Pitching matchups are not as sexy as home runs, but Friday’s matchup between the Astros and Red Sox is worth watching.
Normally, I do not become too worked up over a pitching matchup on the first of June. After all, the baseball season has yet to cross the half way mark. Lots of baseball left to be played. But when you have two of high-quality pitchers appearing in the same game, you stop to catch the action.
If you aren’t yet fully aware, Cole and Sale have produced some of the best results among starting pitchers this season. By fWAR, Cole (2.8) and Sale (2.1) are two of the top ten starting pitchers in baseball. Both have five wins, although pitcher wins don’t matter much nowadays.
More importantly, both pitchers are very good at striking out batters. Cole currently has a strikeout rate of 39.4% while Sale is at 34.8%. Both don’t walk a lot of batters with Cole at 6.9% and Sale at 6.7%. If a team has a pitcher that strikeouts a bunch of batters and avoids walks, well, they may have a good one on their hands. Despite one being a right-handed pitcher and the other a lefty, both Cole and Sale have struck out a high level of batters. And they have been incredibly good at their jobs in the first two months of the season.
Of course, Cole and Sale won’t directly face off against each other as this is an American League game. The designated hitter rule applies in this league unless they are a road team in a National League park.
Regardless, the Astros and the Red Sox have started the season quite well.
For example, Houston has a 36-22 record with a +125 run differential. Boston has a record of 39-18 with a +87 run differential. They are arguably the two best teams in baseball when you look at the numbers. And Cole and Sale have been elite, or near-elite, all season long. This game should be a fun one.
On a quick note, Cole has been a revelation in the Astros’ starting rotation this season. When Cole was acquired from the Pirates this past winter, the hope was he could take his game to a new level with the Astros. The tutelage of pitching coach Brent Strom, the experience of the Astros’ current group of pitchers, and the analytic information provided by the front office were, in theory, an ideal arrangement for Cole to take that next step. And he has up to this point.
Not only has Cole limited home runs, which were a concern the past two seasons, he has also struck out more batters. If the season ended today, the former Pirate would easily set a career-best across numerous metrics. In turn, Cole’s ERA has dropped to an incredibly low 2.05 ERA.
Ironically, Cole’s own teammate, Justin Verlander, has been even better. If it wasn’t for Verlander’s recent turnaround, Cole would probably be receiving even more fanfare.
**Statistics and information courtesy of FanGraphs**