Pittsburgh Pirates Monday Minute: Slow Starts, Relax

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Editorial: Monday Minute will be short opinionated articles on a hot topic that is surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates.  This week will be about some of the players who are off to slow starts.

Obviously no one wants to have a slow start in anything.  Whether it is baseball, a test at school, your performance at a new job, or in general anything you are trying to accomplish.  However, when you hear the phrase “slow start” that normally means that there is a level of expectation that you/others believe that you should be at.  For a few Pittsburgh Pirates that is happening now.

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen, of course, is under a microscope this season, as he should be.  McCutchen looked like a different player in 2016 after being one of the best players in the National League for half a decade.  The worst thing that could have happened to Cutch was for him to start the year off slow.  Although Andrew McCutchen is notoriously a slow starter, people are still concerned.  Yes, it is disappointing as McCutchen talked a lot about his off-season work and how he was ready to bounce back.

With that being said, it is hard to say if his slow start is worth being concerned about.  As stated earlier, Cutch tends to start slow.  His first ten games per season generally have a low OPS.  So does his slow start correlate with another potential disappointing year, or just his general career norms?  It is hard to say.  Now if this continues late into April and early May, then it may actually be something to start getting worried about.  For now, keep rooting for him to turn things around.

Gerrit Cole

The same patience need to be had with Gerrit Cole.  It seems like the popular thing now to jump on Cole every time he does something wrong.  Furthermore, it really is starting to seem like fans almost want to see him struggle just so they can “be right” about him not being an ace.  With that being said, Cole had a somewhat abbreviated Spring.  He did not pitch as many innings as he has in the past.  The Pittsburgh Pirates did this in hope to keep him healthier over the course of the season.  Cole might still be getting his fine tuning in that he normally would have in Spring Training.

One positive note to look at is that his velocity is where the Pittsburgh Pirates would like to see it.  His average velocity on the year is 96.5, and his highest velocity is 99.2 miles per hour according to mlb.com’s statcast.  Last year his fastball velocity averaged 95.3, so this year it seems like his arm is healthy and back to normal.  As he pitches more, he should start to improvement in his results.

Austin Meadows

The other slow start of note is a Pittsburgh Pirates minor league prospect.  Austin Meadows is not just a prospect, but the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect.  Last year Meadows struggled at Triple-A, but this was mainly because he was trying to play through a tweaked hamstring.  This year he is off to an uninspiring start batting .071 in 4 games so far.  First off, pump the breaks, it is four games!  If he has a three or four hit game that average will quickly jump.

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There could be another reason why he is struggling.  Meadows simply might be pressing.  He knows he underwhelmed last year in his time in Triple-A.  He could be trying to prove that it was a fluke last year, and is now putting too much pressure on himself to prove that it was not a true representation of his abilities.  Also, he is the top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system.  As easy as it is to say that players do not look at that stuff, he is a 21-year-old!  He hears the expectations for him. Furthermore, knowing that he very well could be up this season, he is likely pressing to do well and show that he is ready to make the jump to the big leagues.

Why be Concerned?

All in all, slow starts a little over done.  There are a lot of good players in the league who start slow, and a lot of good players who end their seasons on the decline.  In Andrew McCutchen’s case, it is escalated because of the poor season he had last year, but this could be just a typical start for the former MVP.

Meanwhile, Cole had arm issues last season, because of this he had a different program this Spring.  Cole’s velocity is where it should be and he may still be just getting fine tuned.  Like McCutchen, do not worry about him struggling until we see how he is performing in May.

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In Meadows’ case, he is young and developing.  You can look back at any prospect and find them struggling at times.  If that was not the case, he would not be a prospect, but a bonafide major leaguer.  It is part of the process for young players.  How they respond to poor performances and adversity will be the telling sign for Meadows.  So, please pump the breaks and do not base a couple of games and project it as an expectation for the season.