Earlier today we heard a report that Brandon Cumpton would be starting for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday. Later, Clint Hurdle confirmed the report, which means it’s time for another installment of “The Book”. Or “The Book on”. I don’t know, I’ve only done this twice, and after the first time Phil Irwin went down with an arm injury. I don’t even know the power this feature has, much less the name.
Cumpton currently has a 3.31 ERA in 65.1 innings with Indianapolis, along with a 6.8 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9 ratio. He got off to a rough start this year after a return to Altoona, giving up eight earned runs in 9.2 innings over his first two starts. Cumpton was promoted to Indianapolis more out of need than merit, due to the early season injury problems in Pittsburgh taking pitchers from Indianapolis. His first start with the Indians was rough, with four earned runs in 5.1 innings. Since then he’s been outstanding, with a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings over ten starts, along with a 47:19 K/BB ratio. The most impressive thing is that he’s got a 3:1 GO/AO ratio this year in Indianapolis, which will play well with the infield defense in Pittsburgh.
Cumpton throws his fastball in the 90-93 MPH range, usually averaging 92 with a lot of movement and good downward angle. I’ve seen him hit as high as 97 MPH in shorter outings. He relies heavily on the pitch, and uses it to get a ton of ground balls and easy outs. In the last four years he’s had a GO/AO ratio of 2.71 (2010, State College), 1.55 (2011, West Virginia/Bradenton), 2.04 (2012, Altoona), and 2.93 (2013, Altoona/Indianapolis).
The Slider and Changeup
Cumpton has a good slider in the mid-80s. He hasn’t gotten a ton of strikeouts in his career with the pitch, but has had a respectable rate throughout his career, and is sitting with a 6.7 K/9 this year. He mostly gets outs with his fastball on the ground, rather than going deep into counts. He throws a changeup in the 82-85 MPH range, although he’s had an .801 OPS against lefties this year after a .776 OPS last year, so the changeup hasn’t been helping him to keep those numbers down.
The Command and Pitching Inside
Cumpton had an interesting transition in 2011 with West Virginia. Despite being drafted out of college, the Pirates sent him to low-A to start the season, hoping he could help stabilize the young rotation and move up quickly to Bradenton. In his first three starts he was hammered for 21 earned runs in 11.1 innings. The Pirates had him skip a start, then moved him to the bullpen in his next outing. Two weeks after being removed from the rotation he returned, mostly due to an injury to another starter.
During the time off, Cumpton overheard a conversation between the West Virginia coaches and another pitcher about the value of pitching inside. Most college pitchers avoid pitching inside out of habit. In college you’re pitching against metal bats, which means if you pitch inside, a batter can still hit it to the outfield. In the pros, with wood bats, if you pitch inside you’re not going to get strong contact, and you’re probably going to be breaking some bat handles. That difference is the reason most college pitchers avoid throwing inside — because they are used to throwing to metal bats.
The message wasn’t directed toward Cumpton, but he embraced the idea of pitching inside. He even took it to an extreme, sometimes setting his catcher up behind a right-handed batter. It worked for him. After those first three starts, Cumpton combined for a 1.72 ERA in 57.2 innings with West Virginia. His numbers at every other level have been excellent ever since, and he still has no fears about throwing inside.
Where Did Brandon Cumpton Come From?
Cumpton was a ninth round draft pick in 2010 out of Georgia Tech. We had him rated as the 46th best prospect in the system coming into the year.
What is Cumpton’s Upside?
Cumpton has the upside to be a back of the rotation starter, or a strong reliever due to his ability to work in the mid-90s in shorter outings. He’s very much like Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez in that he works primarily off his sinking fastball, generates weak contact, but isn’t exactly a soft tosser and has a good off-speed pitch to turn to.
Cumpton will pound the strike zone with his fastball, which usually sits around 92 as a starter and has a lot of movement and downward angle. He pairs that with a good mid-80s slider and also throws a changeup. He can get strikeouts with the slider, but mostly works toward efficiency and tries to get outs on the ground. He is fearless when throwing inside, usually living on the inner half of the plate. He’s got good command of his pitches, doesn’t issue a lot of walks, and is very efficient with his pitch counts. Cumpton also has a good frame at 6′ 2″, 218 pounds, and can pick up a lot of innings in a season. He’s got the potential to be a starter in the majors, or a really good depth option out of Triple-A for the Pirates over the next few years. He could also serve as a strong reliever due to his ability to touch as high as 97 MPH in shorter outings.