Neal Huntington said today that Brandon Cumpton will start for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, replacing Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation. Previously Huntington said that Jeff Locke could be a candidate for the spot, although Locke seemingly was out of the mix after throwing six innings on Thursday.
“It just happened to align right now where Brandon is in turn to take Wandy’s spot,” Huntington said. “Jeff would’ve had to either pitch on nine days rest or pitch on four days rest and we didn’t want to do that to him.”
Cumpton seemed like the obvious choice, even if Locke was on normal rest. He has put up excellent numbers this year in Triple-A, with a 1.35 ERA in 40 innings, along with a 21:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.65 GO/AO ratio. In his brief career in the majors, he has a 2.70 ERA in 43.1 innings, with a 6.4 K/9, and a 1.3 BB/9. He’s also put up an impressive 50% ground ball rate. His advanced metrics suggest he won’t be this good going forward, but his xFIP of 3.59 says he could still be a good member of the rotation.
A big reason for Cumpton’s success comes from his fastball. It’s a four seam fastball, but moves like a sinker, generating so many ground balls. Cumpton leans heavily on the pitch, throwing it 67.6% of the time so far in the majors, with an average velocity of 92 MPH.
“He does a great job of moving his fastball around the zone,” Huntington said. “He’s got a little bit more velocity than most people give him credit for, it’s got some life to it. He uses all quadrants of the zone. The slider has gotten better, the changeup has gotten better. He’s fearless. He attacks the zone, he attacks hitters and those are some things that we like a lot.”
This shot in the rotation could allow Cumpton to win a job for the long-term. The only starters who are under contract for next season are Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. That leaves three rotation spots available. Jameson Taillon probably won’t be ready by Opening Day, and probably wouldn’t be called up for Opening Day if he was ready. Nick Kingham would be a candidate to take a rotation spot, although he has had some issues in Altoona this year, with a drop in velocity and an increase in walks. The Pirates could turn to free agency for a starter, but they’re not getting three external starters from free agency. If Cumpton does well, he could lock down a spot for the 2015 season. And if he continues pitching the way he has been so far in the majors — at least pitching to his xFIP — then there would be no reason to remove him from the rotation any time soon.