GUEST POST by Joe Luchok
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same” from the poem If by Rudyard Kipling
When the Pirates brought Brandon Cumpton up to make a couple starts there were posts on blogs calling him a sacrificial lamb and someone who was going to get bombed. Cumpton surprised many by keeping the Pirates in both games he started. He did not get a decision in either game as the Pirates lost his first start 5-3 and won his second start 5-3.
This is not an article about Brandon Cumpton but rather about why his outings should not be surprising.
At the uppers levels of baseball the talent difference is small. There are very few players who stand head and shoulders above the rest. Most players who rise to AAA have the skill to be at least average MLB players. What separates players is often mental, not physical.
Baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” I don’t know what the true percentage would be but I do believe the mental aspect often makes the difference.
Phil Irwin probably has better pitches than Cumpton. When Irwin made a spot start earlier this season his results were not nearly as good, 6 hits 4 walks 4 earned runs in 4.2 innings. The difference, Irwin looked unsure of himself and Cumpton looked confident.
Jeff Locke made several starts for the Pirates in 2011 and 2012 that gave no indication he would be 2nd in the league in ERA at this point in 2013. Locke did not increase his skill, he increased his confidence.
The importance of having or lacking confidence can be seen in many players. No one has ever questioned James McDonald’s skills but his confidence rarely shows up. By the time you read this he may no longer be part of the Pirate’s system. Compare McDonald to A.J. Burnett. When A.J. has a pitch that is not working he goes after hitters with another pitch. Confidence is not enough to be successful but it is necessary to be successful.
That doesn’t mean players can’t make changes that make them better but someone whose fastball tops out at 91 MPH can’t make a change that brings his fastball up to 98 MPH. He might get a bit faster but not greatly faster.
Cumpton summed it up nicely when he was asked what turned him into a potential MLB starter,
“I guess just attacking the strike zone. Stop trying to aim stuff and nitpick in the corners, because obviously you start falling behind and you end up getting forced to throw stuff down the middle and down. And guys take advantage of that.”
Confidence works for hitters as well as pitchers. You can’t hit the ball if you don’t think you can. Listen to what broadcasters and fans say: He looked overwhelmed by the situation; he didn’t let that mistake bother him; he kept battling; he had a deer in the headlights look; the pressure got to him.
All of those sayings speak to confidence.
I have no idea if Cumpton will ever be part of an MLB rotation but I would put the odds high because he already shown he has the confidence to succeed.