Houston Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart hears the criticism, but his and the Astros focus is on "shocking the world"
Jarred Cosart knows that it’s highly unlikely he’ll be repeating his 1.95 ERA he posted in 10 starts last season.
“Only one guy did that in 200 innings last year,” he said. “I know it’s crazy to expect that.”
But forgive Cosart if he isn’t buying into or believing the voices—and there are many of them—saying that Cosart will regress and last year was nothing more than a fluke.
Debate Jarred Cosart’s 2013 season all you want—and plenty have—but the fact of the matter is Cosart was one of the few bright spots for the Houston Astros in times of very dark days at the Major League level for the organization.
Cosart’s spring training has been focused on the off-season mechanics changes he made, his off-speed pitches and coming out of March healthy for the season.
So far, so good.
“I made a lot of mechanical adjustments this spring, and the goal is to stay healthy,” he said. “I’m trying to get quick, clean innings. Get in and get out and let the offense get up there and try to score some runs.”
Cosart did something Brett Wallace, Jordan Lyles and plenty others before him couldn’t do. Cosart gave the Astros organization a reason to be optimistic towards the future. Yet, focus is still on what Cosart said or what Cosart didn’t do.
Cosart enters spring training with the most attention in the rotation. Houston signed Scott Feldman this winter, but there’s no denying the eyes on Cosart entering his first full season in the bigs. Last year, Cosart set a franchise record for lowest ERA in the first 10 starts of a career, as well as most consecutive games of at least five innings and allowing no more than three runs in his first eight starts.
Enough about the good stuff, ‘experts’ say. Let’s talk about how much of a fluke that season was.
Cosart walked more batters than he struck out in his 60 innings last year. His 5.3 BB/9 and 5.0 K/9 are well worse than his minor league averages of 3.6 BB/9 and 7.8 K/9. FanGraphs predicts Cosart will win just 6-8 games and finish with an ERA between 4.00 and 5.00.
Talk of regression has been heard, and noted.
“People out there are doing calculations that I’ll have 150 walks and stop getting lucky,” he said. “My whole life ‘has been you can’t hit’, then I hit. Then it’s ‘you can’t pitch’, then I started pitching. There’s an ongoing list of what you can’t do. As long as you use it as motivation you’ll be fine.”
Out of all the stats out there on Cosart, the 85 percent of runners stranded sticks out to him the most.
“In low-A my pitching coach told me not to worry about anything, but if someone gets on base make sure they don’t score,” he said. “It’s your job as a starting pitcher to keep your team in a game for seven innings. When someone gets on you make sure they don’t score whether it’s getting a double play ball or getting a strike out.
“It’s all about timing. A lot of my strikeouts were with guys on second or third (base). As a competitor and pitcher, it’s about getting outs when it counts.”
Cosart has enough on his plate. He doesn’t need to worry about what a calculator predicts. Instead, he’s worrying about changing the losing environment the Astros have been stuck in after three straight seasons of at least 100 losses.
“The biggest difference is the veteran guys we brought in,” Cosart said. “They’ve set the tone that losing won’t fly. We’re not going out there telling everyone were gonna win 105 games. But there’s a real positive attitude. We’ve got a great mix of guys.”
Cosart mentions veteran leaders such as newly signed Scott Feldman and Chad Qualls, as well as guys like Peter Moylan. But with so many young guys in spring camp, a lot of them are looking up to Cosart.
“I’ve always had a leadership role, but I’m in no position as far as my time in the big leagues, to tell everyone that I’m grasping that leadership role,” he said. “I try to lead by example on the field and lean on guys like Feldman and look at them to be more vocal.”
Jordan Lyles was traded to the Rockies from the Astros this off-season in a deal for Dexter Fowler. But before Cosart, Lyles was the “next big thing” in the starting rotation. With Lyles not working out for the Astros, there’s added pressure on Cosart to be a success.
“I feel like everyone who’s a prospect is expected to be that guy,” he said. “You dominate guys in the minor leagues and scouts and general managers expect that to come in to play right when you hit the majors.
“Yeah there’s pressure especially being from Houston. I’ve improved every year, level by level in some aspect. I think that’s something you have to do. I set goals for myself, and I don’t mind being that guy. You try not letting pressure get to you, but everyone’s lying if they say there’s no kind of pressure.”
Cosart was anxious last year awaiting the call, as he felt ready (and sometimes more deserving) than other guys getting their chances. But his time in Triple-A has been the most important part to his improvement.
“Some Double-A managers are set on it being better than Triple-A. You might see more Double-A make it to bigs, but for me facing guys like Bobby Abreu and Matt Diaz who have 10 years of experience in the majors was huge. That’s when you learn about hitters approach and more of the mental side.”
What if Cosart, just 23, does regress? Not regress in terms of his 1.95 ERA because that's almost a given. But what if he regresses in terms of growth as a pitcher? The line behind him of pitchers waiting for a shot in the rotation isn't short.
"Rather than me pay attention to that, my mindset is to go out and have the best season I possibly can," he said. "Whatever happens, you set yourself up. If you pitch well, some team will want you whether it's the Astros or someone else. You just have to go out and perform. I hope all those guys do well in the minor leagues and get called up and do well.
"I just have to worry about individually being the best I can be. I've learned to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Everything takes care of itself."
Cosart is part of the "shock the world" mentality that is spreading throughout the clubhouse. Although he wasn't part of the team all season, the losses mounted and were tough to take for Cosart. But he knows that sometimes the loss-column doesn't tell the whole story. He brings up times last season where the Astros were playing well but might've lost by one run. Turning those games around will be key for the Astros this season.
"We're just trying to turn that corner," he said. "We've got some new pieces and maybe this year we turn half of those 1-run losses into wins and then we're looking at .500 baseball."
Would that count as shocking the world?
"Honestly, for me, if we didn't finish last place it would shock the world. I think not losing 100 games would shock a lot of experts," he said. "For us, .500 has been going around quite a bit. Now obviously that won't win the division in the AL West, but to be respected against those teams when we come into spring training next year would be huge."
Entering his first full season, Cosart's goals aren't short-sighted. His goal is to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, not just average. The former 38th round pick has perhaps already eclipsed original expectations set for him when he was in the Phillies organization. Now, it's on to attacking a new set of expectations--his own.
"It's all about belief in your own ability and working hard," Cosart says. "You take your lumps. For me, 2011 was not very good at all. You've got to be able to make adjustments and have to be able to take criticism.
"There are always going to be people out there that have something bad to say. It's all about turning those into positives and keeping your head down and keep going every day."
There's no debating that.