2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout – Gerrit Cole

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Oct 7, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning in the National League Wild Card playoff baseball game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player. Today’s entry: Gerrit Cole

Recency is a cruel mistress.

Maybe that doesn’t quite capture the feeling of sitting down and grading out Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole’s 2015 season, so let’s try again.

Recency is a bitch.

Harsh? Maybe. It’s very hard not to allow Gerrit Cole’s last outing of 2015 – in which he was tagged for four runs in the NL Wild Card Game – murky the waters of what amounted to nothing short of a milestone season.

When put up next to each other, Cole’s big league performances up to and including 2015 show just how significant the leap was.

Year W L W-L% ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2013 10 7 .588 3.22 19 117.1 109 43 42 7 28 100 2.91 1.168 8.4 0.5 2.1 7.7 3.57
2014 11 5 .688 3.65 22 138.0 127 58 56 11 40 138 3.23 1.210 8.3 0.7 2.6 9.0 3.45
2015 ★ 19 8 .704 2.60 32 208.0 183 71 60 11 44 202 2.66 1.091 7.9 0.5 1.9 8.7 4.59

Cole’s ERA was down by a full run, and his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was right in line, proving that the drop in ERA was no fluke. With sizable improvements in walks per nine and WHIP (walks+hits / innings pitched), Cole showed great control in walking only four more batters than 2014 despite pitching 70 more innings year-to-year.

Perhaps Cole’s durability provides the best measure of his success in 2015. In going over 200 innings for the first time in his career, Cole shook any lingering concerns about being injury prone. This durability allowed him to record the first of many likely seasons of 200+ strikeouts.

If one wanted to nitpick and split hairs at Cole’s 2015 numbers, you could point to a couple of unkind summer months.

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS
April/March 5 121 111 8 22 2 0 1 8 35 4.38 .198 .258 .243 .502
May 5 134 124 10 34 1 1 3 6 35 5.83 .274 .316 .371 .687
June 6 161 144 13 36 9 0 2 11 38 3.45 .250 .313 .354 .667
July 4 112 106 9 23 6 0 2 3 22 7.33 .217 .252 .330 .582
August 6 154 139 16 35 5 3 1 10 36 3.60 .252 .303 .353 .655
Sept/Oct 6 150 141 15 33 8 1 2 6 36 6.00 .234 .268 .348 .616

Cole’s June and August both stand out form the pack as the eyes immediately go to the drastically lower SO/W numbers. Although batters did not have drastically higher slugging percentage increases against Cole, the control clearly was not there, resulting in inflated walks and OPS.

Looking for concrete answers for these months proves to be frustrating. For the most part, Cole stayed away from the changeup this year, but in June and August he did not throw it once – according to Pitch F/X data over at Brooks Baseball. Did hitters focus in on Cole’s fastball and slider? It’s entirely possible, with a slugging percentage against the slider coming in at a .429 clip in August, and the sinker getting tagged for a .522 .SLG in June.

It’s appropriate that we mention some of Cole’s secondary pitches, as the changes in arsenal may just have been the biggest catalyst for his leap forward.

Next: Mixing It Up

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