Rockies banking on smoother delivery from Cook

February 12, 2011 | 7:58 pm | 18  

The late Bus Campbell, renowned for his knowledge of pitching mechanics, used to cringe when he watched Colorado Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook. It bothered Campbell, who began working with Roy Halladay when Halladay was 14, to no end that the toe tap Cook had in his delivery persisted, since it was a correctable flaw.

Cook’s toe-tap, or what Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca called “a little hitch in his giddyup,” appeared to be a thing of the past last year in two September starts. Referring to those outings, general manager Dan O’Dowd said, “We were really, really encouraged by what we saw delivery wise.” And that could bode well this season for Cook, who turned 32 on Tuesday and is seemingly headed toward free agency, given the mutual option for $11 million on 2012 with a $500,000 buyout.

When Cook began his stride to the plate but tapped his foot, paused and started again, Apodaca said, “There was no continuity, no flow to his delivery. And his direction was consistently off-line, was going more and more across his body.”

What helped Cook was getting hurt and a chance to regroup in the minors. He went 0-3 with a 13.97 ERA in three successive starts from July 23-Aug. 3, allowing 23 hits and 15 runs in 9 2/3 innings with six walks, six strikeouts and three home runs yielded. Cook then went on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right big toe and an overall record of 4-8 record with a 5.34 ERA.

When he was well enough to begin throwing, Cook went to Double-A Tulsa. There he worked with Marcel Lachemann, a former pitching coach and one of O’Dowd’s top advisers, and Bryan Harvey, who was Tulsa’s pitching coach but unfortunately is no longer in the Rockies organization. Cook started on Aug. 23 and Aug. 28 for the Drillers with good results.

On Aug. 23, he allowed three hits and one run in five innings with one walk and four strikeouts, throwing 41 of 60 pitches for strikes against Frisco but losing 2-1. On Aug. 28, Cook increased his pitch count to 92, including 59 strikes, albeit in 5 2/3 innings but gave up five hits and two runs with two walks and six strikeouts and came away a winner in Tulsa’s 8-4 win against Northwest Arkansas.

Cook returned to the Rockies rotation and made two September starts, winning both. On Sept. 3 at San Diego, where he has thrived in his career, Cook gave up four hits and two runs in 6 1/3 innings, walking four with three strikeouts and throwing 87 pitches, 51 strikes. On Sept. 8 against the Reds, Cook gave up a leadoff single in the sixth followed by a Joey Votto line drive hit that broke Cook’s right fibula. It was Cook’s 60th pitch and 43rd strike, and he left after allowing six hits and one run in five-plus innings.

“He pitched those two games for us, and you could see a major difference,” Apodaca said. “You could see downhill plane with his pitches. You could see his fastball far more in the strike zone and then leaving the strike zone instead of (being) a ball out of his hand. His breaking ball was much more efficient.”

Cook never intended to tap his toe and pause during his delivery. Trying to be deliberate when moving his stride foot led to the hitch and attendant problems.

“He would begin his stride, but his upper body would start leaning into the pitch,” Apodaca said. “Then it would stop, and it would start again. And usually the second start was a much quicker move to the plate. We’re talking about somebody getting out fast, and not being a power arm anymore, he has to rely on the ball starting on the correct plane and having the movement that looks like a strike and then becomes a ball or a pitch that’s a ball and then becomes a strike.”

18 Comments »

  • C Thistle | February 12, 2011 | 8:44 pm

    Interesting article. It would be a wonderful surprise to see Cook regain his form.

  • Ryan | February 12, 2011 | 8:57 pm

    It would definitely surprise me, but it would be huge if Cook could eat a couple hundred innings this year.

  • Jim | February 12, 2011 | 9:51 pm

    I guess we give Cook a dozen starts to verify he has regained his effectivity..If yes GREAT…If no we bring some fella up who has shown some promise in the first month or so. I hope we are not going to be late in getting the decision made.

  • Wayne | February 13, 2011 | 7:35 am

    Here’s a question. If everyone noticed the toe tap (it had been going on for years) and thought it was wrong, then why did it take so long to correct?

