Gerrit Cole was rumored to be an Astros pitcher, that would have been a terrific acquisition that would lead to a slew of juicy fallout.
First things first, trading for Cole sends a clear message to the champagne-soaked Astro players that resting on your laurels will not be tolerated.
Championship hangovers are not guaranteed, but they’re real and frequent. By dealing for Cole, who is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter with ace stuff, the Astros’ front office is very clearly resetting the bar for this team. They are not going to be satisfied with one championship. Good for them.
(Adding to this, the other team reportedly pursuing Cole was the Yankees; not only does this serve as a wake-up call to the Astros, but it also keeps a good, young pitcher off your likely primary rival for AL supremacy in 2018.)
Regarding how much of an impact Cole might have on the Astros repeating… fans will likely look at Cole’s 2017 season and not be optimistic. After giving up 36 career home runs in his first four Major League seasons, Cole gave up 31 (!) last year. His FIP also ballooned, from a career 2.98 to 4.08.
Cole battled multiple injuries in 2016 (before being shut down entirely in September) but was healthy entering last season. Let’s not quickly rush past that – Cole reached 200 innings and suffered no set health setbacks a year after an injury-ravaged 2016. That’s not insignificant. Unfortunately, he slogged through an up-and-down campaign, by far the worst of his career. Sports Illustrated speculated, in June, that Cole was, with not much success, trying to incorporate a changeup into his repertoire.
Beyond that, Cole’s peripherals stayed consistent: his electric fastball (which averaged a fifth-best 95.9 MPH in ’17 and peaked at 99.9) didn’t lose any of its velocity, and his strikeout rate jumped back to the same level of his near-Cy Young season in 2015 (8.7/9). (Altogether, he struck out 196 batters.)
Cole’s biggest issue was that his flyball rate soared (obviously, given the extreme uptick in home runs) from 29% in ’15 and ’16 to 34% in ’17, pushing his home run-to-flyball ratio up to a career-high 16% (league average is roughly 10%). But while the jump is concerning, given it’s a one-year hike, it’s likely as much a component of bad luck as it is an indication that Cole is regressing. (He may indeed be regressing; there are just better predictive statistics for that than home runs-to-flyballs ratio).
He’s pretty good!
What should drown Astro fans in drool is the thought of this front office, with all its Sabermetric toys, and Brent Strom, one of the game’s best pitching coaches, getting their hands on Cole and correcting what might be wrong while teaching him to pitch to his strengths. These are the guys that elevated Dallas Keuchel‘s career, unleashed Lance McCullers‘ knee-crippling curveball on the world and turned CAHRLIEMORTON! into a World Series hero.
Chicks dig the groundball.
They likely already know why his home run totals spiked and will probably be able to direct Cole, who always has excellent control, to more favorable locations to optimize strikeouts and induce more groundballs. Plus, Cole and his 96 MPH fastball spending time with Justin Verlander and his 96 MPH fastball probably isn’t a bad thing, right?
Jumping back to Keuchel for a minute, the likelihood that 2018 will be his final season as an Astro has likely now been cast in stone. Cole has two arbitration years left, taking him through the 2019 season. But if the Astros are smart (and I think we can agree that they are), they’ll likely try and leverage those two years for an extension of two-to-three years for Cole, taking him through his age-30 or -31 season, same age as Keuchel this time next year. At the very least, the Astros have acquired at least a one-year safety net in the now likely event Keuchel leaves after this season.
(Additionally, while highly, highly unlikely, Cole also makes Keuchel… expendable-ish. I’m not suggesting the Astros would or should deal the lame-duck Keuchel – but that’s now at least an option.)
Having spilled some-600 words already, here’s where my ultimate bottom line: this front office has more than earned my trust. They arrived with a radical, almost unheard of a plan to tear this team down to its foundation and rebuild it. And they did so quicker than I ever could have imagined with results I could never have dreamed.
Did they deliver?
And now they’ve delivered an exciting new weapon to an already loaded arsenal. Welcome to Houston, Gerrit, where last year is in the past and already forgotten. Jeff Passan cautions that the deal may not be done yet. This was later confirmed by everyone, it was a fake rumor, but a deal may still be possible.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference****