First Pitch: The Truth About Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole is an interesting topic to discuss in Pittsburgh, especially when it comes to how good he is. Today, Buster Olney gave his list of the ten best starting pitchers in the game. Cole ranked ninth overall on the list. That goes against the idea that Cole isn’t an ace, which is something I’ve seen repeated all year, especially after the Wild Card game loss.

With Cole being recognized as one of the best in the game, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to review his career, some of the expectations on him, and how he got to this point. In short, I wanted to get to the truth about Gerrit Cole, because at this point it either seems common to forget the road he took to get to this point, or easy to suggest that he hasn’t reached a high mark yet.

We’ll begin by looking back at when he was first drafted.

He Was Never a Guarantee

The number one overall pick is pretty thankless, while being a no-win situation at the same time. You’re expected to get the pick right, and when you do, it’s chalked up to being easy. Gerrit Cole wasn’t an easy pick.

At the time of the 2011 draft, Cole was seen as the top prospect by some outlets, but there was a big debate between Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, and Cole. In fact, heading into the 2012 season, Cole was ranked as the 12th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. Bauer was ranked 10th, and Bundy 9th. MLB.com had Bauer-Bundy-Cole ranked 9-10-11 respectively. Baseball Prospectus had Cole (9) ahead of Bauer (11), but behind Bundy (6).

The following season, Cole jumped ahead of Bauer in every ranking, although it was still close in some rankings. BA had them separated by seven spots. MLB.com had them separated by eight spots. Baseball Prospectus had the biggest gap, with Cole ranked third and Bauer ranked 24th. Meanwhile, BA ranked Bundy (2) ahead of Cole (7), and MLB.com did the same (2 vs 9). BP once again was the highest on Cole, ranking him third and Bundy fourth.

I don’t want to write their careers off just yet, but looking at the results shows that it hasn’t even been close between these three pitchers. Cole was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year, and is regarded as one of the best in the game going forward. Bundy’s growing injury history has limited him to just 168.2 innings in pro ball over four seasons. Bauer has a career 4.50 ERA and a 4.2 BB/9 ratio in 362.1 innings in the majors.

Cole is chalked up to being an easy pick and someone the Pirates don’t get credit for developing, but one quick look at Bundy and Bauer — especially a look at how they compared to Cole the first two years — shows that Cole was never a guarantee.

He Might Prove the Pirates Right in Their Methods of Developing Pitchers

I talked about this in the comments last week, and wanted to bring it up here for further discussion. One interesting thing about the decision in 2011 was that there were reports saying that Bauer and Bundy didn’t want the Pirates drafting them, because the Pirates restrict pitchers from long toss. This was untrue at the time, which you knew if you read my reports not just after the draft, but before the draft and the issue even took place.

Long toss is a term that covers a pitcher throwing 120 feet or more, but it’s commonly associated with going beyond 120 feet. In this case, it was meant to be the latter, as Bauer and Bundy had extreme distances in their throwing programs. That last phrase is key: throwing programs.

Each pitcher in the Pirates’ system has their own program. Watch Spring Training and you’ll see each pitcher move out to 120 feet as they throw long toss each day. Some pitchers will move out to greater distances and some will remain at 120. It all depends on their individual throwing program.

The Pirates don’t restrict everyone from going beyond 120. Cole was up near 300 feet at one point. They just don’t allow a pitcher to expand too far if the extra distance could alter his mechanics in a negative way. The extreme 300 feet distances get a pitcher in the habit of throwing up in the air, and often they can take that motion to the mound and have everything up in the zone.

As I mentioned last week, I believe this has negatively impacted Bundy and Bauer. I don’t want to say that the extreme workouts and throwing programs have led to the injuries with Bundy, although I will point out that the idea at draft time was that the extreme workouts would have the opposite effect. I will say that I believe Bauer’s problems are due to his throwing program, which has led him to be flat and up in the zone way too often, with an inability to be down in the zone.

Here is a look at Bauer’s zone profile from Brooks Baseball.

plot_profile

Notice that he’s close to 4.5% or greater in three sections above the zone, and four of the six sections in the middle or top half of the zone. You really see the difference when looking at Cole, who had similar problems coming out of college, but really worked to get the ball down in the zone, and now has much more success with the approach.

plot_profile-1

Gerrit Cole primarily works middle down, and really pounds the bottom of the zone, while rarely being up above the zone like Bauer. They both hit that bottom corner outside of the zone, but that’s mostly their breaking stuff. Here is a look at Bauer’s four seam fastball:

plot_profile-2

Once again, he’s way up in the zone, and the low stuff pretty much disappears.

At the time, the Pirates were seen as wrong for possibly trying to change Bauer and/or Bundy. Of course, this was 2011, and the feeling at the time was that the Pirates would be best getting out of the way and just letting good things magically happen to them, because that was their only chance of getting a good prospect.

Looking back now, this could be pointed to as a big sign that the Pirates know what they’re doing with developing pitchers, especially when you pair this with the results from Cole, Bauer, and Bundy so far. At the very least, it makes you question the idea that a young player should be unleashed on his own, with total resistance towards coaching or teams suggesting a different approach.

