I spent a good amount of time swimming through all of the hitter rankings and just had the opportunity to dive into the vast pool that is Grey’s starting pitching rankings. Sifting through this list is much more difficult due to volume. Number 30 on this list is much more impactful than number 30 on the 3B list. As I scrolled through to find a surprise Grey wasn’t too hot on, I mostly saw players he’s a tad bullish on. Trevor Bauer in the top 20, Ohtani at 21, those definitely piqued my interest. A few more in the top 30 like Luke Weaver, Kevin Gausman, and Drew Pomeranz had me thinking too. I also like these guys, but maybe not enough to push them up there. This is where I stumbled across the topic of this article, a player I felt should outperform all those mentioned above, Gerrit Cole.
One of the newest members of the best team in the league, Gerrit Cole had a frustrating 2016 and 2017 after a Cy Young caliber first full season in 2015. 2016 was full of throwing arm injuries resulting in only pitching 21 games. Cole was back in 2017 but had an interesting season. Most of his peripherals kept consistent but his ERA was 4.26 with a FIP of 4.08. For a 27 year old pitcher hitting his prime, it’s hard to see a promising pitcher struggle. 2018 on the other hand brings hope for Cole to turn back to his Cy Young ways.
For over 600 IPs of Cole’s career, he kept his HR/FB rate under 10% and kept his HR/9 below .75. In 2017, his HR/FB sat at 15.9% and his HR/9 at 1.37. That is a drastic change. Both of these numbers were near the bottom of their respective leaderboards. If he kept his career average Cole would have been one of the top 5 in the league at both. How do you go from one of the best to one of the worst? I looked at these rates over the past few seasons for the entire league. As expected, both HR/FB and HR/9 rose steadily with the increased home run totals. However, Cole’s rates did not respond to the changes until 2017. He was always significantly below the averages. In 2016, his HR/FB was .54 compared to the league average of 1.148 of qualified starters. In 2017, Cole jumped to above the average (1.37 compared to 1.2). He did improve on these numbers in the second half, but I also do not see one of the best at not allowing homers to all of sudden becoming one of the worst. Expect these rates to drop again.
FIP is calculated by three statistics; home runs, strikeouts, and walks. Cole’s 2017 FIP is improved over his ERA, however, with the unexpected spike in home run rate, his FIP may not be as indicative as his future ERA. Cole has kept is K rate and BB rate consistent. He has always kept them around 8.5 and 2.5 respectively. Both are not elite but both are solid.
Cole still has his stuff too. He kept his velocity consistent with his career numbers which happen to be elite. His fastball was the second fastest in the league last year, third if Syndergaard played the whole season. Interestingly, though, his fastball use decreased dramatically. Below are his career pitch use statistics.
Last year, his fastball use dropped 8% to 41.9% when it usually sat around 50%. He threw the sinker a bit more, change much more and curve a bit more. Diving further into these numbers, it is interesting that he was throwing the fastball much less and sinker more. The sinker was drastically not as effective as it usually is for Cole.
7% more sinkers were hit for fly balls and 8% more of those fly balls resulted in home runs. That is the exact opposite of what you want your sinker to do. Additionally, 7% more contact was made on sinkers out of the zone than his career average. Something was off with Cole’s sinker, and a huge key for 2018 success will be that pitch. Will he get it back to his norm or will he start throwing it less?
The move to Houston also brings Cole a new pitching coach staff. The Astros have gained the notoriety of being a breaking ball throwing club. Morton threw his curve 28.4% of the time, McCullers 47%, Musgrove threw his slider 28.1% and Peacock threw it 37.5% of the time. Anything above 25% puts you well near the top of the league. The Astros staff has some magic up their sleeves with these breaking pitches. Cole’s slider is one of the hardest in the league too. It will be interesting to see how the Astros manage Cole’s breaking pitches and push him to use those more rather than the ineffective sinker of 2017.
The now Astro, Gerrit Cole has poised himself to show why he has some of the best stuff in the league. The Astros have made magic with some of their pitching staff. They have an elite offense. Cole is coming off a season where he kept throwing his usual stuff but ended up letting up a significant amount of more home runs. He’ll come back something closer to his usual self and show some strides with the new pitching coaches in Houston. He’ll be much closer to his Cy Young caliber days. He’s 27, right in his prime, and throwing as hard as ever.