Gerrit Cole Pirates

Gerrit Cole Should Be the Game Five Starter

Gerrit Cole Pirates

Gerrit Cole should start game five, if a game five is played. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

There might not be a game five in the NLDS between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. Either team could win the next two games at PNC Park, although you’d think the Pirates would have a strong chance at one game with Francisco Liriano vs Joe Kelly. If there is a game five, then the last two days have shown that the starting pitcher for the Pirates in that game should be Gerrit Cole.

This isn’t just about one game performances, although if it was there would be no question that Cole should start over A.J. Burnett, who would be the regularly scheduled starter. Instead, this is about several other starts for each player.

For A.J. Burnett, it’s about five different starts. Those would be the five career starts he has at Busch Stadium, where he has combined for a 13.50 ERA in four regular seasons starts, plus his start in game one of this series.

Or you could also look at seven different starts. Those are the seven starts Burnett made on the road in the final two months of the season, where he combined for a 5.62 ERA. That’s including an eight inning, one earned run start at the end of the year.

For Gerrit Cole, it’s about six starts. Cole has made six starts from the beginning of September through today. In those starts he has a 1.66 ERA in 38 innings, with a 44:11 K/BB ratio. He has been dominant, and it’s not just against bad teams. We saw today that he can also dominate one of the best teams in the league.

Or it could be about seven starts for Cole. The rookie had seven starts on the road this year during the regular season, with a 2.38 ERA in 45.1 innings. He continued that road success today.

If it comes down to a game five, then the entire season will be only about one start. In that situation, you want Gerrit Cole — who has been dominant lately, great on the road, and beat the Cardinals today in Busch Stadium — over A.J. Burnett — who struggles at Busch Stadium, and has struggled on the road in general in the last few months. If the Pirates get down to that one game, then Gerrit Cole is the guy who gives them the best chance to win.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    I totally agree. However, if this comes to pass, what will this mean regarding the possibility of Burnett coming back next year? I would think he takes his ball and goes home….

    • Cato the Elder

      Who knows; who cares. If he wants to come back, then great. If not, the team moves on.

      I could see him “taking his ball and going home” or I could see him not wanting to end his career with his worst outing of his career. In either case, his emotion don’t get to hold the team hostage and I thinks he knows/understands that.

      • Paul J Books

        Hurdle has to make this decision for the entire team, the organization, the city, not A.J. We all love A.J. for what he has done in two years for the organization. For God’s sake I had totally forgotten what it was like to have a guy like him taking the hill every five days for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But right now, it’s about getting to the next round, and that means Gerrit Cole ABSO-BUCKING-LUTELY must start game 5 if it comes to fruition that we have to or “get to” play that game. We can come back with A.J. in Game 1 (or later in the series) of the NLCS if we get that far.

        Definitely would love to see A.J. in Pgh uniform in 2014 but he’ll have to get over this one.

  • Richard Ya’Zhynka

    It’s also about the 7 postseason starts A.J. Burnett had prior to this season. He had a 5.08 ERA in those games.

  • Matt Beam

    how about him taking his ball and pitching pissed off and lights out in the NLCS then?

  • Cato the Elder

    1) I want to eat crow and say, boy was I wrong to argue against Cole being part of the post season rotation. 2) It’s got to be Cole to start game 5 if it comes to that. Burnett should stil be available if things got sideways early. Hopefully Clint would turn to him before 7-0. And I’m not disputing the reasons Tim cited above, but at this point I’m looking through the windshield and not in the rearview mirror. I want to hand the ball to Cole in an elimination game, because that is the guy I want on the mound going forward. He is the ace of the future and the future is now.

  • Andy Prough

    I’m hoping they don’t need a game 5 starter. If they can hit like they did today, this one should be over quick.

