First Pitch: What is Brandon Cumpton’s Upside?

Brandon Cumpton made his first start in place of Wandy Rodriguez today, and he didn’t disappoint. The right-hander went six innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on seven hits, with one walk and one strikeout. Cumpton now has a 3.38 ERA in his three starts this year, and a 2.55 ERA in 49.1 innings in his young major league career.

The scouting reports say that Cumpton will be a back of the rotation starter. His advanced metrics say that he won’t be this good. Still, his xFIP is around league average numbers, and if that continues, he could have a chance to be more than just a back of the rotation guy.

Back in Spring Training, I spoke with Cumpton several times about his sinker, which isn’t actually a sinker at all. It’s a four seam fastball that just has so much movement that it gets classified as a sinker. Cumpton was a main feature for an article I did on the sinkerball, and in the process of researching that article, I found a lot of similarities between Cumpton and Charlie Morton.

When Morton was in the minors, he threw a four seam fastball, which also had a lot of movement. He eventually switched to a two-seam fastball, which generated even more movement, and thus gave him #ElectricStuff. I’m not saying that Cumpton should follow the same path and switch to a two-seam fastball. The four seam is obviously working for him. He has a 50% ground ball rate in the majors, and has put up strong numbers at every level. But Cumpton has some nasty stuff, and it’s often underrated.

Cumpton isn’t really a Jeff Karstens type, who just gets by due to pitching, despite a lack of stuff. Unlike Karstens, Cumpton has some velocity on his fastball. He averages 92 MPH and can touch mid-90s. Add in the movement, and you’ve got a nice pitch to work off of. Cumpton does exactly that, throwing his fastball 70% of the time. He also has a nice slider, which can get a decent amount of strikeouts, although his focus is more on pitching to contact and getting ground balls.

Most guys who excel beyond the “back of the rotation” title are guys who can take the game in their own hands, and dominate an opposing lineup. Cumpton doesn’t do that with strikeouts, but he does have the stuff to get more easy ground ball outs than the average pitcher. This is a case where you’d want to play things safe, and say that Cumpton is a number four starter.

So far, he’s been performing like a middle of the rotation guy, based on his advanced metrics. It would be hard to call him a back of the rotation guy if the stats continued to tell a different story. He’d need a lot more innings than he currently has for the stats to be considered legit. But if those stats eventually say that he’s a middle of the rotation guy, then it wouldn’t be the first time Cumpton has surprised and exceeded expectations.

Links and Notes

**Week In Review: Wandy Gone, Grilli Back, Prospect Reports, Mock Drafts

**Pirates Recall Brandon Cumpton, DFA Vin Mazzaro

**Prospect Watch: Alen Hanson Homers, Nick Kingham With a Strong Start

**Minor League Schedule: All-Stars Square-Off In Indianapolis

**Top 10 Hitters: Everything is Coming Together For Mel Rojas

**Top 10 Pitchers: Cumpton Dominates in Final Triple-A Start; Sampson Breaking Out?

**Prospect Highlights: Base Hit From Willy Garcia, Two Homers From Indianapolis

**Could Local Prep Star Be an Early Round Draft Option For Pirates?

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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So glad that Cumpton is the pitcher and not Locke. Another 5BB and a HBP tonight already in Indy. He just doesn’t throw enough strikes.


I am a little more optimistic about Cumpton. If you look at his record, he has never had an ERA above 4.00 and he is steadily decreasing it year by year. He exhibits good control with a low walk rate and his WHIP is better than average for a starter. I think it is reasonable to expect #3 performance from him, I will be disappointed if it is less. But why isn’t a comparison to Greg Maddox his ceiling? I am not saying he’ll get there, small sample size and all that, but I don’t see a #3 as his ceiling. It could be a lot higher, not based on velocity, but based on demeanor and intelligence, which will enable him to learn to pitch like a Karstens (with better velocity). Cumpton could become one of my favorite Bucs.


