As Jacob Misener obliquely pointed out in our preview of Gerrit Cole‘s upcoming start against the Cincinnati Reds, Cole is on the cusp of a true breakout year. Of course, this is nothing new to Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Ever since being drafted number one overall in 2011 MLB Draft, Bucs followers have salivated over Cole’s potential, and why not? It’s not everyday that you can find a hard-throwing right hander who can flirt with 100 mph, has a great attitude, and is an excellent teammate. (Note: I am extremely sad that I cannot find video of Cole’s glowing praise of Edinson Volquez from the 2014 Wild Card celebration. If any of our intrepid readers can find this, please leave a comment and you will win..well, nothing, but you will be appreciated.)
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For Gerrit Cole to actually take that leap forward in the eyes of many fans, he will need to perform well against the team’s in-division opponents. As I started to look at Cole’s numbers against the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers, I started to notice a few trends. First, due to missing time last year and having not gotten the call to the majors until June of 2013, Cole’s sample size against the division is somewhat small. Second, while posting good strikeouts numbers against some of our familiar foes, there are a few other stats that can show that he was a little less effective in divisional games.
Let’s start our deep dive into Cole’s NL Central numbers with the team he has the least appearances against: The Reds
As we can see from the lines, the sample sizes against the current Reds do not provide much to go on. We can look to numbers against the Reds regulars, such as Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, and Todd Frazier, and see some encouraging numbers. Despite giving up a fluky home run to pitcher Mike Leake, and a home run to Frazier for the lone hit against him, we can see a decided lack of extra-base hits, which is highly encouraging. For any pitcher that relies on velocity to be effective, they must prevent batters from making solid contact, and the lack of XBH shows us just that. The jury is still out against the Reds, and hopefully we see something encouraging from Cole’s start today.
Next, let’s take a look at the Cubs:
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Against the current Chicago Cubs, we can see a bit more sample size and draw a better conclusion. Again, the lack of two-baggers, trip-trip-triples and home runs is encouraging, but even more encouraging to me is Cole’s numbers against noted slugger Anthony Rizzo. Despite all of the recent talk on the potential of Kris Bryant, the Cubs offense will flow through Rizzo for years to come, and Cole seems to have his number, striking him out three times, this despite two walks. This tells me that Cole’s approach to Rizzo is one of respect, but still having the were-withal to challenge him when necessary. In my opinion that is the perfect way to approach a young home run hitter. It will be interesting to see how Cole pitches Rizzo this season, and it will be a matchup I will be keeping my eye on each time we face the baby bears.
Next up: the Brewers:
The 2015 Brewers have even more of a book on Cole, and the numbers show it in some areas. We see excellent slashlines from Brew crew regulars Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, and Scooter Gennett, and yet we also have much better slashlines against Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun, who has the distinction of a Jayson-Nix-ian line of .000/.167/.000 against Cole. The Brewers are a team in a state of flux, and the dark cloud of injury that seems to always threaten Braun can force them into more lineup-juggling than they would like. This can only benefit Cole, who I feel will improve upon these numbers this year.
What NL Central column is complete with a heavy focus on the St Louis Cardinals?
Cole’s numbers against the hated Cardinals provide our biggest sample size by far, and the resulting stat lines are exciting. All told, Cole pitches the current Cards to a slashline of .233/.303/.408. While the Cardinals do not have waht some would call a traditional home-run threat, they have plenty of guys who can fit a “poor man’s version” of the bill, such as Matt Holliday and Matt Adams. I’m most excited about the way Matt Carpenter is handled. The “Best fans in baseball” will tell you that he is a wunderkind who can do no wrong, yet his slash against Cole leaves a lot to be desired. Despite giving up a home run, Carpenter struggles regardless, with no other extra base hits. The same can also be said for Yadier Molina. Sure, Holliday may get his RBI numbers against Cole, but when you can confidently handle the run producers and the run creators in your chief rival in the division, your team will have a better chance to win in your starts. And that is exactly what Cole gives the Pirates when he starts against the Cardinals.
I hope you enjoyed this look at Gerrit Cole and his numbers against the current hitters within the NL Central. If we are looking for Cole to make that leap we all want to see this year, we should pay close attention each time he takes on a division foe. One need only look at his numbers against the Cards to find encouragement that he will do just that.