club officials have become weary from answering the same questions …but, hey, it’s been a quiet offseason.

      • I certainly wasn’t insinuating the questions should stop, fwiw. Quite the opposite.

        Your response to me, for example, contained info about Burnett’s agent I hadn’t read before. And I’m sure you’ve been asked about the Winter Meetings many times.

      • Driving into the office this morning, for my entire hour long commute MLB Radio was pretty much devoted to AJ Burnett and where he will end up. Funniest was a Braves fan saying he would be a good #4 or #5 starter for them.

  3. It will be with the greatest interest that I watch Cole’s career play out. I strongly subscribe to the Nolan Ryan school of thought that pitch counts and limitations placed on pitchers do exactly that — place limitations on them. What will be particularly interesting to watch is how Cole, a So. Cal. ballplayer born and bred, will do as time passes. Cole most certainly has been playing year-round baseball since he was a little tike. Some baseball minds, like Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, eschew pitchers who come from warm climes, believing that a pitcher’s arm only has so many pitches in it, and once they’re used up, they are used up. Cole will be a great case study. Here’s hoping he leaves Corbin’s notions behind in the dust bin of history.

    • Is Cole really a great case study or just an easy example of confirmation bias?

      There isn’t any question that Cole, like Ryan, is supremely gifted genetically. From a scientific standpoint, he is an outlier, which make for the worst case studies.

      • True. But that might make him the rare pitcher who the club should aggressively look to sign to a long-term deal.

      • Unless it turns out that it’s the training regimen — including getting past the potentially false limitations of pitch counts and inning counts — that develops the “horse.” This is what I want to see confirmed.
        “Confirmation bias?” Sure, I make no bones about which theory I believe and wish to see validated. But the whole reason Cole’s example interests me is because I DO want to see how his career and health play out. If Vanderbilt’s Corbin turns out to be correct (that a pitcher only has so many pitches in him), then that is what we need to find.

  4. Great stuff, Travis. Cole is a unique player.

    And thanks go out to his college coach for not giving in to the temptation of letting him throw 150+ pitches.

    He should great on that PNC Park mound for years.

    • Great point, Roberto. I once saw Matt Harvey’s coach allow him to throw 157 pitches in a start at North Carolina. No excuse for that, amateur coaches.

      • Believe Justin Wilson had an extreme college workload that may have cost him early development with us. Think I’m right, wouldn’t bet on it :)

      • Selfish is the word that comes to mind.

        • Bingo.

          Nobody that lets a kid throw that many pitches can ever claim to have his best interest in mind.

          • I agree. These are not dads coaching 12 year olds. These are professionals with access to information on the effects of this type of workload, who also converse regularly with people at the next level who undoubtedly tell them to be careful. And, yet, some of them push the pitch count limits anyway.

            I guess most of them fear getting fired if they don’t win enough games, and their chances of winning increase dramatically when the stud throws as many innings as possible.

            Hopefully, there are at least more coaches nowadays taking some precautions than not.

  5. Love Cole!!! Great Pitcher and we are very blessed to have him.

    Love Hurtle!!! Great Manager and we are very blessed to have him.

    Ok, now that we all agree on that,…For the love of gosh, go out and sign AJ and a good 1b so we can go out and compete and so we can give this team a fighting chance to have great success.

  6. Interesting insights, but the grammatical errors continue. Proofread Trav!

    • Yo’s admonition to proofread seems to be addressed to Trav’s editor, given the lack of a comma.

      • I continue to appreciate Mr. Sawchik’s writing despite occasional lapses in language usage. More importantly, he knows how to use words and, even better, brings particularly insightful content. Give ‘im a break.

        • Thanks, Keith. We regret any errors, typos, etc. here … but my focus is on keeping the information fresh and interesting. Thanks for reading!

          • Feeling insecure about how my post will gramatically read… already screwed up i’m sure. Yes, nice information (thanks Travis) and I will continue my contrarian view that I would rather have Drew than Burnett. But, what do I know, time will tell how it works out…

          • And, you do exactly that, Travis! I have said it before, but thank you for bringing a forum for meaningful baseball discussion about our Bucs 12 mo. per year.

  7. Trav! I enjoy your work! Keep up the great work! I really don’t care if you miss a comma, etc.

  8. Great info Travis!!! Keep up the good work.

    I really think the AJ issue has nothing to do with the Pirates “lack of stepping up to the plate and offering enough money” The man really doesn’t know if he wants to pitch.

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