You’ve heard the story by now.
The San Diego Padres have a borderline criminal lack of starting pitching depth at the big league level.
After the poor 2016 season, the Padres’ rotation had, 2017 is setting up to be even worse.
The Padres finished the 2016 season with a combination of Luis Perdomo, Christian Friedrich, Paul Clemens, Clayton Richard, among a few others in the rotation or making starts in the second half of the season. Following the non-tender of Tyson Ross, the Padres rotational depth chart for 2017 looks even more sparse than it did in 2016.
Yup, Christian Friedrich is the San Diego Padres’ ace for 2017. That’s… comforting. Anyway, following Friedrich, the Padres will likely be returning some combination of Rule 5 success story Luis Perdomo, Paul Clemens, the injured Cesar Vargas, and finally, and perhaps most interesting, former Miami Marlin Jarred Cosart. Despite a largely unsuccessful 2016 season split between Miami and San Diego, Cosart might be the most promising of all the Padres potential 2017 starters.
It’s not hard to see that Cosart was bad in his time with the Padres this past season. In 37 and a third uninspiring innings with the Padres last season, Cosart pitched to a 6.03 ERA, a 5.10 FIP, and a 5.00 xFIP. Beyond that, Cosart started nine games for the Padres, striking out 6.51 batters per nine innings, walking 5.54 batters per nine, and gave up 0.96 home runs per nine. None of those numbers really inspire much confidence.
By any more advanced measure quantifying runs given up or run expectancy, Cosart was well below average in his time with the Padres. Whether you prefer ERA-, FIP-, xFIP-, or even SIERA, Cosart was one of the Padres least effective pitchers, even in a ragtag rotation.
It’s hard to really quantify why Cosart was so bad last year, but the high walks and ineffective pitch mixing certainly were a big part of the problem. In fact, Cosart was largely predictable in his pitch selection. In his nine starts from August through the end of the season, Cosart threw his cutter nearly 68 percent of the time while throwing his curveball and changeup just 27 and six percent of the time respectively. With that kind of usage, Cosart looked more like a reliever than one of the five members of the Padres starting rotation. Given this predictability, it isn’t too hard to see why teams were able to have so much success at the plate.
While this explanation is somewhat logical, it fails to tell the whole story of Cosart’s short sample with the Padres. Despite his heavy cutter usage, Cosart was still much more effective with that pitch than with his other two pitch selections. It makes sense that Cosart would use his most effective pitch as much as possible, but it is interesting that batters did not have as much success against it despite seeing it almost three-quarters of the time Cosart was on the mound.
Look no further than Cosart’s times through the order splits to see this more clearly.
It is an accepted fact throughout baseball that pitchers usually perform worse as they progress through the lineup multiple times. However, with regard to his cutter, Cosart got even better as the game progressed. Although batters hit .286 against Cosart’s cutter the first time through the lineup, that number dropped to .250 the second time through, and all the way to .200 the third time through. Compared to his curveball, .278, .333, and .444 in three times through the order, the cutter was much more effective as the game wore on. Even more interesting, the usage of Cosart’s pitches also drastically changed throughout the game, which could partially explain the difference in his splits for different times through the order.
Now while his cutter only got better as the game progressed, this may be due to the fact that Cosart was using it less frequently, keeping batters off-balance more often. This could also explain why Cosart’s curveball was being hit more effectively, as he was using a not so good pitch more often than he would otherwise. For Cosart, this seems like somewhat of a double-edged sword. His performance only improved with his best pitch type because he toned down its usage the second and third time through the order. However, the problem here lies in the fact that the cutter is still his best pitch, and his curveball is altogether ineffective by comparison.
Perhaps more alarming for Cosart are his platoon splits. Surprisingly enough, Cosart is actually more effective against left-handed pitchers due to the cutting action of his cutter coming in on left-handed hitters. In fact, in his time with the Padres in 2016, Cosart allowed right handers to hit .342 while lefties hit only .203. Beyond that, righties slugged .53 points higher, and hit line drives at a higher rate. Diving even further, Cosart got even more effective against left handers, and even worse against right handers, as he progressed through the game, as shown below.
As demonstrated by that table, once Cosart gets to the third time facing a batter, he gets much worse against right-handed hitters and much better against left-handed hitters. Rather interesting. Both his isolated power and slugging against numbers show a similar trend. Despite there being a tangible time through the order penalty for pitchers, it seems to not have the same effect on Cosart when he is facing left-handed pitchers.
It would seem by this evaluation that Cosart should use his cutter even more frequently given his success with that pitch. However, it’s not as simple as that. The key to Cosart’s success lies in developing stronger secondary pitches. These pitches would not only allow Cosart more options for getting hitters out, but it would also increase the strength of his best pitch as well. Developing a more effective secondary or tertiary pitch is never an easy task, especially at 26, but Cosart must adapt if he hopes to be successful in the big leagues going forward.
In summation, Jarred Cosart is quite an interesting case study. As just stated, the cutter is clearly an effective pitch, but Cosart lacks strong secondary pitches that would make him less predictable on the hill. Given his current pitch selection and propensity to give up walks, it’s hard to see Cosart ever becoming a successful starter. However, with that being said, Cosart still may have a path to sustained success in the bullpen if things don’t work out in the rotation once again in 2017.
With the successes of Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and others, turning a failed starter into a successful reliever is now more of a distinct possibility than ever before. Cosart would still need to work out some kinks for this sort of transformation, but the intangibles are all there. With a hard cut fastball, a decent enough curveball, and a pitch selection that is about 90 to 95 percent those two pitches, Cosart already pitches more like a reliever than a starter. Cosart does have some alarming platoon splits and some troubles with walks, but his effectiveness against left handers could be deadly in a short inning, relief role.
Considering their position as a rebuilding franchise, the Padres need to be willing to make some tough choices and go out on a limb once in a while. Fixing Jarred Cosart could mean taking a risk. Risks are just what the Padres should be taking on in 2017 and beyond.