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Monday Morning Mop-Up: Cole vs. Strasburg, who ya got?

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CITI FIELD  -  Which former No. 1 overall prospect would you rather have – and try to be objective here - Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg?

Considering everything, the contracts, club control, skill sets, age, physical characteristics, Jonah Keri ranked Cole as the 26th most valuable property in baseball, Strasburgh 15th in his trade ranking sin December. I think that’s fair – but I think Cole has also closed the gap. I think you can argue the Pirates now have two of the top 20 assets in baseball in Cole and Andrew McCutchen.

Strasburg and Cole are both prototype right-handers with 95+ mph fastballs and an assortment of off-speed stuff. Cole actually throws slightly harder at this point than Washington’s ace. Strasburg has superior off-speed offerings.

Strasburg is still very, very good but he’s not the guy we saw in his first major league start against the Pirates when he struck out 14 and averaged 98 mph – averaged  98 – with his fastball. Tommy John surgery robbed him of a tick of stuff.

padres-nationals-base-rotz2jpg-eebee3df4354e6d5

Do the Pirates possess something more valuable than this guy? And should we all practice some restraint with our “once-in-a-generation” label-makers. (AP photo)

Still even with Strasburg’s slightly diminished stuff, he’s still one of the game’s best pitchers most teams would gladly have him headline their staffs. That a Pirate asset is in the same conversation as Strasburg is a big deal

If Cole’s changeup becomes the equal of Strasburg’s, then he can become Strasburg’s equal.

Cole’s changeup was tremendous at times in New York and Milwaukee but Ian Desmond ripped it for a solo home run on Saturday. It still needs some maturation but it has flashed plus. I think that’s the biggest separator right now.

The other thing is Strasburg has an injury history and Cole does not. Does that mean Strasburg’s simply just got his Tommy John out of the way and Cole has coming at some point down the road or that Cole is a better bet to stay healthy? Through the injury lens I could see a strong argument for Cole.

Interesting debate. What we do know is Cole got the better of Strasburg on Saturday in their first meeting.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

9. Brandon Cumpton has a chance to stick in the rotation for a while not only this season but going forward.  There could be as many as three rotation spots open next year with Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez free agents, and Wandy Rodriguez having already been DFA’d. Cumpton’s two-seamer has touched 95 mph in recent starts. His stuck has ticked up this season.

8. Pedro Alvarez has always been a perplexing player but he’s never been this perplexing.

For the first time in his major league career, Alvarez has shown real improvement in some areas of his approach. Alvarez entered Saturday’s game with a career-best walk rate (11.2 percent) and a career-low strikeout rate (21.8 percent). Alvarez is striking out in eight percent fewer of his plate appearances compared to his career average.

But Alvarez also has low batting average, and was moved out of the cleanup spot for a fourth straight game Monday.

Alvarez has bought into the all-fields approach but it sounds like he’s growing frustrated with it even after his home run Saturday. Alvarez and Jeff Branson met earlier in the week to discuss that all-fields approach and Alvaerz’s struggles.

“He revisited his approach with Branson, about what (Branson) wants him to do at the plate. Branson asked for a specific time to stay with it,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We revisited some of the things last year that had success. (Alvarez) thought he was still doing them, we revisited, and maybe he wasn’t quite in alignment with some of those things.”

7. Maybe Alvarez is thinking too much. Or maybe PNC Park is not the best place for a lefty hitters to go the other way with its deep left field. Alvarez entered Saturday with almost as many balls hit to left field (38) as right (45), which is a pretty remarkable buy-in. He’s been robbed of some extra-base hits to left due to the depth of the fences.

Just look at Jose Bautista, not everyone was meant to use the entire field. I though Alvarez could begin Chris Davis 2.0 with a better all-fields approach, cutting down on Ks and adding BBs. He’s done all of that — but the quality of his batted balls has declined. Alvarez is hitting fewer line drives, more pop-ups and converting fewer of his flyballs into home runs. Bad luck or a product of the new approach?

It sounds like Branson wants Alvarez to not go away from approach just yet. But how long should he wait?

6. Neil Walker best 2B in the National League? He smashed a 95 mph Strasburg fastball on Saturday for his team-best 10th homer of the season.

5. One encouraging thing from last week? Charlie Morton‘s fastball velocity. Was it a coincidence that Morton’s first victory came when his average fastball velocity was up and he touched 95 mph? His two-seamer averaged 92.5 mph in line with his 2013 velocity.

4. Hey, I haven’t even mentioned Gregory Polanco‘s name yet.

It must have been a better week for the Pirates.

3. Ike Davis has done a nice job of using the whole fields and getting on base. While he hasn’t brought a lot of power yet, he’s brought some profession Justin Morneau-like at bats to the cleanup position. Davis returns to Citi Field this week.