    For the Rockies season, and us fans, I am rooting for Cook to have a really good season. 12-15 wins out of the 4 hole would be awesome, and I really thin he has the ability to get it done. He won’t be pitching against other teams one’s and two’s anymore, which will help.

  • Cameo | February 13, 2011 | 8:48 am

    I think the fact that Cook will be pitching at the back end of the rotation will help, like Wayne said he will be pitching against the 4′s and 5′s of the world now. Cook just needs to stay healthy and I think he can win double digit games for the Rox.

  • GoRoxGo | February 13, 2011 | 8:56 am

    Every successful season has one or two surprises that help make it successful. A 15-win sub-4.00 ERA season for Cook would be one of them, but I’m not holding my breath. Hammel doing that would be more likely.

  • Karl | February 13, 2011 | 9:18 am

    I think your point Wayne is a great one. The reality that for the first two months of the season Cook should be going up against the 3-5 starters of an opposing team is a big point. Then to Jim we can see if Cook of old has returned and can see how Chacin has stacked up against other team’s 2-3 starters. I know the schedule won’t always line up that way but to start the season it should. If these guys can show up in great shape and can come out of the spring healthy then I will put this teams rotation up there in the top five in the NL.

    I am with you all, looking at the positives right now since nothing to analyze negatively at this moment. Still think Cook would be best trade chip, but if he proves that can regain all star form, will be hard to trade and may earn his option for next year even though it is pricey. But if he nets 17-20 wins from his starts for the Rockies regardless of his actual W-L record then he will earn it.

  • Reader f/k/a Mike | February 13, 2011 | 10:43 am

    I never understand the consistently negative attitudes towards Cook here. You’d think people were talking about Shawn Chacon.

    There’s a fair argument that Cook is the most consistent contributor in Rockies pitching history. He has had injury problems to be sure, but has any Rockies pitcher had a stretch like Cook’s 2004-2009? Jimenez has 3.5 good to great seasons in, so barring injury he will take this crown from Cook, but it doesn’t mean we should overlook what Cook has done. The guy put in 6 seasons of above-league avg pitching while dealing with Coors field and teammates getting on-the-job MLB training.

    I mean, when looking at Cook’s raw stats, look at more than just the won-loss record, because those were some horrible teams, and when looking at ERA, consider that he pitches in Coors (looking for a sub-4.00 ERA out of a Rockies starter is a ridiculously high expectation, unless you’re looking for “all star seasons” or Cy Young candidates something).

    Cook has always looked scary while achieving these results. He’s never struck out batters at even close to the league avg rate, which means he relies on getting the DP ball and stranding runners. He had an off year last year which makes you worry his injuries have finally caught up to him.

    But starting with the weird condition he started his career with–the blood clots/removal of rib thing, the guy has always battled back to achieve success.

    You don’t want to rely on him giving you 200 innings, but that would be pretty unfair, wouldn’t it? It’s not as if Chacin, Hammel, or DLR have ever pitched 200 innings in a professional season.

    I think it’s reasonable to look for 150-160 league averagish innings from Cook, which if it it happens, would be a strong contribution from the backend of one’s rotation.

  • Mike Raysfan | February 13, 2011 | 11:06 am

    I hesitate to use terms like #2 or #4 guy because the reality is Cook could still face what some would consider a #2 guy.

    Each team has different thoughts on their own rotation. Rather than start a debate about the Rockies, I will use the Dodgers as an example. Padilla started in the #1 spot for the Dodgers. There were Dodger fans and some media that didn’t considered Padilla the #1 or even the #2 guy in their rotation. If I remember correctly, Joe Torre came back and had a pretty good explaination, talking about less emphasis on assigning a number and more about matchups.

    I wish Cook the best and hope he can have a good season. 10 wins would be great. I hope it all works out for him. Whether he is a starter or comes out of the BP.

  • terence | February 13, 2011 | 12:25 pm

    how about comeback player of the year? that’s my prayer. 15 wins, 200 innings.

  • Rich M | February 13, 2011 | 2:36 pm

    Mike Raysfan, I really don’t see Cook as a relief pitcher unless maybe it is as a long reief pitcher. Cook works best when he can control and develop his own traffic. If he comes into a game where traffic is already on the bases, then likely there will be more traffic resulting in opposition runs.

