It’s now no-secret that the Astros are interested in another starting pitcher. Preferably one of high-quality.
By this point, we are all familiar with the Astros’ current starting rotation. Or rather, the pitchers that’ll likely form the starting rotation.
Honestly, I’m not going to rehash the same argument on why, or why not, the Astros need another starting pitcher.
Following the almost-trade of Gerrit Cole to the Astros, he is still worth discussing more. And in-depth. Despite all the false alarms, this is a trade that could still happen.
Cole, who is only 27-years old, has been a staple in the Pirates’ rotation since 2013. And he has been a valuable pitcher for Pittsburgh with a 15.9 fWAR and career 3.50 ERA/3.27 FIP. Respectable numbers. Out of all qualified pitchers since 2013, Cole ranks 21st in fWAR. Ironically, Dallas Keuchel ranks 22nd in fWAR (15.8) over the same timespan.
The 2015 season, up to this point in his career, has been Cole’s best season. That season, Cole threw 208 innings — a career-high — with a 24.3% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate. Both figures also happen to be career-best. Cole posted a 5.5 fWAR that season to go with a 2.60 ERA and 2.66 FIP. In other words, he was really good at pitching.
Fast forward two seasons, and Cole’s stock took a bit of a hit.
In 2016, Cole only threw 116 innings. That’s his current career-low in innings pitched for a season. His ERA and FIP rose from the mid-two’s the season before to the mid-to-upper three’s. Specifically a 3.88 ERA and 3.33 FIP. Cole’s fWAR dropped from five-and-a-half wins to two-and-a-half wins. There was also a drop in strikeout rate from 24.3% in 2015 to 19.4% in 2016. His walk rate also climbed nearly two percent. However, a triceps injury and later right elbow inflammation shortened his season, and the struggles can likely be attributed to the ailments.
Still, the results were encouraging once you gain the proper context.
The most recent season in 2017 was more of a mixed bag of results for Cole. For example, Cole threw 203 innings. The injury issues from 2016 didn’t appeared to carry over in a noticeable way in terms of actually throwing a baseball. His strikeout rate climbed back to 23.1% and the walk rate dropped to 6.5%. Improvement was made.
Alas, the results were not quite the same as Cole posted a 4.26 ERA and 4.08 FIP. And his home run-to-fly ball rate skyrocketed from 6.8% from the season before to 15.9% last year. Interestingly enough, Cole’s average launch angle allowed was 10.5 degrees in 2017. The average launch angle allowed in the two previous seasons were 8.1 and 7.3 degrees, respectively. I have a hunch that a regression to the mean for his home run rate is probably in the cards this year.
Also, Cole threw his changeup and curveball even more in 2017 while his four-seam fastball usage dropped by roughly eight percent. The lower fastball usage wasn’t due to velocity, though. Cole still averaged 96.4 MPH in his fastball last year. This drop in usage may have more to do with today’s current environment in terms of hitters seeing more and more high velocity pitches. Cole was clearly trying to change something last season that just didn’t work out like he probably hoped.
Overall, Cole is a pitcher that clearly offers upside to any team. Despite the home run issues in 2017, there is value in having Cole on your roster. And I have a feeling his new team would probably emphasize his fastball again. The Astros could use a pitcher like him, even if a luxury. Discount all of Wednesday’s craziness in this rumor, the price the Pirates have set will be the determining factor if a trade with any team actually happens.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball**