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Let's not forget about Tim Cooney

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday morning, managing editor Craig Edwards wrote that the "Cardinals should wait on starting pitching in free agency," and given the state of the market and what is still available, I could not agree more. It is almost certainly "MoSpeak," but as noted from a Derrick Goold article, general manager John Mozeliak and the Cardinals are "not nervous going into the year with having Lyons, Cooney, or Marco Gonzales compete for that fifth spot." After essentially a lost season for Gonzales and the unpredictability of what 2016 brings, Tim Cooney's small-sample-sized emergence last July allows the Cardinals to refrain from the market for now.

After a tough big league debut against the team he grew up rooting for (which resulted in an immediate demotion to Triple-A Memphis), Cooney pitched quite well in his second stint with the Cardinals in 2015, before having his season cut short by appendicitis:

2015 MLB game log

Date Opponent IP H ER BB K HR GSc
4/30 Phillies 2.1 7 3 1 3 1 33
7/2 Padres 6.0 4 2 2 6 2 58
7/7 Cubs 5.1 3 1 1 3 0 60
7/12 Pirates 5.0 6 3 2 5 0 46
7/19 Mets 5.2 3 0 4 7 0 66
7/24 Braves 7.0 5 2 0 5 0 64

Cooney's MLB performance was notable enough for his inclusion as the organization's number two prospect for 2016 according to John Manuel of Baseball America, which is impressive considering he saw his prospect status slide from #6 in 2013 to #7 in 2014.

Repertoire

Remember: Regarding horizontal movement for left-handed pitchers, a negative value means glove-side movement and a positive value means arm-side movement.

Pitch Frequency Velocity (MPH) Drag. Horiz. Mov. (in.) Drag. Vert. Mov. + Gravity (in.) Vert. Release (ft.)
Fourseamer 45.84% 90.52 7.55 -15.89 6.24
Sinker 1.66% 90.63 15.13 -21.08 6.05
Changeup 23.28% 82.97 15.06 -23.85 6.13
Slider 9.26% 81.86 -0.8 -37.48 6.10
Curveball 19.95% 75.00 -6.56 -55.51 6.20

Earlier in the offseason, I compared Cooney's repertoire to Gonzales', so I won't get into it much further than what is already included in the table, but I would like to draw attention to one thing I did not discuss back in November. At present, Cooney's slider-changeup (or changeup-slider, for that matter) combination has the potential to be lethal. As you can see in the right-hand column, there is a minute difference of 0.03 feet (0.36 inches) between his vertical release points on the pitches. Plus, there is not a perceivable difference in the velocity of the two pitches. Yet, from his left hand to the catcher's mitt, they exhibit vastly different horizontal movement—leaving hitters who are guessing especially vulnerable to looking silly with their swings.

An exercise in differentiating consecutive pitch location

While I truly believe Cooney's left-handed repertoire is underrated, it would not be unreasonable to state that his success is largely dependent on precisely locating his pitches and deceiving hitters (as this is generally the case for pitchers who cannot blow hitters away with their fastball). Thus, in an attempt to put a number on Cooney's pitch location from last season, I charted the location of every pitch he threw in his second stint with the Cardinals last season (using BrooksBaseball.net, of course).

The point of this exercise was to see if the "next pitch" fell in a different quadrant than the "preceding pitch." As you will see in the example below, I divided the zone into four equal quadrants. If the preceding pitch was in one zone, I looked to see where the next pitch was located. If it fell in the same quadrant as the pitch prior, I intuitively marked it as "same." If it fell in a different quadrant, yep, you guessed it, I marked it as "different." I restarted the process for each at bat since I do not believe on-deck hitters are able to adequately see pitch location (other than insider versus outside) from the angle they see home plate from the on-deck circle. Obviously, one pitch at bats were excluded (because there was never a "next pitch"), as well as intentional walks (because, of course, all four pitches should fall in the same quadrant). Here are the results:

Same Zone Different Zone
84 215

Honestly, the results were pretty impressive, especially considering the sheer size of the quadrants. I speak of the size of the quadrants because even pitches that do indeed fall in the same quadrant may still look noticeably different to hitters. Simple math shows that 71.9% of the time, Cooney's "next pitch" was in a completely different quadrant than the "preceding pitch." Considering this is the first time I have done this exercise, I unfortunately do not have a baseline, but on the surface, 72% seems pretty high.

Six-pitch strikeout of Andrew McCutchen on July 12th:

McCutchen K

McCutchen is one of the league's very best hitters. I know that. You know that. Cooney knows that. Yet, for at least this one at bat, Cooney overmatched the 2013 National League MVP (Cooney struck him out again the next time through the order, by the way). Using the quadrant-method I discussed above, Cooney never once went repeated pitch location in this at bat, changing McCutchen's eye level with nearly every pitch.

Pitch one: Fourseamer, 92 MPH, down and in (foul)

Pitch two: Changeup, 83 MPH, down and away (swinging strike)

Pitch three: Curveball, 76 MPH, up and away (ball)

Pitch four: Changeup, 83 MPH, down and away (ball)

Pitch five: Fourseamer, 91 MPH, up and away (ball)

Pitch six: Changeup, 84 MPH, down and in (called strike three)

Four-pitch strikeout of newly-acquired Cardinal Jedd Gyorko on July 2nd:

Cooney Gyorko

Gyorko, a career 120 wRC+ hitter against left-handed pitchers, like McCutchen, was tied up by Cooney's use of different pitch locations within a given at bat. Not only location, but Cooney provided Gyorko with differing velocities on each pitch as well.

Pitch one: Changeup, 83 MPH, down and in (swinging strike)

Pitch two: Fourseamer, 92 MPH, down and away (ball)

Pitch three: Curveball, 76 MPH, down and in (foul)

Pitch four: Fourseamer, 93 MPH, down and away (called strike three)

Finally, let's appreciate Cooney painting the outside corner with a 90 MPH fourseamer (GIF courtesy of @mstreeter06).

P.S. I understand that Yadier Molina is a big factor here as he is the one behind the plate calling the pitches, but it is on the pitcher to execute as well. Regardless, I am beyond thankful to have Molina catch for my favorite team.

Credit to BrooksBaseball.net for being a tremendous pitch data resource.