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Why It’s Time To Put Cole Irvin In The Pen

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

From the headline you might assume that I am down on Cole Irvin. “Throw the bum out of the rotation!” I can hear you hearing me say. But that is not the case. Watching Irvin today something came sharply into focus: Cole Irvin pacing himself and throwing mostly 89-90 MPH is a very flawed pitcher, but Cole Irvin throwing 93-94 MPH is darn effective.

Today’s game was, in fact, A Tale of Two Irvins. The lefty was knocked around a bit as he tried to finesse his way the first time through the line up, hanging a curve to Jared Walsh and then having all his offerings punished like a naughty schoolboy.

And then something happened. I don’t know if there was anger behind Irvin’s pitches or if he just figured there was no reason to hold anything back as the game was slipping away. But in the middle innings, we saw 93-94 MPH from Irvin and it changed everything.

First off, hitters were flat out late on his fastball. But they were also far more vulnerable to his changeup, which makes sense because they had to start their swing earlier. Plus, Irvin throws his changeup in the mid-80s, which creates a decent differential at 93 MPH, not so much at 90.

None of this is rocket science. Obviously there is an advantage to throwing harder, including making your secondary pitches play better. But you see this more with some pitchers than with others, and what I see with Irvin is that those 3-4 miles per hour make all the difference.

Now you might say, “If he threw 93 MPH in the middle innings why can’t he do that as a starting pitcher?” I am assuming Irvin does not feel he can sustain that velocity over 6-7 innings consistently, and that is why he usually paces himself.

Pitching out of the bullpen, however, Irvin could let it go from pitch 1 to pitch last, and I could see him being especially effective in that role. In fact there is a pitcher he reminds me of, who when I looked it up indeed was ineffective when he threw around 89-90 MPH but had a window of 4 very successful seasons in the bullpen averaging closer to 93 MPH.

It’s a pitcher that Irvin reminded me of strictly based on his build and pitching motion, and so I was surprised when I saw the similarity, statistically, of how ineffective this reliever was throwing 89-90 MPH as a starting pitcher, then threw 93 MPH out of the bullpen and became an All-Star reliever.

Oh, you want to know who that reliever was? That would be Brett Cecil, a failed starting pitcher but one of the league’s better relievers from 2013-16. Check out his stats, and note the jump in velocity and performance when he transitions from the rotation to the bullpen in 2013. I see a lot of Brett Cecil in Cole Irvin, right down to being ultimately overmatched as a SP but being potentially a treasure in the pen.

It’s time for Jesus Luzardo to get stretched out and to switch places with and Cole Irvin. Not only does Luzardo have big-time SP stuff — which we saw in just one inning today — but Irvin belongs in the bullpen, where I believe he could excel or at the very least be a more consistently positive contributor. I hope the A’s are thinking the same way, because they are now 3-8 in Irvin’s 11 starts and while he did have a good run it’s important to note that you can get away with 90 MPH and a few location mistakes when you are facing the Tigers or the Orioles.

The point is that as wobbly as Irvin has been at times lately, Brett Cecil was a really good reliever and the A’s could use another of those. This isn’t just about improving the rotation, it’s also about improving the bullpen. In my opinion, the bullpen is where Irvin should have been all along. Memorial Day, symbolically, is when teams look at what they have, what they need, and what they need to do. Time to kill two birds with one stone and put Irvin where he belongs.