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Previewing the MLB debut of Tim Cooney: Looking at his repertoire & revisiting his 2014 one-hitter

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Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

As Ben told us yesterday, Tim Cooney will officially make his MLB debut tomorrow (Thursday, April 30th), as the starting pitcher in the afternoon game against the Philadelphia Phillies—the team he rooted for as a kid. Cooney, a 6'3" lefty, was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft and will be the second member of that draft class to make his MLB debut (second to Michael Wacha, of course). As discussed in Eric's Future Redbirds report, Cooney has a deep repertoire, and while none of the pitches are considered "plus," his ability to command all four of them is where he finds his success as a pitcher.

For those that remember, Cooney's start against the Iowa Cubs on May 29th last year was nationally televised on CBS Sports Network. While I remember tuning in for the start, I did not watch it in enough detail to provide accurate analysis of Cooney's pitching. Thus, before yesterday's Cardinals 11-5 victory, I dug into the MiLB.TV archives and watched the one-hit shutout again.

May 29, 2014: Memphis Redbirds versus Iowa Cubs (Autozone Park; Memphis, TN)

Below, you will find the defensive alignment of the Memphis Redbirds that night as well as the starting lineup of the Iowa Cubs.

Memphis Lineup

Even with Oscar Taveras getting the night off (admittedly, it was quite dusty when they talked about him as one of the top prospects in baseball), this was quite the team lined up behind Cooney—including this season, seven of the eight (all but Stephen Piscotty) have received a call to the big leagues at some point. Regarding Iowa's starting lineup, Cooney was fortunate that Kris Bryant started 2014 with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. However, he did have to deal with Javy Baez. While Baez has not yet panned out as a major league player, he was fresh off the honor of being named the Pacific Coast League player of the week.

Iowa Cubs 2014

Cooney's final line

IP H R ER BB K
9.0 1 0 0 2 7

Despite having two walks and seven strikeouts (which generally lead to longer at bats), the free-swinging Cubs allowed Cooney to record all 27 outs in an efficient 101 pitches. Of note, it was clear that the home plate umpire was especially stingy with fastballs on the outside corner to right-handed batters all game. Because of this, Cooney threw 63 strikes and tallied a first-pitch strike in only 43% of at bats. The 2015 MLB average for first-pitch strikes is 60.3%, so this is definitely something Cooney will have to improve on during his stint with the Cardinals.

The repertoire

Sometime around the sixth inning, the CBS Sports Network broadcast team stated that Cooney had maxed his fastball out at 88 MPH for the game. Thus, he is not going to blow away many hitters, especially of the major league variety. However, something that I was particularly impressed about was his ability, regardless of the handedness of the batter, to move the ball in, out, up, and down. When he was missing with his fastball, it wasn't by much, and I truly believe he had at least five strikes taken away from him by the home plate umpire. Whether you believe in effective velocity or not, Cooney seems to have maximized the effectiveness of his 88-90 MPH fastball, with a big reason why being that he does not fear pitching on the inside portion of the plate. Also, at 6'3", Cooney is able to take advantage of the downward plane of his pitches to lead to a high number of ground balls.

What about his changeup? Unless this is the first article you have read of mine, you know that the changeup is my favorite pitch. While it has been effective at times, Cooney's changeup was very much in a developmental stage during the 2014 season. I don't have an exact count, but I remember instances during the game where he struggled with his release point and subsequently bounced the change in front of home plate. That being said, when he spotted the pitch effectively, it did lead to some really unbalanced swings and misses by Cubs hitters as well. As he told us in my Q&A with him back in January, the change was the pitch with "the most room for improvement," and that he believed it could be "a strikeout pitch to righties." Unfortunately, I have not been able to watch any of his 2015 starts with Memphis, so the progression of his changeup will be something I will look for in tomorrow's game.

Cooney has two "breaking balls": a big, sweeping (11-5) curveball and a cutter (85 to 87 MPH) with more slider action than most, which is not unusual for some left-handed pitchers. He usually reserves the curveball for righties and the cutter for lefties, but he is capable of throwing either pitch in any count, versus any batter type. In this game, Cooney was not afraid of throwing a first-pitch curveball—something he may want to consider tomorrow given that there is not a lot of video on him, and it would be understandable for Phillies hitters to be sitting on his fastball first pitch.

One of my favorite sequences from the one-hitter occurred during the middle portion of the game and spanned over a few hitters. Cooney went curveball-curveball-changeup-curveball-changeup, basically rocking the opponent back and forth before blowing a fastball by for a strikeout. As I stated earlier, his fastball won't blow many hitters away, but with a preceding sequence such as this one, it definitely can.

Game notes

  • Javy Baez went 0 for 4, and his one strikeout was the 27th out.
  • Arismendy Alcantara broke up the no-hitter on a softly hit, four-hopper through the hole between third and short.
  • Casper Wells had a really tough night, striking out three times.
  • Both Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty made a handful of nice plays throughout the game to help preserve the no-no.
  • The broadcast team used the phrase "Cooney's location has been outstanding" at least four times throughout the game.
  • The "Cardinal Way" was indirectly discussed early in the game after stating that the organization is always "fundamentally sound."
  • The telecast seemed to be one big Memphis, Tennessee advertisement as much of the game was spent talking about all the wonderful things down there. They sold me. I plan on visiting this summer.

Bottom line

Cooney is not going to step on the mound at 12:45 PM tomorrow, come one out away from a no-hitter, and make us all forget about Adam Wainwright. While he is a fully capable pitcher (who I clamored for being promoted), you cannot reasonably expect him to replace one of the best pitchers in the game. Beyond Thursday, we do not even know what the Cardinals have in store for Cooney, but his performance against a lefty-heavy Philadelphia lineup will likely go a long way in determining that. If he is able to spot his fastball on the inside and outside corners as he did in his one-hitter versus Iowa, I am certain we will see a successful MLB debut by the 24-year-old lefty.