    I don’t think its a bad idea to start AJ again. I think Clint just needs to be ready with the early hook for any of his starters, especially in a must-win situation. I could tell in the first inning that AJ wasn’t getting his balls down, and by the second inning the announcers were bemoaning his serious control problems on nearly every pitch. Next time Clint might not be able to afford to wait until disaster strikes before yanking a guy.

    So, in a game five, they could set it up just like they did game 1 – AJ to start, and Cole ready to jump in (or the other way around). But Hurdle shouldn’t even have to wait until runs have scored in order to yank the starter – if he has little to no control, replace him right away and give your team a chance to win. If we have to face Wainright in St. Louis again, we might have to win 1-0 or 2-1. Use up all your arms in that case – there’s no tomorrow. Whoever would start – AJ or Cole – the other one should be ready to jump in and take over as needed.

    • Andrew

      Your point is well stated, elimination games, you need to use all your pitchers and play match ups. Let’s not kid ourselves, Burnett’s 90 some PAs at Busch and Cole’s last 38 innings are no large samples, they provide some information but I do not find them that helpful. In any small sample a good scout is better, and we all do not need a decade of toiling in the ballparks of American to see who is the better pitcher at this time.

  • Buccoguy1979

    Tim – in the article about the post season rotation that Cato references above, you expressed concerns over Cole’s innings and his status as a rookie. Are you no longer concerned about those?

    • Andy Prough

      The Bucs have worked their way from a tenuous spot as the 2nd wildcard a couple of weeks ago, to having the home field advantage over possibly the best team in the playoffs today. Now you have to have every player all-in the rest of the way. You might not be back in this situation for many years (as we know all too well).

      • Buccoguy1979

        I agree with you – put your best team out there. That’s also what I thought two weeks ago. But that’s not what Tim thought, apparently. What I’m wondering is what made Tim change his mind. A couple of weeks ago he wrote, “The idea that Gerrit Cole provides some significant upgrade over Morton or Rodriguez is false.” Now he is advocating that Cole be used in game 5 (if it happens) when he was against even having him in the rotation (before we knew Wandy was toast). What I’m curious about is what has Tim seen that has changed his mind from wanting Cole in the bullpen to wanting him to start what would be the most important game the franchise has played since 1992. The rationale two weeks ago was his work load and his lack of experience. Those two things haven’t changed.

        • Andy Prough

          I still say that the big difference is that, even two weeks ago, no one really thought the Pirates were likely to make a lot of noise in the playoffs. After the four straight wins against the Reds and today’s resounding victory on the road against a powerful Cards team, all that calculus about playoff chances has been turned on its head.

          Face the facts – if this team can keep playing like they have recently, they have a legitimate shot at winning a title this year. But they would probably need at least 3 more wins from Cole’s golden arm to do it.

          • Buccoguy1979

            I think you and I agree about the need to have Cole in the post-season rotation and I don’t doubt that this team can go all the way in 2013. So, I’m not sure why you are telling me to face the facts. My opinion on Cole hasn’t changed in two weeks. Two weeks ago when pondering the post-season rotation (even if a deep run was only a dream back then), Cole was in it for me – even before Wandy was shut down. The last two weeks have done nothing to change my opinion of Cole – he’s a stud and he belongs in the rotation. But, Tim seems to have changed his opinion on the matter.

            The point of my original post and the point of my follow up post and the point of this post is simple: two weeks ago Tim didn’t think Cole should be in the rotation. Now he believes Cole should be starter in a game that – if it happens – would be the biggest the franchise has had in 20 years. Why the change in opinion? Cole’s innings are still up there. Cole is still a rookie. Two weeks ago Tim didn’t believe Cole was a significant upgrade over Morton or Wandy (who wasn’t shut down when he wrote those words). Now Cole is the go to guy. So, what is it that Tim has seen in Cole that caused him to do such an abrupt about face on his post-season usage?

        • Tim Williams

          Part of it is the series. I have confidence in Burnett and Morton against other teams. The way this lines up, you’ve got Burnett on the road twice, which isn’t a good matchup with St. Louis.