2. Has to be nice for the Pirates to see the bats of Reese McGuire and Alen Hanson come alive this month. The club is counting on both to be important middle-of-the-field contributors in the not too distant future. Most important is McGuire’s defense and throwing arm has come as advertised, he has an all-star ceiling.

1. Is Tony Watson the Pirates’ closer in 2015? (or later this season?). Skills have really jumped up and he has neutral platoon splits.

HE SAID IT 

Biggest different between playing in Pittsburgh vs. New York?

“I can go get a coffee and no one is giving me hitting tips.”

- Ike Davis

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: .347

Josh Harrison‘s OBP. Is Harrison the unlikely savior at the top of the lineup. Or is this really not that unlikely since he had a minor league .359 OBP over five seasons. He’s also made two of the better catches you’ll ever see in a six-day span.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK II: 112

Career-high pitches by Cole on Saturday.

The kid gloves are slowly coming off …

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION  OF THE WEEK

Finished up Homeland Season 3. Rent it. Stream it. Buy it. … just watch it.

- TS

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Comments

  1. BostonsCommon says:

    I’ll take Cole. He’s already a top of the rotation starter, and he’s still got room for improvement. The possibility of improved secondary offerings pushes his ceiling higher than Strasburg, who is basically a finished product.

    And I agree that health is on Cole’s side.

  2. John Lease says:

    Of course I’d take Cole. Strasburg and his sour puss attitude don’t win him any raves from his teammates on the Nationals.

  3. Donald says:

    Tony Watson may have become my favorite player on the Pirates this season. The guy is that good! It would be nice to see Cutch, Walker, and Watson all at the all-star game. I still don’t understand the disregard for Vin Mazzaro though… he pitched well at basically every opportunity, I don’t care about years of service, I’d take him as long man over Jeanmar Gomez or situational rightie over Bryan Morris. Maybe this time they can at least work out a trade for him. I doubt he doesn’t go unclaimed a second time.

  4. Donald says:

    PS what’s up with Jason Grilli? He came in and got the save Friday night, but hasn’t been seen since. Two saves for Melancon since then.

  5. Ghost says:

    Good question. But the original plan was to ease Grilli back in, after all. In fact, I wonder if in his customary pow wow with Hurdle after home games, Huntington asked Hurdle, “Hey Clint, what’s up with using Grilli right off the bat to close out a tight one tonight?”

  6. joe hacks says:

    watson should definitely be the closer. as far as grilli, they saw what i saw,two fly balls almost were homers. they really smashed those balls. grilli can look in the dirt all he wants he is done.

  7. LeeFoo says:

    I’m greedy…I want Cole AND Strasburg.

  8. LeeFoo says:

    Travis…you have Jon Niese as a RHP in your game preview. He is a lefty.

  9. LeeFoo says:

    Ghost…I tried to do your avatar with my cat.

    For some reason, I couldn’t get her to sit still like that. I know have claw marks all over me.

  10. NMR says:

    Excellent stuff, Travis. Refreshing to see that someone has the audacity to talk baseball during Nutting season.

    -In any given start, Strasburg is clearly a superior pitcher to Gerrit Cole right now. But watching the two side by side, Cole just LOOKS like the safer pitcher. Simple mechanics, excellent arm action, protypical body.

    -Brandon Cumpton is a poor man’s Joe Kelly. Neither has a secondary pitch that gets swings and misses, but both have fastballs with life down in the zone. Pencil him into the 4/5 slot and be thrilled you got that out of a 9th round draft pick.

    -Pedro, Pedro, Pedro…

    Gotta give the guy an incredible amount of credit for making such big adjustments to his game. But you also have to wonder how long he can hold strong with the results lagging. It’s completely fair to point out that the quality of contact hasn’t been as good, but it’s also true that LD% is by far the flukiest of batted ball types, both in predictability and tracking.

    Alvarez is sporting a BABIP of .235…six National League teams have a PITCHING STAFF with a combined BABIP greater than that. Alvarez has unquestionably been unlucky – and I hate using that word.

    -Credit due to Ike Davis as well for finally making some of the real, appreciable swing changes he fought for so long in NY. Smoothing out the hitch looks to have robbed him of some of the batspeed needed for power, but this platoon is just plain good right now. Don’t change a thing.

    -Alen Hanson with a +.900 OPS in May is a great thing, but the Pirates simply have to be discussing a near-term replacement for Jordy Mercer. Guy just is not a starting shortstop on a club that plans on contending.

    -It’s great for Josh Harrison that the Pirates are starting win games. His story is one of those narratives that gets – and was getting – overlooked when teams lose, but turns into the hero when they win. Let’s just not forget who Josh Harrison is. Enjoy the hot streak while it lasts.

