Pittsburgh Pirates employing a personal catcher for Gerrit Cole?


As we get ready for daytime baseball today against the Marlins, Dan Zangrilli of 93.7 the fan’s pre and post game Pittsburgh Pirates coverage shared today’s lineup with us.

While there is a ton to digest in this lineup, one thing that immediately caught my eye was Chris Stewart once again catching a Gerrit Cole start. In a very unscientific study, I found that it seems as though Stewart has caught virtually all of Cole’s starts since coming off the DL. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. From MLB.com reporter Tom Singer’s blog:

"Clint Hurdle isn’t a big believer in the virtues of pitchers having a personal catcher, but obviously it’s no coincidence that since Chris Stewart came off the DL in mid-April, he has been paired with Gerrit Cole five times in his seven starts, including tonight.  This will be Cole’s 25th start while Stewart has been on the Bucs’ active roster, and will be his 15th with Stew behind the plate. ERA for the first 14: 2.94."

Note: this was published before Cole’s dominant start against the Mets, which you can read more about here.

The question looms: is Stewart the go-to guy for Cole’s starts? It sure seems that way, and with production like Cole’s who can blame Hurdle for possibly playing some hunches and getting Stewart behind the plate with Cole as much as he can. The idea of personal catchers is nothing new. For a primer on the subject, I’d recommend the New York Times’ piece earlier this spring on the rise of personal catchers, which were once relegated to catching knuckleballers yet now are a shrewd way for teams to get in edge. From the piece:

"The concept of personal catchers, the pairing of ace pitchers and usually light-hitting backstops for a majority of their starts, has been around for decades. Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver had a successful run with St. Louis and Philadelphia, and Greg Maddux loved throwing to Eddie Perez in Atlanta. But there are a handful of teams taking a closer look at that type of arrangement this spring, with most of them trying for more flexibility for the upcoming season."

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Looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates specifically, the reasons for Hurdle changing his thinking towards personal catchers may be plentiful. For one, it provides for even more regular days of rest for Francisco Cervelli, who has taken a beating this season. Second, with a burgeoning ace such as Cole who thrives off of emotion, a familiar presence that can reign Cole in at times could be the difference in getting out of innings without any damage. In fact, Stewart said as much himself in a recent notebook by Bill West of the Tribune Review:

"“I think we both have a good feel for each other,” Stewart said. “I know how he needs to throw to be successful. I know his personality. There’s really not too much amping him up. It’s more calming him down in certain situations.”"

We will monitor the backstop for starts going forward, but it is obvious to all that Chris Stewart catching Cole is now the norm.

Next: Examining Cole's dominance vs Mets