The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Tyler Cox in the 35th round in the 2008 draft. Cox, a left handed pitcher, started off in the GCL, with a 1.79 ERA in 45.1 innings, both as a starter and as a reliever. Cox started the 2009 season in West Virginia, but after posting a 10.25 ERA in 26.1 innings, with a 5.8 K/9 and a 4.1 BB/9, Cox was demoted to State College. There, he posted a 3.93 ERA, a 7.0 K/9, and a 1.8 BB/9 ratio in 73.1 innings, mostly working as a starter.
Cox made the jump to high-A to start the 2010 season, and has been pitching out of Bradenton’s bullpen all season. Cox currently has a 4.55 ERA in 31.2 innings, although his 10.2 K/9 is the highest of his pro career, and his 3.1 BB/9 ratio isn’t far above his career average. The big problem this year has been homers. At the time of this interview, Cox was having succes both at home and on the road. In the last few weeks, Cox struggled with homers at home, raising his total to four allowed in 15 innings, as opposed to two in 16.2 innings, and creating a separation between his overall home and road numbers.
The ERA doesn’t reflect it, but Cox is having a nice season out of the Bradenton bullpen. The home runs might be due to the Bradenton park factors, as they haven’t plagued Cox before, and don’t hurt him on the road. The increased strikeouts are very encouraging, and could allow Cox to excel once he advances beyond Bradenton. Here are the questions I had for Tyler:
Tim: You started off the 2009 season with West Virginia, then moved down to State College, where you were very successful the rest of the season. How did it feel to start the 2010 season in high-A, and were you expecting that assignment?
Tyler: High-a was my goal entering Spring Training but when the teams were posted at the end of Spring Training I have to admit I was a little surprised.
Tim: You’ve worked both as a starter and a reliever so far in your professional career. Which role do you feel most comfortable in?
Tyler: I would say pitching out of the pen is a little more comfortable. There is a lot less time to think about things between outings and I don’t have to pace myself to last 6+ innings.
Tim: What pitches do you have in your arsenal? Which pitch is your “go-to” pitch? How does your approach change out of the bullpen?
Tyler: I throw both a 2 seam and 4 seam fastball, change-up, and slider. My go-to pitch is still a located fastball, but my slider is a put away pitch. My approach is still the same, I want to get ahead early and get a result within a few pitches. My mindset does change a little depending on the situation I am coming into that particular night.
Tim: You’ve seen a spike in your strikeout totals out of the bullpen, with your strikeouts per nine innings almost doubling. What is the biggest factor in your increase in strikeouts out of the pen?
Tyler: My slider is much improved from my previous two seasons. I’d have to credit the increase in K’s to my new slider.
Tim: The Florida State League is viewed as one of the most pitcher friendly parks in the minors, according to park factor statistics. However, McKechnie Field has been viewed as a hitter’s park. What is your opinion on the park factors? Do you agree with the notion that McKechnie is more hitter friendly, while the other parks are more pitcher friendly?
Tyler: McKechnie Field is definitely a park that hitters want to come play at. So far this year in the FSL, I have seen a lot of home runs. Maybe as the heat and humidity of summer increases the long ball will fade. Right now I would have to give the advantage to the hitters with the cool nights and wind blowing out.
Tim: Several Bradenton hitters have struggled on the road, while seeing a lot of success at home. Most of the Bradenton pitchers, yourself included, haven’t seen the same drastic home/road splits. Why do you think the Bradenton pitchers have avoided the drastic home/road splits that the hitters have seen?
Tyler: Baseball players are creatures of habit. No matter if we are home or on the road pitchers will do the same amount of throwing everyday. Hitters routines change a little on the road and they have faced some really good starters that have thrown the ball well.
Tim: Do you think you will end up back in the rotation this year?
Tyler: I honestly have no idea if I will be a starter or reliever in the future. Whatever role the organization wants me to fill, I will do.
Tim: What are some of the things you’ve been working on since being drafted by the Pirates?
Tyler: One of the main things I’ve had to work on is how to pitch, versus just throwing the ball. There have been a few mechanical issues like staying on my front side longer, staying tall on my backside and finishing the pitch.
Tim: What is the biggest thing you’re working on right now?
Tyler: Right now I’m learning how to pitch out of the bullpen. My routine and mentality have changed a bit. Staying focused during the game and watching how the starter approaches hitters and then applying that to how I can get them out.
Thanks to Tyler for taking time to do the interview, and thanks to his agent, Michael Bonanno of Oak Sports Management for setting up the interview.