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One Twins Pitcher Nobody is Talking About for 2022


Twins Daily Contributor

With few moves made before the MLB lockout, the Twins’ current pitching staff is not where it needs to be heading into the 2022 season. Here is one relatively unknown pitcher who could have a bigger role in 2022 than some may think.

 

Who is Jharel Cotton?
Earlier this week, Cody Christie wrote an article about Three Twins Pitchers Due to Bounce Back. Today I will dive deeper into one of those three, Jharel Cotton.

Since being drafted by the Dodgers in 2012, Jharel Cotton has made his way around Major League Baseball. He spent parts of five seasons in the Dodgers minor league system before getting traded to the Oakland A’s in 2016. Cotton had a rocky tenure with Oakland, bouncing back and forth between AAA and MLB before having Tommy John surgery in 2018. He was 11-10 with a 4.95 ERA for the Athletics in his career with only 7.3 K/9. He spent a season with the Cubs before going to the Texas Rangers in 2021.

In 2021, Cotton started the year in AAA-Round Rock. There, he threw 42 innings with a 3.00 ERA. He struck out 57 batters and walked 17. On July 30, Cotton was called up and made his first major-league appearance in nearly four years. Cotton struggled for the first month, allowing a 5.79 ERA in 14 innings through August. He also had a very high 5.8 BB/9 in this time span. After August, Cotton hit his stride. For the last month of the season, Cotton posted a 1.62 ERA. He also lowered his BB/9 to 3.2 in September.

Unique Pitch Mix
Part of the reason for Cotton’s sudden improvement could have been due to changing his pitch usage. In August, Cotton threw 49 percent fastballs and only nine percent sliders. In September, he threw 42 percent fastballs and 19 percent sliders. Pairing a more diverse pitch mix with an already devastating changeup led to success.

Riseball!
Cotton has one of the most unique fastballs in Major League Baseball. In the day of velocity, his fastball only averaged 93 miles per hour but remained very effective. This is due to its movement. Among all Major League pitchers in 2021, Cotton had the most vertical movement vs avg on his fastball (4.3 inches more than average). This means his fastball is deceiving and the vertical movement will cause his fastball to stay on its initial plane longer instead of having the normal downward plane. This will cause hitters to swing underneath it.

El Cambio
Despite having a potentially effective fastball, Cotton can not throw it all the time or he becomes too predictable, like he did for his first month in the big leagues in 2021. Another unique pitch Cotton throws to complement the fastball is his changeup. Cotton has a very effective changeup. Among pitchers with at least 50 batters faced in 2021, Cotton’s changeup had the second lowest xSLG, meaning hitters did not square up the changeup well at all. Part of this could be due to the fact that Cotton’s changeup is so slow, averaging 80 miles per hour. Hitters were 9-for-50 (.180) with only three extra base hits and 17 strikeouts against his changeup in 2021.

Slide-Piece
In the big leagues, you can rarely get by just throwing two effective pitches. In August, when Cotton struggled, he threw either his fastball or changeup over 80 percent of the time. This made him too predictable. A 10 percent uptick in his slider usage over the last month of the season led to better results. In a limited sample in 2021, his slider had a whiff rate of 37.5 percent. His slider could still use some work but could be a serviceable third pitch, especially out of the bullpen.

What role will Cotton play?
With Texas, Cotton was a middle reliever. Below is his inning frequency numbers in 2021. The number of games is how many times he pitched in that certain inning.

RmdPqjs11JwTQvgsImBNj2PTsfY7ApEBTRS-ahk325gaZSEN_6IYgSwm4LOR1iOyZkC3ofM3IGwcmwjvxw8PgV-pnv5XJQ6bVcU4GyKrCsXWFP0MJZLrANUdrQfEbY1qfbdhq7yY

As you can see, Cotton was pretty versatile, mostly pitching in innings six through eight. With Tyler Duffey and Jorge Alcala as the Twins two best right-handed relievers, I see Cotton being more of a sixth or seventh inning guy to start.

Closing Remarks
Cotton is a promising pitcher that the Twins will only be paying $700K next year. In my opinion it is a good low-risk, high-reward situation. What are your thoughts on Jharel Cotton? Feel free to ask questions and discuss in the comment section.

Thank you for reading, and Go Twins!


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I was fine on the Cotton pickup: low-risk, good reward. Definitely some indicators in his numbers to suggest he can be effective. I think Texas made a mistake in not retaining him, but maybe they felt they had a roster crunch or assumed the arbitration price was going to soar too high. Twins appear to have managed that price aspect well: they're paying him enough for him to want to be here, not so much that they're going to fall into the sunk cost fallacy if he stinks.

The bullpen looks pretty decent to me, even now. I'd like to see one more RHP with some high gas as an option, maybe? But I just don't believe in throwing lots of dollars at relievers who are frequently so fungible, and would rather construct my bullpen this way, where you cycle through some guys on the back end, convert failed starters out of your system, and don't overpay on guys that have limited utility. Taylor Rogers is worth spending his contract on this year because a) he's been consistently good for several years, b) there's no guaranteed obligation, and c) he has clear trade value. But I would always hesitate on throwing big money on FA relievers, especially if it's attached to a multi-year deal. 

There are just better options. Cotton is an underrated signing, I think. The cost is good, there's decent upside, and it's easy to move on if it busts.

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Cotton does not have options remaining. That makes it tough to be part of the back half of the bullpen. Those are the pitchers the Twins need to rotate to AAA when the pitchers get overworked.

I do like the signing though. These are the kinds of signings small to mid market teams need to win on. The Twins have been on the wrong end of this a few times since Falvey arrived. I hope this time they have identified and develop the untapped talent.

 

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For now he is just a name (an interesting one) but I have no expectations.  He will be in training (spring or summer) and we will see.  But at his age he should have established something besides question marks.  Good luck to him and the Twins.  Now we need baseball to do something that we can really dig into.

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Good article Andrew. I have a good feeling about Cotton. I think he'll surprised a lot of people with his upside. He a good pick up. He's at the right place where he could get a uptick in his fastball if it doesn't effect his movement too much and perfect his slider to go along with his change up.

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