The Wild Card Game Doesn’t Determine His Upside

The one thing that has baffled me lately is the idea that Gerrit Cole isn’t an ace. Granted, that’s a very, very subjective term. So let’s drop that term and go with something a bit simpler: is Gerrit Cole one of the best pitchers in baseball?

I say yes. The stats last year said yes. Buster Olney said yes today. But there are Pirates fans who said no, and that’s primarily due to the Wild Card game.

Cole had a bad game. He didn’t do well against Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber and the Pirates lost. In the process, it was forgotten that two years earlier, when Cole pitched so well in his first playoff game that the Pirates picked him over A.J. Burnett in Game 5 against the Cardinals.

People also forgot about David Price getting lit up in the playoffs, or Johnny Cueto getting destroyed in the 2013 Wild Card game, or Clayton Kershaw struggling in the playoffs in previous years.

That’s where the subjectivity of the “ace” term comes into play. It ignores the variance and randomness that can take place in one game. Aces get beat all the time during the season and no one thinks anything of it. Get beat in the playoffs? Suddenly that term ignores everything and focuses on that one individual start.

Make no mistake about it: Cole is one of the best starters in the game right now.

He’s Not Done Yet

Cole just finished his age 24 season, and put up a 5.4 WAR. There’s one number that is very important there, and it’s not the WAR. He had his breakout year this year, and started looking like he was reaching his upside. To think that he’s going to be one and done, or that he’s got no room for improvement, is to ignore the age. He’s certainly not guaranteed anything beyond what we saw in 2015. But there’s a reason why he’s considered one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, and it’s not because we’ve already seen the best he has to offer.

**Pirates Sign Outfielder Danny Ortiz and RHP Curtis Partch. In my minor league previews, I suggested that the Pirates could sign a minor league free agent outfielder to start in Indianapolis. I’m not sure if Danny Ortiz will be that guy (the guy in previous years wasn’t always the first to sign), but he should be a contender. He would likely take a bench role if he doesn’t get a starting job. That’s where most of the minor league free agents will end up, as the Pirates have plenty of prospects for the starting jobs.

**Pirates Purchase Independent League Pitcher. From this weekend, the Pirates signed a pitcher out of indy ball, Patrick Johnson. No guarantee that he even makes a roster. Last year they signed Matt Nevarez and Chris Peacock, and both were released before the end of Spring Training. Then again, John Holdzkom is still around. I’d expect Johnson to end up with a bullpen role in the upper levels, most likely Altoona.

**Buster Olney Names Gerrit Cole as Ninth Best Starting Pitcher. Olney’s rating of Cole.

**Two Open 40-Man Spots With Two Top Pirates Prospects Unprotected. Breaking down the possible reason why the Pirates left Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes unprotected.

**Pirates Prospects Who Are Eligible For the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. Here are the players they left unprotected on Friday.

**Pirates Protect Glasnow, Bell, Ramirez and Moroff From the Rule 5 Draft. And here are the guys they protected, with a breakdown of each player.

**Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story For Pirates’ Players in the AFL. A look at what was going on with each player behind the numbers in the AFL.

**Winter Leagues: Big Games From Jose Osuna and Elias Diaz. John Dreker has the weekend report from the winter leagues, with good results from Osuna and Diaz.

  • Tim, you are correct on Bauer. He was a head case in high school working out on his own, isolating from teammates.He was not popular. That was William S. Hart High School, Newhall Calif.

    Not only did he do the long throw, he had developed his own workout ‘tools’ which he continued at UCLA. He did not play his senior year at Hart, graduating early to pitch at UCLA his first semester. I have a tape of him against Oregon State. He pitched a complete game and, between innings rather than go into the dugout, he went to the bull pen and worked out with his mechanical ‘tools’.until going back to the mound.

    His father was an Engineer and Bauer was very smart and his major at UCLA was Engineering. His stats at UCLA were much better than Cole’s but they had a friendship. A credit to Cole’s demeanor.

    Drafted No.2 by the DBacks he was in constant disagreement with his pitching coach and I have recorded him having a heated discussion with the pitching coach after being pulled from a game after giving up five runs. He was drafted to the 40 man and started his rookie season in Arizona but was shipped out to AAA Reno. Ultimately the DBacks unloaded him to Cleveland in a trade.

    I totally agree Gerrit Cole was the best selection No. 1 in the 2011 draft. Tyler Glasnow, Hart High Graduate was drafted in the same 2011 year draft.

  • Great article Tim. Anyone remember the number 2 pick Danny Hultzen (LHP) out of UVA? The Mariners just DFA’d him. Cole is an ace. The Pirates know what they are doing. “But there are Pirates fans who said no, and that’s primarily due to the Wild Card game.” This says more about those fans than anything else.

  • Love Cole, glad he’s ours. Think he’s one of the best in the league. BUT… the reason people are getting hung up here is that there are 5 teams on that top 10 list ahead of Cole who are also in the NL, that in a one-game playoff are probably going to cause their team to be favored against us when we trot our best out there.