          The other part is time. You’re referencing an article that I wrote a month ago, and acting like nothing could have possibly happened to change my mind. But the following happened:

          1. Wandy was shut down for the year
          2. Cole took his game to a new level in his final four starts of the season
          3. Burnett continued his struggles on the road and in Busch Stadium in game one.

          You’re acting like the information now is the same as the information a month ago. It isn’t.


          “The rationale two weeks ago was his work load and his lack of experience.”

          If that’s what you got, then you mis-read the article. The rationale was that if they had options who were similar, then they could use Cole in relief. But once again, one of those options disappeared, and Cole took off with his game.

          • Buccoguy1979

            I’m not suggesting that events in the past 3 weeks couldn’t have or shouldn’t have changed your mind. I was just wondering what those events are (were). And you explained them – one option got hurt and Cole continued to take steps toward dominance.

            I agree you noted that the options between Wandy, Morton & Cole were similar and you would’ve preferred Wandy (if healthy) and Morton and Locke (if he looked sharp) over Cole. But as follow up reasons for not starting Cole, you stated that you were concerned with Cole’s workload (‘The issue with Cole is innings’) and you were concerned about his lack of experience (‘he’s a rookie in the playoffs, so his performance wouldn’t be guaranteed’). Those parts of the equation – the workload and his service time – have not changed. In the compare/contrast piece with Strasburg, you went into some detail about Cole’s innings. I think Cole has shown that his lack of experience doesn’t matter at all. Are you still concerned with his workload?

            • Tim Williams

              The thing that trumps anything is team need. You mention the Strasburg article. The whole point of that was noting that the Pirates had other options, and didn’t need Cole. And of course that changed like a day later.

              If you’ve got the luxury to limit Cole’s innings, or go with a more proven starter, then you go for it. But in the last three weeks two things changed:

              1. They didn’t have additional starters
              2. Cole pulled away from everyone else by upping his game

  • rsborelli

    If it gets to a Game 5, I agree. This kid is the best pitcher on the team right now. In either situation (up 2-1 or down 2-1), I might be inclined to come back to Burnett in Game 4 with Morton ready to piggyback, as he did not throw a ton of pitches in Game 1. Or vice versa.

  • CalipariFan506

    I’d go so far to leave Burnett off the NLCS roster if he cries about Cole starting over him to the media.

    • jon6er

      That won’t happen. AJ is about winning and he will back Cole starting and while he may not have used the best approach to voice his displeasure with Hurdle he came up before this sabre-metrics craze and wildly shifting defenses and while they are helpful defensively Hurdle has used them in situations they weren’t meant to be used in. For that matter I think these are relatively advanced for hurdle and it has been a learning process for him. I personally think to many fans are unfairly dumping on AJ. With his innings pitched and ERA at the end of the season and lack of run support he had you would be hard pressed to have found another major pitcher to have replaced that.

  • Andrew Smalley

    How rich in irony is this article. In Tim’s mind, Cole has gone from BP option in playoffs to pitching the crucial GM 5. He went from lacking the requisite experience, to being concerned about his innings, to not being needed because ‘there were better options’… to now being the best option in the biggest game. Quite a month for Cole, in Tim’s eyes.

    Most knew BEFORE the last month that Cole was the best of options, that ‘experience’ is a tangible that mainstream and casual journalists trumpet ad nauseam yet carries little weight, and that – by god – Charlie Morton isn’t even close to Cole in talent and performance (same w/ Wandy, by the way).

    Just own you were wrong. You’ve been trying to backtrack for a month now. It’s bad journalism, plain and simple. Everyone is wrong from time to time, Tim, even a site as great as yours.

    Own it.

    • Tim Williams

      I always admit when I’m wrong. But this isn’t one of those times. This is a time when the information changed. Gerrit Cole started putting up unreal numbers and Wandy Rodriguez was ruled out for the season. You’re referencing an article that was written before both of those events.

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