Skipping Gerrit Cole Makes Sense For the Schedule and the Workload

A.J. Burnett will return to the mound tonight in Pittsburgh, which gave the Pirates a chance to get creative with their rotation. They decided to use this opportunity to give Gerrit Cole a break by skipping him a start. He normally would have started on Friday, but will now be pushed back to next Tuesday against the Cubs.

On the surface, it might seem strange to skip your best starter all year, especially when the team is 4.5 games back in the NL Central. It does make sense to move Cole back for a few different reasons. The obvious one would be the upcoming schedule.

Under the old schedule, Cole would have faced the Brewers on Friday, and would have been lined up to pitch against the Cubs at home, the Rockies on the road, the Cubs on the road, and the Reds at home. That schedule would have still allowed him to pitch the Wild Card game on five days rest, but it would have skipped Cole during the biggest remaining series — the Cardinals at home at the end of September.

Cole is now lined up to pitch at home against the Cubs on the 15th, followed by a road game against the Dodgers on the 20th, a road game against the Cubs on the 25th, and the final home game against the Cardinals on the 30th. He would also have an extra break before the Wild Card game, pitching on seven days rest.

The schedule makes a lot of sense, as you swap out the Rockies and Reds for the Dodgers and Cardinals, with the latter being more important matchups that Cole should be pitching in.

But there’s another factor here with Cole, and that involves his workload. He’s currently at 180.2 innings, which is getting close to his 2013 totals of 196.1 innings between Triple-A, the majors, and the post-season. Perhaps more importantly, he has thrown 2,816 pitches on the season, which is approaching the 2013 total of 2,955.

“We’ll look to be creative as we move forward,” Neal Huntington said on Sunday when talking about the workloads for Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. “We feel like both are in an acceptable range. They certainly don’t want the ball taken out of their hands, ever, and we need to respect that. At the same time, our goal is to make sure these guys are very productive pitchers for years to come.”

Huntington noted that the Pirates don’t just look at innings and pitches, but factor in a lot of variables, and treat every pitcher as an individual case. That said, even with skipping a start, the projected regular season workload for Cole looks like it’s going to be high, and that doesn’t include the playoffs.

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“We’re very cognizant of the pitches and the innings count of all of our pitchers. Our relievers and our starters,” Huntington said. “Clint [Hurdle] does a fantastic job with the bullpen, and very few outings three in a row. Counting ups, pitches, stress workload. We do the same thing with the starters, but it just doesn’t get as much attention. Clint’s done a nice job when possible to get a starter out an inning early, versus running him out there any longer. Our deeper bullpen has allowed us to do that.”

Huntington noted that the Pirates are trying to find a balance between trying to get the best position possible for the post-season, and staying strong for the post-season. It appears this move for Cole accomplishes both. Not only are they able to skip him a start and reduce his workload, but they’re also able to line him up against their toughest opponents down the stretch. But skipping that one start should be the limit as long as Cole is productive.

“He’s going to get to a different place he’s never been before regardless,” Hurdle said. “We’re aware of that. As long as he’s pitching sharp, we’re going to let him pitch. And when there’s times we feel the move needs to be made to take him out, we’re going to move accordingly. We’re aware of the situation he’s in.”

Fortunately, Cole has been productive lately. Three of his last four starts have gone at least seven innings, with only one combined earned run between the outings. That includes his recent seven shutout innings against St. Louis. As long as he keeps pitching like this, the Pirates will have no reason to further limit his workload.

  • When is hurdle going to realize that Kang should be batting cleanup every game he plays in?

  • Most of this makes perfect sense to do it, but not sure I like him on 7 days rest for the wild card game.

  • Cole could hit as high as 250 innings if the Pirates go to the World Series

  • I think the main benefit of this move is actually keeping Cole fresher down the stretch. 8 days of rest give his arm and body extra time to heal and make him better in his last 4 starts.

    Think about your last workout. If you really pushed it you were probably still sore after 4 days off. But after 8 days your body had recovered. Keeping his innings down for this year is probably useful, too, but the immediate dividends are going to be in his last 4 starts.

  • Sign of the times. In 1974, a 27-year old Nolan Ryan had 41 starts and threw 332.2 innings.

    Also, he went 22-16. One of only 2 years he had 20 wins. The other was 21-16 in 1973. He never won more than 16 games in a year for the NYM, HOU, or TEX.

  • Hard to disagree with this move, teams know a lot more about fatigue and workload they we ever will, but let us not act like there is a well defined science behind the decision.

    When Cole starts I hope he does better than the three Cardinals pitchers who had extra rest in the past week. Combined they allowed 20 runs, 16 hits, 24 base runners in 11 1/3 innings.

  • A statement made on another site: “Consider Jeff Locke will make three starts from Sept 7-18 versus one for Cole. ” I haven’t worked out the probable rotation to prove or disprove this claim, but if true its a compelling argument why this is a bad move.

    That is not how you win a pennant. Further, innings pitched is a moot point, its the number of pitches thrown that is the important factor. Right now, Cole is 8th in the league in number of pitches thrown. Kershaw and Arrieta are #2 and #3. I haven’t heard a word about them “missing” a start.

    So once again, I am on the opposite side of the fence here. 🙂

    • 8th in the league, but on pace to throw potentially 500+ more pitches this year than last. It’d be nice to have our “go to” guy come playoff time not dealing with fatigue. Its all “he’s fine” until oddly his FB doesnt look as live or sharp in the WC game.

      You dont win playoff games by ignoring how much work your top arms are taking on.

    • Consider Jeff Locke will make three starts from Sept 7-18 versus one for Cole.

      You’ve defined skipping a start for Cole.

    • Kershaw is further along in his professional career and has a track record of pitching a lot of innings. Arrieta doesn’t have that track record, but he’s 29 right now, and so regardless of this years workload has probably already peaked, which means development is no longer a concern for him.

      Cole is both young with room to grow and absent that track record of pitching big innings. Rest for him makes sense.

    • That’s a bit of a cherry picked argument. If you go a day earlier, then you get another start for Cole. And you go two days later and you get a third start for Cole. Plus you stack Cole up against the Cardinals, Cubs, and Dodgers in that stretch.

    • “Consider Jeff Locke will make three starts from Sept 7-18 versus one for Cole.”

      That take is so sizzling my keyboard is melting.

  • As it stands right now, Liriano would miss both Cubs series. And that’s not ideal. In a perfect scenario, I’d like to see Frankie and Happ in both series to subdue those LH bats. There’s still one more chance to adjust that and I hope Hurdle does so.

    • Plenty of fun options though. They can skip a Locke start to get Liriano in a game they “need”. Off day Monday allows a bit of arranging behind Cole in they want to.

      • Liriano could also probably use a break. His past few seasons, injuries have kept his innings down. I’d be concerned about his effectiveness late and in the playoffs if we don’t give him a break, too.

        Giving him a break at some point could coincide with somehow getting him in there against the Cubs, as well, I’m sure.

  • I don’t believe your “Ace” throwing 206 innings should be considered excessive. 200+ should be the norm for a #1 or #2 starter not coming off of an injury. I believe the matchups (on top of Burnett returning) are more relevant to debate for skipping this start.

    • Ah, but Cole IS coming off an injury – he was on the DL twice last year with a bum shoulder.

    • The key thing is that this would set a career high for Cole, and the Pirates are being cautious while approaching this high. At the same time, they’re definitely letting him pitch that much.

    • Doesnt seem, to me, like the team is worried about him throwing 200 innings but him increasing from last year’s totals to this years likely totals. 200-210 isnt unheard of, but its fair to try to limit a guy increasing his innings by 20+ and pitches by 400+ before the playoffs start. His effectiveness in the playoffs is the key.

  • I was going to make a joke about Scott Boras but I’ll just let it pass. This is a wise move in my opinion.

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