    I’d actually argue the list of pitchers who would be favored against Cole in a 1-gamer is potentially even larger. Granted, ‘being favored’ takes into account more than just the pitching matchup but it’s certainly a large part of the equation most nights. Point is, you match our #1 against the other teams in the NL we could potentially be facing in that 1-gamer and you have to like the other guy a little better in almost every case, nothing against Cole. He’s great, but others are greater right now.

    Unless we can win the division, which won’t be any easier any time soon, it seems like we’re going to keep getting stuck in these 1-gamers against another team’s ace who happens to be slightly better than our ace. Doesn’t diminish his ace status, but not all aces are equal.

  • How concerned are you that Cole’s slider rate jumped from 13 percent to 21.2 percent? His slider total also jumped to 687 pitches, more than 2013 and 2014 combined.

    • I love the slider, and am glad he’s using it more. The fastball percentage stayed the same, which means his slider jumped at the expense of his curveball (16.2% to 8%), and that’s what should happen, since the slider is a much better pitch for him.

  • Maybe I am missing something but I honestly haven’t seen much criticism of Cole or the way the Pirates have handled him. For my part I think Cole is great. I’d agree that he’s the 9th or 10th best pitcher in baseball now and has a chance to be better than that in the future.

    Having nothing to do with Cole in particular, I do wonder why it seems that a disproportionate number of pitchers in the Pirates system end up having TJ surgery. Not saying I know for sure but it just seems like an unusual number of Pirates pitching prospects develop arm problems. Whether it’s something the Pirates are doing, I don’t know but it’s a question worth asking.

    • It comes from the same dark & dumb corners of the internet that I’ve mentioned before when Tim does a post like this. If you don’t venture into those places, I’m not at all surprised that this article would seem out of place. He’s really talking to an extremely small part of the population (but still making a good point).

    • Per the last paragraph, the last year is what really have taken PGH from “average” in terms of TJ to above average. Going forward it’ll be (interesting doesnt seem the right word but to save time) interesting to see if that is a trend or was a outlier year in terms of the number of guys that went down.

      • “the last year is what really have taken PGH from “average” in terms of TJ to above average”

        I wonder if that coincides with a certain site switching to subscription and thus having more resources to have regular coverage in the lower levels, where most of the reported surgeries took place?

        • My dear lord. The solution is clear, boycott Pirates Prospects!

          (no one should actually do this)

      • I agree with Tim.

        What makes it feel so bad is the fact that the Pirates haven’t been able to successfully develop enough guys to make up for the TJ injuries. Every org deals with them.

        • They’ve definitely been able to replace them with the next group.

          This time last year, the Triple-A rotation was expected to be Cumpton, Sadler, Kingham, Taillon, and Sampson. That would have provided a lot of depth with no injuries.

          Three of those guys had Tommy John, and Taillon had the hernia which put him out for the second half. Sampson struggled, although that worked out in the Happ deal.

          Heading into next year they’ve got Taillon, Glasnow, Kuhl, Williams, and Brault. A new group of guys, and maybe better than last year’s group, especially at the top. If they don’t have the same freakish amount of injuries concentrated on one level, then they’ll be good and they’ll make up for the injuries.

          • Again though, goalposts.

            They’ve replaced them with guys who likely won’t be ready for big league action until 2017. I don’t think many folks would give a second thought to the Cumpton’s and Sadler’s and even Kingham’s of the world if there were actual prospects to replace them at the time. You’re always going to notice when a Taillon goes under, but the other marginal guys would be forgotten like Kyle McPhereson was when the Pirates were able to successfully replace him with Locke.

            Yes, it comes down to a matter of timing, and that’s certainly not a definitive way to judge a system overall as some of the more sensational journo’s in Pittsburgh have, but fact remains that there was not enough depth developed to replace these guys. Attrition has occurred faster than prospects have been developed.

            • I’m not sure I even know what the goalposts are in this discussion. Are we saying that it’s a problem Taillon was delayed an extra year or two? Maybe for 2015 purposes, but not for the long term.

              • Exactly…and not even so much Taillon – he’s good enough that everyone would be remembering him – but the other guys who were supposed to help the big club in 2015, albeit in lesser roles.

                Goalposts being time, I think if those guys could’ve been replaced that season the feeling like every Pirate prospect goes under the knife would’ve been far less.

                • I’d agree with you there.

                  Interesting aspect though is that if they don’t have as many injuries, they might not have a need for Happ. Not making any kind of argument here. Just pointing that out.

                  • I appreciated you making that point to someone the other day, very much agree

                    Huntington & Co have done a remarkable job filling these injury voids.

    • To answer the first thing: every time I’ve written about Cole, there’s been a common response that he’s good, but not one of the best in the game. No one says he’s a bad pitcher, but he’s not regularly recognized as one of the best in the game.

      For question number two:

      “I do wonder why it seems that a disproportionate number of pitchers in the Pirates system end up having TJ surgery. Not saying I know for sure but it just seems like an unusual number of Pirates pitching prospects develop arm problems.”

      I’ll tell you the reason: it’s this site. No other team has a prospects site that covers things as thoroughly as we do. It might sound arrogant to say that, but it’s the truth. The guy who does the Tommy John list (Jon Roegele) gets his info from us. When we have Tommy John news, I always get an e-mail from him that day, looking for the rest of the info to fill out his spreadsheet.

