Breaking Down Pittsburgh Pirates Staff Ace Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole was an ace for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015, but took a small step back in 2016. The right-handed starter has played four seasons in the majors, arriving in 2013 at the age of 22, when he put up a 3.22 ERA (111 ERA+) with a 10-7 record. His excellent 2015 (2.60 ERA, 149 ERA+, 1.091 WHIP, and a 19-8 record in 208 innings pitched) was followed by a less exciting 2016 (3.88 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.440 WHIP) that included several stints on the disabled list for arm issues; he only pitched 116 innings and ended up with a 7-10 record.

What he throws. Cole throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”) with good velocity, averaging 95.7 mph, as well as a slider (“SL”), changeup (“CH”) and curve (“CU”). His fastball probably also includes a two-seam version that has slightly more horizontal movement, but there isn’t a sharp division between the two types if so:

Pitch usage and trends. Cole’s primary pitch is his fastball, which he throws about 67.2% of the time. His slider (17.9%) and curve (10%) make up most of the remainder; his changeup is still a rarely-used pitch (5.0%). He mainly uses his changeup to left-handed batters, and usually early in at-bats (7.6% of pitches in in 0-1 counts; 12.9% of 1-1 counts). When behind in the count, he is much less likely to use his curve, preferring to rely on his fastball:

Cole went on the 15-day DL for triceps pain in June (indicated with the vertical blue line in the charts below), but his velocity and repertoire didn’t change significantly after his return:

Pitch value. Cole’s most effective pitch, based on total bases yielded per 100 pitches, was his curve, which was well above average to both right- and left-handed batters. In 2015, both his fastball and his slider were also more effective than average, especially to left-handed batters, but in 2016 most of that disappeared and the pitches were just about average. His changeup is interesting, in that it was extremely effective against right-handed batters; however, since he rarely threw it to RHB, and it was very ineffective against lefties, it ended up as a very poor pitch overall in 2016:

Pitch location. Cole’s slider was very likely to fall out of the strike zone, inside to left-handed batters and outside to righties; the reasonably low rate of balls that the pitch drew is a testament to its deception. His curve also targeted the bottom of the strike zone, but was more likely to remain inside, while his fastball on average tended to be more or less in the middle of the zone. To left-handed batters, his changeup was often inside the strike zone; probably too often, considering how hard the pitch was hit by lefties:

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Featured image courtesy of Peter Diana/Post-Gazette.