The man throws strikes and keeps the ball in the park. Even if his upside is back-of-the-rotation starter, how many times a year does a season do teams look around and realize they’re in deep faha because they don’t have a guy like Cumpton to take the bump?


In the world of baseball or the realities of a teams roster, your #4 could be someone else #2 . If Liriano and Edison don’t get their acts together he could be a #2 by default if he continues to progress as he has early in his career. Possibly a short term #2 but a#2 none the less. Either way I think he has a good presence on the mound, doesn’t show panic with runners on and that doesn’t show up in stats. He got squeezed on a couple pitches in the 5th and left a bad pitch up to a good hitting young pitcher and we know what happened in the rest of the inning. And some of those earned runs against him earlier season came as a result of a ball Snider let get over his head.
At this point in time I feel you have to keep Cumpton in the rotation until he proves other wise.


Well… that means with Cole and Taillon as 1-2 — he as middle-of-the-rotation guy is just what the doctor ordered.

As Harold Reynolds (and others) repeatedly say, you can never tell how a good a major leaguer will be until he faces some adversity. I’m not sure Cumpton is there yet… but you certainly have to like the early returns. I agree with “emjayinTN” talking about the “in command” demeanor on the mound. It serves him well. He does not seem to get rattled — and is not overwhelmed by the big stage at all.

Lee Young

I wouldn’t count JT as a #2 just yet. I HOPE he gets there, but he has quite a road to come back. About 15% of TJ pitchers don’t come back 100%. See Lincoln and Irvin as recent examples.


I’ve heard that the success rate with TJS is %75.


I would think that the low percentage is due to the earlier cases which were hit and miss. TJ successes, IMO, would be a lot higher today – probably around 85 to 90.

JayBird: Don’t forget about Charlie Morton as a solid #3 , who I think can be a solid #2 if he puts it all together with better Command. And, what I like about Cumpton and Locke both is that they do not hesitate to take ownership of the inner third of the plate. Another thing was the work by Martin not hesitating to call time and run out to talk to Cumpton when a few things were going bad and the ump may have missed a pitch or two. That’s a take-charge Catcher working hard with a young pitcher to help him get us 6 solid innings.


Locke walked another 5 last night.


Cole, Morton, Cumpton will all likely be in the rotation in 2015. Pimentel and Locke are 2 wild cards depending on how they produce (I’d guess 1 of the 2 makes it). Sadler and Worley don’t get excited about. Then Taillon and Kingham could be seen maybe mid to late 2015 depending on a lot of factors.

2015: I personally see Morton and Cumpton both as #3 guys, and if that’s the case, the Pirates would need the 4-5 guys in the rotation to be better than typical 4-5 guys, assuming the Pirates don’t grab a big FA SP.

As for this season, if Liriano gets back his form and can be a #2 guy, then Morton-Cumpton as the 3-4 guys makes for a deep rotation no matter who is #5 .


At the moment, all I care about is that his upside is better than Wandy.


Cumpton has excellent movement on the ball and was getting a lot of strikes on balls starting out at a LH batter and running over the inside corner of the plate. He was tossing a shutout until trying that same pitch 3 times in a row to the same batter – since the count was 0-2, I could not understand the pitch call, and then he got it more out over the plate and up in the zone also. More than the movement though, he just has a very “in command” demeanor out on the mound. I am surprised he gets that much movement on a 4 seamer, but major league batters make quicker adjustments, therefore possibly the same pitch running outside or a backdoor curve could keep batters honest, especially when you are in control of the count. He is definitely a keeper and has the ability to develop even further with more starts with the Pirates.

Andy Prough

Speaking of which – will there be a Karstens sighting this year? I read that he wasn’t healthy yet during spring training after his 2013 shoulder surgery, but I would imagine he must be back in shape by now. If he could ever get that June/July 2011 form back – could be fun.


I’ve always been a fan of Karstens and how he pitches. Plus I am married to a woman who some would say is out of my league, and I’ve always liked him for that as well. 🙂

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