If you had to guess who would be the Pirates most consistent starting pitcher before the season started, the smart money would be on A.J. Burnett (going back to spring training when the rotation was still a huge question mark). Maybe you’d pick Wandy Rodriguez, which wouldn’t have been a bad choice, before he got hurt. You probably wouldn’t have picked Francisco Liriano, given his
hilarious unfortunate offseason injury to his non-throwing arm. Nobody would have picked Jeff Locke or Charlie Morton. But, if by some blind stroke of luck you said Gerrit Cole would be the Pirates most consistent pitcher in 2013, you would have been right.
After last night’s dominant start, Cole brought his quality start percentage up to 69% on the season, good for first place among Pirates starting pitchers. Francisco Liriano is in second at 64%, as the current ace of the staff. Compare that to league average (53%), or to the percentages of Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke (50% and 44%, respectively) and you get a feel for how good Cole has really been.
Whatever the reason may be, a lot of Pirates fans seem dissatisfied with Cole this season. Perhaps having “number one prospect” status made Pittsburghers expect him to go 20-0 with an ERA under two. Perhaps people were concerned because he wasn’t showing off as much of the swing and miss stuff like he did last night. Maybe, just maybe a rookie pitcher (however gifted he may be) isn’t going to come in and dominate right off the bat.
The beauty of what Cole has provided for the Pirates is that it’s exactly what they’ve lacked in each of their last two campaigns. Major League Baseball has an incredibly long season, and because of that one or two hot streaks are never enough to put a team over the hump. Being above average on a regular, consistent basis is what makes teams playoff contenders, and once you get into the postseason, almost anything can happen.
We’ve seen that concept of consistency on a smaller scale as well. Anybody remember James McDonald? Yea, that guy. What about Jeff Locke? Both McDonald and Locke (although Locke still has a much longer leash available) are guys who were absolutely dominant over short stretches of time, but fizzled. You can ride a hot pitcher or two in the postseason just fine, but it’s a whole different game when dealing with six months of baseball, six days a week.
While a starting pitcher may only appear in the lineup every five days, they still have a daily baseball routine that has to be followed on a regular basis to lead to success. Cole has shown so far that he can be at least a solid back end starter this year, and at most in the future, a top of the rotation ace, just like he looked like last night, when he outdueled Yu Darvish for the Pirates eighty-second win of the season. What he provides now is just what the Pirates need. What he’ll provide in the future will be even better.