    Late inning relief pitchers have to be able to pound the strike zone with the ability to get a key strike out when the situation calls for it, and I just don’t see that with Cook.

  • Bill | February 13, 2011 | 7:30 pm

    I kind of echo Wayne’s thoughts. Why wasn’t Apodoca able to change Cook’s delivery? Or did he notice it?

    I would love to see Cook pitch like he has shown (although only it short spurts) he can. He’s had streaks (3, 4 games, maybe 5) where he’s pitching complete games or close to it, in 2 1/2 hours or less and 80 pitches or so. Greg Maddox-like. ‘

    But Maddox did it for 15+ years in a row, Cookie hasn’t done it for a month before something happens.

    I’m sure I wasn’t the only one living in Denver who caught spring fever today and can’t wait for opening day. And I’ve been to more of my share of games in April (and May) when it was alot colder than today also.

  • progmatinee | February 13, 2011 | 8:35 pm

    I don’t think I’d jump to the conclusion that the coaches never addressed it. Ultimately, its up to the player. If he’s playing better than the other options, you can’t really bench him for it. Its not like he was giving up 7 runs a game or walking a ton of batters.

  • anonymous | February 13, 2011 | 10:15 pm

    Pitchers are creatures of habit. The habits of their delivery are the product of thousands upon thousands of repetitions. Whether it is bad habit, which creates bad mechanics, or a good one, the habit and delivery take a very long time to create and then correct. That is why the injury was a blessing in disguise for Cook. It game him some time off of the mound to correct his poor mechanics and become comfortable with the good ones. This is not something that can happen on the fly, and if he attempted it on the fly things probably would have gone much worse.

    What we are talking about is not a minor tweak in Cook’s delivery. It gave him some level of comfort and probably helped him feel balanced and ready to deliver the ball. Either way, it is now fixed and hopefully he will be throwing worm-killers all year.

  • Robb | February 14, 2011 | 9:40 am

    This is probably Cook’s last chance with the Rockies, if you will. If the toe tap is really the reason for his inconsistency the past couple of years, then great. If it a just something to try and grab hold of and turn things around, then I am not so sure. Cook has been getting injured fairly frequently the past few seasons so to expect anything more than 140-150 innings is probably unrealistic. Personally, I would try and trade him, thus dumping the nearly $10mm still owed him and give a younger guy a shot. He still has some value at this point, but if the toe tap doesn’t solve things or he gets hurt again, that’s $10mm gone out the window.

  • sabrchip | February 14, 2011 | 1:30 pm

    There are times when we talk about injuries that I just hafta shake my head. There are two types: Mechanical (pulled muscles, rotator cuffs, weight induced, strains) and Accidental (broken bones, bruises, etc.)

    Tulo and Cookie were unfortunate enuf to suffer both yet people want to talk about “injury prone” scenarios. If the “Accidental” injury occurs a couple times, heaven forbid, the wrath falls down on them for being so unlucky, but, there is very little control over those injuries and they shouldn’t be lumped into a medical history of any player.

    It’s the “Mechanical” injuries I look at and for a true read about a players’ medical history.

    Mechanics, as has previously stated, is the result of “thousands” of repetitions. Was it the players’ faults that a batted balls broke his leg or arm? When these guys are less than 60 feet from each other, the reaction time is greatly reduced and shouldn’t be faulted for their injuries. If a guy runs through a fence or another player that’s a little bit different.

  • sabrchip | February 14, 2011 | 1:34 pm

    Something else about trades:

    If a pitcher is making $10M, you’re not gonna be able to dump all that salary if he’s not performing. Why would anyone else want the problem unless they’re dumping a similar problem?

    How many bad players with bad contracts get gobbled up by GMs over the coarse of a season. How long did it take the Rox to pay off Hampton’s and Neagle’s bad contracts after they were moved? Year and years.

  • Robb | February 14, 2011 | 3:22 pm

    Sabrchip, good points and thanks for indirectly supporting my contention that the time to trade Cook would be now while he still has value. You are correct that if they wait and see how he performs and he doesn’t do well, then it is too late. $10mm is a lot of money to pay a pitcher to win 10 games, but I truly hope Cook comes back strong and wins 14-15.