  11. BostonsCommon says:

    -SS is an issue. If Jordy isn’t going to hit, which is clearly isn’t currently, then should Barmes get the lions share? What is the short term solution? Where is the youngish, cost controlled SS upgrade that is on the market?

    -And do they even address in season with the ongoing rotation question marks? It would seem to me that NH needs to address the rotation before he does SS.

  12. NMR says:

    “Where is the youngish, cost controlled SS upgrade that is on the market?”

    This is like saying your marriage is failing and hate your wife, but will only leave her for a good looking, low maintenance girl 20 years younger than you.

    The simplest solution to shortstop was Stephen Drew, but that battle has already been lost, if ever started. Alexei Ramirez is a reasonable upgrade and will be traded this July. He’s my answer to the “who is out there” question for now. Asdrubal Cabrera will be traded as well.

    With Cumpton replacing Wandy, I’m not sure there is much left for Huntington to do with that rotation, Boston. I’d guess that Volquez will be replaced at some point, but you’re not going to demote Lirano and Chuck and Gerrit are just fine. What would you do?

  13. Andrew says:

    I would take Cole simply because for hard throwers, it is about 400 innings from 1st UCL reconstruction to the next major surgery.

    I also saw this from Jeff Passan following the news of Yordano Ventura, The lone non-TJ survivors among the nine hardest throwers: Gerrit Cole and Garrett Richards. Apparently the only immunity is a first name.

    I tried to find the list of nine hardest throwers he was referring too but was unable, with each new injury I have reached morbid acceptance that Cole will likely need his UCL reconstructed.

  14. NMR says:

    Saw that from Passan as well, Andrew. Just crazy.

    You got anything else today? Lots of good topics. A bit desperate for actual baseball conversation.

  15. BostonsCommon says:

    I’d be fine with Ramirez.. An above average SS with an AAV around $10M is a no-brainer to me… And it really should have no impact on their ability to extend Martin, or add a starter. I think it’s unlikely though. Especially after NH’s flattering comments about the defensive value that both Jordy and Barmes bring to the table this weekend.

    Frankly, I don’t see them doing anything to address SS in the short term… In the long term I’d like to see the draft approach mirror whats going on with the OFs. Basically, drafting CFs exclusively, with the idea that if they can handle CF, they can always move them to a corner down the road. So heavy drafting and international signings of SS.

    The easy answer for the rotation is for Liriano to pitch like front line starter again. His ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 5.06/4.11/3.58 suggests better results are on the way. But he just doesn’t pass the look test right now for me. Control and command are both missing…. If he’s going to pitch like a No 4 or 5, I’d like to see NH bring someone in to pair with Cole at the top.

    A couple months of James Shields would be great. I could even get on board for a couple years of Edwin Jackson..

    They’re hard questions to answer, but that’s why NH is the GM and why he got his extension.

  16. NMR says:

    ‘preciate the good response, Boston.

    Similar to the Machado-Taillon debate, this isn’t necessarilly a criticism but I have a feeling we’ll regret having TWO 2013 first rounds picks and still JP Crawford slip by. One way or another, I think it could be a fatal flaw if this team – this core – moves forward through Cutch’s contract without a real shortstop. And if that guy isn’t in the system already, the draft probably isn’t the place to find him at this point. Tough spot.

    You’re absolutely right. Liriano just does not pass the smell test right now. But I sincerely hope someone, Martin-Hurdle-Searage-whoever, can just get him to stay calm. It WILL turn around.

    Lefties have a career OPS of .571 against Liriano and an .827 OPS this season. That will not last.
    Liriano has a career HR/FB rate of about 10% and 15% this season. That will not last.
    He has an ERA around 6 at home this season and was sub-2 last year. Neither will last, but that would still be an improvement.

    Just ride this out, and remember that the difference between his walk rate this year and last is 1%.

  17. BostonsCommon says:

    Yea, Meadows and McGuire both have their warts thus far, but WOW, I hadn’t checked out Crawford’s ridiculous start.

  18. Andrew says:

    I posted over in DK’s blog: Pirates’ offense has been 2nd best in the NL in May, 122 wRC+, actually the best if you include pitcher hitting. Overall the offense has consistently been 5th or 6th best.

    For May, starting pitching by FIP/xFIP is bottom five, ERA dead last. Bullpen by FIP/xFIP bottom two, but the ERA is 5th, mostly because of a low BABIP and stranding runners which isn’t really sustainable over the long term. I do like that Watson and Wilson are striking guys out and Grilli being back in a limited capacity gives the Pirates a RHP who can get strikeouts.