      Lately it has become common to mention that the Pirates had the most number of Tommy John surgeries of any team. I’d say it’s more accurate to say they have the most “reported” number of surgeries. Here are some of the names on the list:

      Saul De La Cruz
      Delvin Hiciano
      Eduardo Vera
      Ivan Cespedes

      The first four guys are guys from the DSL (Vera did make the jump to the GCL as a reliever after the max 4 years in the DSL). Looking through the TJ list, no other team has a reported case in the DSL. Is that because the Pirates are the only team with Tommy John in the DSL? Or the only team with a site that reports on DSL injuries?

      Then there’s the next group:

      Hector Garcia
      Jacob Taylor
      Kevin Krause (catcher)
      Justin Topa
      Adrian Grullon

      These guys are all in A-ball or lower, and none of them are really top prospects. You need a regular reporter covering each level to get this information, and not someone who is only there focused on the top guys.

      In all of the above cases, I broke the stories because of live coverage of each level (GCL, Morgantown, minor league ST, Bradenton, extended ST). No one else would have even been asking about these guys. And the team doesn’t issue this information, so the only way to find out about it is to ask the players, or realize that the player is injured and then ask why he’s out.

      I don’t think the Pirates are doing anything different than other organizations. I just think they’re being covered differently. And I know how that may come across, coming from me. But if you look at the actual names that make up this list, you might start to wonder how many DSL, rookie ball guys, or low level organizational relievers would show up on the Tommy John list if every team had a prospect site like this.

      To give an example of this: when I found out about Angel Sanchez, it was in part because we got a tip he was going for Tommy John surgery. I was covering the MLB team at the time, on the road, and Sanchez didn’t come up in any of the Sunday press meetings with Neal Huntington. The only person who asked the question was me, and I made sure to do it after the rest of the group was done, so as not to let everyone else know that Sanchez was injured.

      This is a guy who could have otherwise factored in to the MLB depth last year. He hadn’t pitched in a month, and there wasn’t one question about him in Pittsburgh during that month, outside of what we were asking behind the scenes. If Sanchez gets glossed over, then there’s no chance the nine guys above get reported.

      So that’s why the Pirates have a high amount of Tommy John surgeries reported. And “reported” is the key here.

  • If we go by the “can’t win the big playoff game” definition, Price fails miserably. And don’t forget Kershaw twice last year.

    • If I were to play internet psychologist, I think it’s really that Cole hasn’t had the kind of historically significant run like Pirates fans have seen other “aces” take, i.e. Bumgarner and Arreita. This is obviously not better justification, but I don’t think it only comes down to the WC game. There is so, so much good pitching right now that expectations can get crazy.

      Cole’s an ace. Maybe not a historically significant one, or even top tier elite ace, but he’s still an ace.

  • Hopefully, further validation will come when Taillon comes up this year. If I recall correctly, he had many of the same knocks against him as Cole did: too much up in the zone and gets hit too hard for the stuff he has.
    Also, let’s not ignore the importance of Cole’s mental makeup in this. The young man had to be open to what the organization was telling him and then put in the effort to incorporate the changes. Anyone who has coached can tell you how quickly a player will give up on a change if he doesn’t get immediate results. Even more so for a number one pick, after all, isn’t he the best already? It shows Cole is driven and isn’t going to be satisfied being number 9 on that list.
    Shows me that the Bucs evaluate the mental as much as the physical.

  • Tim, do you feel like you need to defend Cole?

    • Why would he feel any ” need to defend Cole ” ? His record speaks for itself. What are you going for, the dumbest question of the day ?

    • He runs a website dedicated to covering all things Pirates related and consistently puts his thoughts on matters into articles (while also throwing tons of actual stats and figures into why he thinks what he does). Did it shock you that he wrote an article discussing his thoughts on Cole? Or is it just not okay for him to feel Cole is what he wrote in the article?

      • I don’t understand your last question.

        • Why are you complaining is the heart of it.

          • Not complaining and I like the article, just not his approach. maybe his next article should be “Why Cutch doesn’t suck.” You know there is a small minority that thinks Cutch is overrated. The same minority that thinks Cole is not an ace. It’s the defensive approach with some of his articles and comments. Also, the long toss he keeps going on and on about is not fact, that’s Tim’s opinion.

            • It’s my opinion, backed by years of research on the subject, and conversations with very smart pitching coaches and scouts both in and out of the Pirates’ organization.

              • Thank for the reply and I don’t want you to think I’m trolling as that is not my intent. I enjoy good subjective baseball banter and there is no doubt you know your stuff. I guess my thing is you could have name the article “Cole’s progression to an Ace.” When you come out with “The truth….” it will get conversations going.

                • Not that anyone asked, but I also can’t stand this common form of internet lede. Tim’s hardly alone in it, though.

                • Here’s the truth about the title (I did that on purpose): it’s necessary.

                  If you wonder why most of the titles here are either questions, or clickbait type headlines that don’t give away the story, it’s because they work.

                  I’ve been doing this for seven years now, and have followed the numbers closely that entire time. There’s a massive difference between the catchy headlines and the ones that flat out tell you what is in the article.

