While the Astros try to figure out a solution with the bats, let’s brag about one of baseball’s best starting pitchers.
Yes, the Astros‘ lineup hasn’t been getting the job done. And, yes, the team’s recent home woes is anything but optimal. For a nice change of pace though, let’s look at Gerrit Cole. Hey, everyone needs some positivity in their life.
Entering Wednesday’s game against the Rockies, Cole has simply been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball this season. Over 153 2/3 innings, Cole has the sixth-lowest ERA (2.75), third-lowest FIP (2.74), and third-highest fWAR in the American League. He is striking out 34.2% of hitters that he has faced, and also set a new career-high in strikeouts with 207. By the way, it is only the middle of August.
The only pitchers in the AL who’ve arguably been better than Cole up till now are Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer. If it weren’t for those two, Cole would’ve been in the mix for the AL Cy Young award. Yes, Cole has been that good. Regardless of how the remainder of the season unfolds, Cole’s ascension to the top of leaderboards is a definite highlight for the 2018 Astros. And he is still in Houston for at least one more season.
Despite a productive stint with the Pirates, Cole always figured to be a pitcher on the cusp of breaking out. We caught a glimpse of this kind of pitcher back in 2015 when he posted a 2.60 ERA over 208 innings. While the next two seasons were relatively productive campaigns, he couldn’t fully replicate his success in 2015. Yes, I realize that his ERA in 2015 is lower than his current 2018 ERA, but the age-27 right-hander has been striking more hitters left-and-right while maintaining a relatively low walk rate. A renewed emphasis on his four-seam fastball and curveball has helped propel Cole to new heights.
Table 1. Four-seam fastball and curveball usage and batting average against (Brooks Baseball)
Year FB Usage BAA
2015 51.1% .245
2016 50.2% .270
2017 43.2% .263
2018 52.1% .167
Year CB Usage BAA
2015 7.8% .319
2016 9.9% .204
2017 12.1% .259
2018 19% .211
In addition, Cole has almost completely scrapped his sinker, sometimes referred to as a two-seam fastball, in 2018 . Last season, he threw the pitch 16.5% of the time. This season, his usage has plummeted to 3.8%. Cole has also generally thrown harder than he has in the past while tweaking with the horizontal and vertical movement of his pitches. Lastly, his release point has less variation this season compared to last season, specifically his four-seam fastball and curveball. I’m sure more changes have been made, but I believe that the subtle adjustments mentioned above are a good start.
Overall, Cole has been a tremendous for the Astros. He is a key reason behind the team’s success and 73-47 record through the first 120 games. Let’s see how he performs down the stretch as the Astros attempt to hang on to their slim AL West lead.