    Also Neil Walker has been the worst defensive 2nd basemen in the NL, by both UZR and DRS. I do wonder if both system can account for the subtle shifting the Pirates have been doing. Fangraphs also has Inside Edge data, another time waster, but it breaks down chances into buckets like both UZR and DRS. Walker has convert only 50% of likely balls (60-90%) range of which there have been only 4 which and this could account for his terrible numbers.

    Another tangent, I don’t think MLBAM player tracking will be a game changer because yes we will better know the minutia defense, but any defense rating or projection system is limited by sample size. Knowing how quickly a player reacted and the ground covered are better than knowing whether a player just got to a ball or not, but you are limited by total chances.

  19. NMR says:

    Good stuff.

    Starters seem to have really been drug down by those six Wandy/Volquez starts in the peripheral department. Bullpen still is a mystery, but then so goes bullpens.

    I’m far from a heavy supporter of Neil Walker’s defense, but I just simply cannot trust a two-month sample of data that says he’s been THAT bad. And I’m becoming more and more suspicious of the people who grade these plays, as well. Seems an awful lot like an appeal to authority to just assume these guys know what they’re looking at.

    And I agree with you on MLBAM. You have to figure it will be no more than a flashy toy for at least a few years until enough comparasion data is built up for comparison purposes.

  20. Jim S. says:

    I’d be very surprised if we don’t see Grilli tonight.

  21. Jim S. says:

    I read some pitching data from ESPN yesterday (Mark Simon) that listed the Bucs pitching staff as #5 in MLB for % of balls put in play against being hard hit. 14.3%, I believe, with league average in the 16% range. So, there’s that.

    But, I believe there were only 2 NL teams that had allowed a higher batting avg. against, and only the Phils had a higher OBP against in the NL. Unlucky?

  22. Jim S. says:

    I hope you are right about Frankie, NMR. But, his body language does not look good right now, and the comments I read after the game the other night from DK indicated that Liriano himself is losing faith in Liriano. I am thankful that he will be pitching for a new contract the rest of the year, and I do think he is a competitor who will not pack it in. He obviously feels a sense of responsibility to get it going in the right direction. I hope he finds it, while also catching a few breaks.

  23. Jim S. says:

    I think they did alright on both picks, although I am a bit concerned about Meadows’ hammy. I think they are just being overly cautious with it. He had a pretty solid first year last year.

    McGuire seems to be hitting for a good average, with good plate discipline. If the power comes as well, then we have a good offensive catcher. I’ve yet to read anything but positive reports of his defense. That doesn’t make him the best pick in the draft, but I think it’s hard to knock.

  24. BostonsCommon says:

    I echoed this sentiment few weeks back.. He’s probably got in the neighborhood of $40-50M riding on the rest of this season. Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, I could see him end up in either of these ranges:

    1 year $10M
    4 years $60M

    With that on the line, you gotta think he’s bringing it, and doing everything he can to get this thing right… That, and he’s a pro, and those guys don’t like to lose. They don’t like to suck… Really hoping he turns it around.

  25. NMR says:

    That’s exactly where my comment comes from, Jim.

    He’s taking this much harder than he should be for his own good. He’s simply not THAT far away from being dominant on any given day, although its a hell of a lot easier for me to say it than him to feel it in front of 30k.

    Expanding further on my points above, consider Jeff Sullivan’s Chat today where he points out the Liriano has had the same strike rate, lower contact rate, and higher groundball rate than last year.

    He’s just simply not pitching as bad as it looks.

  26. Andrew says:

    Yes, Volquez and Wandy kill the overall numbers, Liriano doesn’t help, he has been effectively replacement level in May.

    I don’t have an issue with saying Walker has been bad defensively, I just don’t take as any indication of his true talent or where he will end up to finish the year. Going back to the Inside Edge data, in the 10%-90% range they have 15 opportunities listed of which Walker has made 6, if that number was 8, I think his numbers would be around career norms.

  27. NMR says:

    Even given the wildly small sample, I think you still have to be a little concerned about the power and the flags that could throw up.

    I mean, we are talking about almost literally all singles. At the lowest levels of the game. Less power than Gift Ngoepe at the same stage.

    Sorry, but unless that turns around soon I’m not comfortable just assuming it’ll come. Has to be more to it.

  28. BostonsCommon says:

    I’m with ya on this one. Although admittedly, I haven’t seen any of McGuire. Don’t know if there is solid contact, or if he’s bouncing choppers through the infield holes.

  29. Andrew says:

    I think Liriano’s results will pick up, lefties aren’t going to have a BABIP of almost .400 and HR/FB% of 25% for the rest of the year. He could certainly help himself by finding the zone a little more, but if we start pulling hair out because of a bad 60 innings we are no better than hockey fans.

 
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