                  NMR mentioned that he can’t stand this format. I don’t like it either, but mostly because of the why. I hate writing what I feel like is a great article (not referring to this one, but other stuff during the year), only to know that most people won’t read it unless it has some catchy title. Guys like you and NMR will read everything, but in order to get the casual reader, and have any chance of the article gaining some ground, I need to get creative. It sucks, but it’s the reality of today’s headline reading world.

                  But my focus is always on the article. The title comes first when you’re reading, but it’s always the last thing I do. So when you think of it, think of the process that way. I write the story to fit my ideas, then write the title to get as many people reading the story as possible (while staying true to the story).

                  Tonight’s article is already in the works. Title right now? “First Pitch:”.

                  • Tim, do you feel you are sensitive and thinned skinned?

                  • Why not call it “Last Pitch” ? Assuming it’s the last article of the day.

                    • It goes up at midnight, which is technically the first article of the day. Also, most people aren’t up at midnight, and this is the first article they see when they wake up. Uploading it at midnight (or usually slightly later) is just a strategy to get it some circulation before the intended time of around 6-8 AM.

                    • Gotcha. Do you plan on doing a Pedro Alvarez article this off-season in the event he is traded? Seems more likely he will be non tendered, but either way I would certainly appreciate an article on the guy you followed from the time he was drafted and is responsible for getting this site going. Pedro’s Legacy?

                    • I’ve written about him a few times already this off-season.

                    • I thought maybe you would do a summary of his career in PGH, since it’s inevitable he is as good as gone.

                    • I’ll probably do something like that, especially since off-season article ideas are at a premium.

                  • Well said, Tim.

                    Off topic, but this reminded me of when DK accused you of stealing his “First Pitch” title, when I’m almost positive you actually had readers pick it themselves.

                    • Yeah, I asked readers for suggestions and “First Pitch” was the best one. I didn’t even know he used “First Pitch” because that’s what he uses for game previews, and I never read those (also he changes the title to “Final:” at the end, so it’s not really an article series).

                      After that, I realized how common “First Pitch” is as an article title. MLB.com has one. The Pirates’ game program is called that. Baseball HQ has a conference called that. But I was already in at that point.

                    • I remember simply googling “First Pitch” and finding a bunch of different uses; at which point I realized what an egomaniac he was.

            • Catch 22 your glass is empty. Not half-empty but EMPTY. I doubt you ever played baseball.

              • Played American legion ball and still play modified softball. I’m sure you played CF for the Yankees.

    • This feels like a loaded question. Why don’t you say what you mean.

      • Not a loaded question….Just seems like you feel you need to defend Cole at every turn. I know how good he is and I know he’s an ace. Sometimes you get big brother on us and try to justify certain players or certain moves made by the front office.

  • Well done, Tim.

    I said before the Wild Card game that being able to put your own guy on the mound as one of the top starters in the game just four years after drafting him was just about the most anyone could ask for; and you’re right, *some* level of success – even good success- should be expected with a 1.1 selection, but the Pirates have taken Cole further than that. A true developmental success.

  • I would argue that the Pirates will sign Gerrit Cole long term and will likely attempt to do it in the next year. As the article states, these guys are hard to find and impossible to get in FA really.
    Sign your own especially that you developed as well as Gerrit. What will it take to get the deal done – well it will take a market deal plus as an elite player.
    I’ll predict now by next year we’ll have signed Gerrit to a 7 year deal for 154 million. This is the ballpark for an elite guy and what it will take to get it done. This is the one deal – yes the only most important deal – that the club must complete to show the true committment to winning.
    I don’t need to see the team spend 20 mil on an average to good first baseman – I need to see them keep their own Ace pitcher. Period. Nutting I hope your paying attention to this.

    • Not happening bud. Cole is probably going to get 200 million if not more when he is eligible for FA. Boras will have him going to the highest bidder. And if he continues on the trajectory and stays healthy look out

      • I disagree. He’s not lined up to see that kind of money for quite a while – so getting most of the way there, early while hitting the big dough for a few years into his FA years is worth signing earlier.
        The thing is you won’t get a deal with Cole, you have to pay up. 200 million only comes if he plays out all the rest of his arb years making chump money by stud standards.

  • Great read, if we had 1st basemen Cole would of had 20 wins last year. The defense let him down in about 5 or 6 games. I’m pretty sure 2 games he left with the lead and got a ND. He is by far the best Bucco pitcher since DB, and it would be smart of the Pirates to give him 7 years 140 mil now bc in 3 years he will probably cost 30 mil a year.

  • I didn’t see the whole list but I have to assume that Cole was the youngest pitcher on that list. If you look at career numbers, Cole is well ahead of most pitchers. Obviously Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and Madison Bumgardner have been pretty much awesome from the start but guys like Price and Greinke and Arrieta didn’t look near this good. Max Scherzer was still in AAA at age 24. Dallas Keuchel was still in AAA at 25. Here are all qualifying pitchers ages 25 and younger. Who stands at the top?
    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2015&month=0&season1=2015&ind=0&team=&rost=&age=14,25&filter=&players=

    • What Sonny Gray has done on a really really bad Oakland team is also very impressive. Two and a third years of really, really impressive stuff from kid.

  • There’s no doubt about it Tim . This is was only Cole’s 2nd full season. I challenge anyone to go back and look at the numbers of the guys ahead of Cole on the list in the first 2 1/2 years of their careers and Cole’s numbers are as good or better than any of them. He will continue to get better . We have atleast 3 more seasons before we have to trade him because he isn’t re-signing so enjoy.

    • Is it a 3 or 4 till he reaches FA? One more year at league minimum and then 3 Arbitration years, I believe?

      Anyway, point we’ll taken and I wonder how wise it is for pittsburgh to extend any pitcher the way TJ surgery claims at least one or two guys a year (month)…

      • 4. The Pirates have control thru the 2019 season.

        • They control him but they won’t pay him. Refer to Melancon.

          • That’s different. Relievers are a lot easier to replace than #1 starters.

          • Apples and oranges comparison. He won’t resign here, but it isn’t because Nutting is cheap.

          • They’ll pay Cole’s arbitration salaries. But they’ll likely trade him before he reaches Free Agency. The reason ought to be obvious: They cannot afford to resign him and need to mitigate the loss of a Number One starter by restocking the development system. Starters provide that much more baseball value than any closer that keeping a successful one at any pre-FA cost makes sense. Once that pitcher reaches FA, however, he instantly becomes too expensive for a low revenue franchise like the Pirates. Moreover, the Pirates believe they can replace Melancon. Evidence supports this belief because Melancon replaced Grilli who replaced Hanrahan, each one having performed very well as the Closer. Even if Taillon and Glasnow become Number One starters, following Cole’s path, loosing Cole will mean that the Pirates will have two Aces instead of three.

            So, I expect the Pirates to keep Cole until he approaches FA.

            • The question is, who gets traded so they can pay Cole arbitration.

              • I don’t think you two are saying different things, you’re just saying them for different reasons.

                You both don’t think Cole will be around for his last year of arbitration. That, you agree.

                • Harrisons a goner, man. Hanson with Moroff and everything else below them?

                  • Not sure what your question is asking…

                    • I’m saying. Yes the Pirates could pay arbitration to Cole in at least 17 and 18, but they would probably have to clear some salary.

                      And it’s just my opinion Harrison is the likely target, definitely before his options become a factor.

                      “Why the Pirates Should Trade JHay”-T. Williams Nov 2016

                    • …and with “Why the Pirates Should Trade JHay” we have been signaled that the winter meetings really need to start because we are running out of things to talk about. I know this time every year because I too start to ask questions so far into the hypothetical stratosphere that I know we need something tangible to happen. I would love somehow for them to find a way to talk Cole into extending through 2020 but I’m not hopeful. That would give them hopefully 5 more years and at least 25.0 WAR of pitching, and hopefully a Cy Young. I’m hoping for a Cy Young regardless. Great numbers in the article Tim. Another thing I love to look at is the Baseball Reference Similarity lists.

                      Guys most like Cole:
                      Compare Stats to Similars
                      Kevin Millwood (977)
                      Mike Mussina (968)
                      Scott Sanderson (968)
                      Scott Erickson (965)
                      Kevin Appier (965)
                      Joel Pineiro (964)
                      Jim Bouton (964)
                      Tommy Hanson (962)
                      Rick Rhoden (962)
                      Stephen Strasburg (960)
                      If Cole ends up having the careers of any of these guys he is doing pretty well. (Other than Tommy Hanson who had a lot of issues and just passed away last week and Bouton who was a flash in the pan type, and Pineiro who was often injured.)

                    • Uh……Aside from Rhoden and Mussina (strasburg i’m taking out due to his age) I’d be disappointed with him ending up like them. Mussina was the only Ace in that list

                    • I think we all expect more from Cole but there’s always the chance he ends up being Appier, Brad Penny, Tim Belcher, or Andy Benes. It’s a slight letdown but there’s still a lot of value there.

                    • No….I don’t think there is actually under those circumstances. Most of those pitchers are barely #3’s, Appier being the only exception for most of his career

              • McCutchen, Elias Diaz and Stephen Brault.

              • Considering the make up of the roster going forward, I dont see why its a sure bet we gotta lose people to pay Cole in arb.

                You gotta roll with young players, but that seems to be the plan. Roll with the Taillon and Glasnow and Bells of the world and it saves enough to pay Cole large sums. It’ll be his last few years of arb where he gets insane expensive, so i think they are fine for the near future.

                • Look at Harrisons deal. 2017 it goes to 10 M. Then the options.

                  With what they have at 2nd in the system, he’ll never see it here.

                  • Cole won’t make much more than Liriano is now his second time through arb, though.

                    They very well may trade J-Hay, but that’ll only be because it was dumb to pay him $10m in the first place.

                    EDIT: actually, Cole might not even makes as Liriano his second time through. David Price got $14m his 3rd time as a Super 2 guy, for comparison.

                    • You might be right. But as I like to tell Mr Williams, there is inflation. He puts together another 19-20 Win 4.5-5 WAR year?

                      If he’s as special as we all claim, he’ll be paid accordingly.

                    • “But as I like to tell Mr Williams, there is inflation.”

                      Every time you tell me this, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Does this stem from something I’ve said? I feel like you’re making a point that I’ve never disagreed with.

                    • Prices go up, they aren’t going down. But now it seems ever year a Pirate player approaches the 8 figure mark, there’s several articles and radio segments a day discussing moving, said player. Even NH himself throws around the words “marketplace reality” among others.

                      I understand making the big trade or signing isn’t always the best move. But I’ve paid attention to this team long enough to know that rolling with prospects isn’t always the best course either.

                      Just wish you and some other bright journalists would occasionally be more critical of this, instead of “Hey, look at the bright new shiny prospect over here.” You know better than most, the astronomical attrition rates of Top 20 prospects.

                      This is where the conversation usually changes to contracts given to Burnett, Liriano and McCutchen. The exceptions, not the norms of the ML FA market.

                    • Breaking this down:

                      1. Andrew McCutchen is making eight figures, and you don’t see any articles about moving him. Maybe it’s more about the players, and less about the money. I’ve written that they should move Melancon, because a closer isn’t worth that much, but that they should keep Walker, because he’s definitely worth the $10.7 M.

                      2. This site is a prospects site. The Pirates are a team that has to rely on their top prospects, even if some will eventually fail. It’s my job to say “here are the prospects who will take over for this player” because that’s what the Pirates will do and have to do. I never say that prospects are guaranteed to work out. In fact, I’ve said many times that you need a lot of them, because not all of them will work out.

                      3. You mention Liriano as an exception. Is Liriano really an exception? He’s making $13 M a year, which seems to be the going rate for a starter in the next tier below the aces. He’s the perfect example of the Pirates doing what you want, unless what you want is to sign David Price.

                    • Do you really think if Liriano went back to market right now, he only gets 13?

                      Are the Pirates smart for Cutch and Liriano? Or are their agents dumb? A little of both and my book.

                      And I also think they need to be careful trading guys that are due to get paid, whether that’s arbitration, UFA, options ect. If I’m an agent, Gregory Polancos for example, maybe Cervellis- I tell my guy, why sign here long term when they will look to deal you before the contracts up.

                      And I’ll tell you Tim, you can analyze the numbers and figures all you want about Melancon, Alvarez and Walker. If NH doesn’t bring some immediate impact return back, it’s going to piss that clubhouse off. You know it too.

                    • That’s a totally different scenario. You’re talking about a pitcher coming off a better year, with one more good season under his belt, and seemingly fewer questions. Of course he gets more. But at the time, he got what you’d expect from a pitcher with his track record.

                      “If I’m an agent, Gregory Polancos for example, maybe Cervellis- I tell my guy, why sign here long term when they will look to deal you before the contracts up.”

                      The answer is: get paid. There’s no guarantee you have success and get that future big payday. If you can get guaranteed money that’s fair, take it and don’t care where you might play your final year.

                    • Agents can negotiate other parameters in a contract besides salary, such a no-trade clauses, restricted trade clauses, team options that become player options if said player is traded to another team, etc.

                      One of the things I’m reminded of is when the Pirates traded away some established players (Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth) from a few years ago to help build their farm system up. Fans were upset and Huntington basically said that he wasn’t breaking up the ’27 Yankees Murders’ Row team. Tim compared it to getting lottery tickets. Maybe one of those tickets turns out to be a major winner. I don’t think we expected Melancon to become the big name out of the Joel Hanrahan deal but nonetheless he did. A short time later the Pirates have now made the playoffs 3 years in a row. If I’m the GM of a playoff contending team, I’d much rather field a team that routinely competes for a playoff spot year in and year out, to even have a chance at winning a World Series. If that means having to trade fan favorites or players approaching free agency, so be it. Winning the World Series is a lot like winning the lottery. From 1991 to 2005, the Atlanta Braves made 14 consecutive playoff appearances. Those teams had multiple HOF’s in Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, Chipper Jones and manager Bobby Cox. As a fan of any team I’d take 14 consecutive years in the playoffs than even 2 consecutive years as a non-contender. For the record, the Braves only won 1 World Series in those 14 years but also made it to four other World Series in which they lost. Two years as a non-contender can quickly become 20 consecutive years with a losing record. Neal Huntington did the same things that former Pirates GM Syd Thrift did when he built the Pirates in the late ’80s into playoff contenders from 1990-92. He traded away established players for prospects and he drafted well. The problem was that Syd Thrift didn’t get along with the Pirates FO and was replaced by Larry Doughty.

                    • You can’t blame the players’ agents for being dumb. It’s more of an applaud the front office for getting a deal done situation. The Pirates are lucky they got some “team” deals but they aren’t the only team that has. Some players get brainwashed by agents or parents or whoever that it is only about getting the most dollars (See biggest idiot in the league Zack Greinke) but money isn’t everything to a lot of guys who are comfortable where they are and are mature enough to protect their money and realize that any one who gets the money early can invest it and make interest off of it plus get the security of getting paid if they get hurt or tail off. You think the Pirates aren’t taking on risk paying Marte and Cutch what they did upfront? It’s a give and take.

                    • Not exactly how arbitration works, though, at least not relative to free agency.

                      He’ll be compared to past arbitration eligibles with similar services time, which is why I used Price as an example. There will be *some* inflation, but guys even as good as him won’t just start getting $20-25m their second time through.

                  • Oh for sure he wont see it, but thats likely why they built in the buyout options. Really mitigates the risk for the team, as they only pay him a moderately large amount in 1 year of the deal. (Its 2018 he gets 10, not 2017).

                    I think PGH inked that deal knowing full well it wasnt going to pay him for 2019 and 2020. Maybe that had a bit to do with guys like Cole and Cutch needing money, but i also see that as them just realizing that Harrison isnt a good bet to throw out 3 WAR consistently and into his 30s.

                  • If he matches what he did in 2014 we sure as hell will, now that’s unlikely, but certainly possible. And it’s also possible we end up needing him at 3rd. What if Kang just is never the same. Harrison is absolutely necessary at 3rd base, the cupboard is bare

              • The Pirates will not offer Walker and Alvarez post-arbitration contracts. Hanson/Harrison will replace Walker and Bell will replace Alvarez. Harrison’s contract is a sunk cost while Hanson and Bell (along with Moroff and Frazier) will provide baseball value at minimal possible cost. Cole’s arbitration awards shouldn’t be so high that they’ll consume these savings.

                • http://18.206.184.11/futurepayroll

                  Are you taking into account all the raises guys like Marte and Cutch receive? Polanco? Cervellis new deal? Any other FA signings?

                  Not saying your wrong. Just saying its much more complicated than that. And “baseball value at minimal possible cost”. We could have a long, drawn out debate over that statement man. In short, there will be some dropoff while guys learn how to pitch/play. Thats inevitable in any profession when you go with inexperience.

                  • Yes. I knew they’ll receive raises in the coming years. The Pirates can afford their arbitration salaries. No one gets super raises during their arbitration years unless the team buys out a few of their FA years. Cole will not make $20M in his last year arbitration year. Nor also Polanco.

                  • Your claim is Bell will be a lesser player than Alvarez? Harrison than Walker? Glasnow and Taillon than Locke and Morton?

                    • Possibly.

                      Steve, how many prospects have you seen fail or play well below expectations since you’ve been following the Pirates?

                      Think about where guys like Tony Sanchez and Andrew Lambo were ranked on prospect lists 5 years ago. You just don’t know, man.

                    • What I know is that the Pirates have a strong and deep farm system. The quantity and quality of their system seriously reduces the risk present with any given top prospect.

                      What I do know is that the overwhelming majority of the key starting position players on a 98 win team were developed in house. That team’s best starting pitcher was also a product of the organization. Moreover, Harrison, Locke and Morton spent significant time in the development system, enough time that they too count as system products.

                      Finally, if the organization cannot depend on its farm system, then it is doomed. Yet, as we have seen, the Pirates have become a model organization because of the quality of its farm system.

                    • I don’t think that’s true either, considering the majority of their pitching has come from the outside. But this year looks like we will get glimpse of the future with Bell, Glasnow and Hanson.

                    • Read carefully. I referred to position players, to Cole and bracketed the Harrison, Locke and Morton selections with the defensible claim that each spent so much time in the development system that they should count as Pirates Prospects. Of course, Hughes and Watson were fully home grown. But even Liriano, Burnett, Volquez reinvigorated their careers in Pittsburgh. These Pitchers were considered all but useless by their former teams. But the development staff of the Pirates turned them into quality ML starters.

                      The upshot: The Pirates scout well and develop those the scout. Are their failures? Yes, but the process has produced results, on the field and even in the prospect rankings.

                    • I don’t think Charlie Morton spent a half dozen games in their system beyond rehab with Benedict, but whatever fits your narrative.

                      All I know is, the amount of starting position players and ML starting pitchers the NH has drafted is an extremely short list. It better improve over the next year, year and a half if the Pirates want to sustain success.

                      I’ll never understand why people get so bent out of shape about something that’s an absolute fact.

                    • Morton was a major league pitcher when we got him in trade, so you really can’t use him- sorry

                    • But I did use him, and for good reason.

                    • No…..you didn’t use him for good reason, he was never in “the system” because “the system” refers to minor leagues, “organization” is the term to use if you want to include the major league team

                    • I disagree, obviously. The reasons: Morton began the Pirates phase of his career in the majors, but was so bad he was sent down for additional seasoning. It took years for Morton and the Pirates to find a solution to his problems. Morton was not a ML pitcher when he arrived in Pittsburgh. He needed additional development work.

                    • You can’t really disagree factual information. He was only sent to the minors temporarily for less than a year. It did not take “years” for him to come up and be in the starting rotation. If he was in AAA for 2-3 years, then I would agree with you, but your claims really aren’t based on accurate information

              • Cutch

            • It’s true, an ace with a year left will fetch a young pitcher will close to Cole’s upside who is in AAA, and at least a grade B hitting prospect as well if not more.

          • I don’t think you can compare the 2. Relief pitchers are much more expendable than Aces.

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