Gerrit Cole Does Not Really Need Chris Stewart
There is thought that Pittsburgh Pirates right handed starter Gerrit Cole needs Chris Stewart to be behind the dish when he pitches for him to achieve his highest success. However, that is not necessarily the case.
Gerrit Cole possess a lifetime 3.22 ERA, 3.04 FIP (what pitchers can control), 86 ERA-, and 80 FIP-, the last two accounting for league and park adjustments. Since 2015, Gerrit Cole ranks 10th in FIP- at 78, he is tied with David Price and Corey Kluber, and is one percent better that Carlos Carrasco, who ranks 11th. Cole’s ERA-, 78, is similar to his FIP-, and he ranks 13th among the 84 qualified since 2015, tied with Carlos Martinez, and one percent worst than Chris Sale.
Francisco Cervelli came into the fold in 2015, and he has proceeded to catch 181.1 innings, or 49.4 percent of the time. He’s actually pitched well to Cervelli, a 3.38 ERA. However, Cole has pitched to a 2.71 ERA when pitching to Chris Stewart, which is much better. In terms of ERA, and even runs allowed (3.47 to 2.98), it would appear that Stewart is better off for Gerrit Cole.
This has created a thought that Chris Stewart should catch Gerrit Cole’s starts. In fact, after the first start of the season, Colin Dunlap of CBS Pittsburgh wrote:
"“For an organization steeped in analytics and bound by the numbers, it feels like the Pirates ignore the reality that Cole is simply much better when Chris Stewart catches him.”"
But here is the reality that cannot be ignored. The difference between Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli catching Gerrit Cole is minimal. It is believe that pitchers control three outcomes, strikeouts, walks, and home runs, the metric commonly used is FIP. Cole has a career 3.19 FIP with Cervelli and 2.86 with Stewart. Once again, this favors Stewart.
However, we know Gerrit Cole was hurt for parts of last season. He returned from his first injury on July 16, tossing four innings and allowing five runs, but just four earned. He made his second return from injury on September 12 against the Phillies, a start in which he probably rushed into, and he allowed five runs in just two innings. His first start back on the July 16 was with Eric Fryer behind the plate, but his one in September came with Cole.
Remove that start against Philadelphia and Cole’s FIP is 3.09 with Cervelli. Remove the prior one against Houston, he is at 3.04. His injury bug has hit him at inopportune times. In 2015, when he was fully healthy, Cole had a 2.79 FIP to Cervelli, which by itself is would’ve ranked ninth best in the game, and a 2.52 FIP to Stewart.
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This year, in a limited sample of 25 innings with Cervelli and 18 innings for Stewart, Cole has pitched much better to Cervelli. With Cervelli, Cole has a 2.68 FIP and with Stewart a 5.33 FIP.
Gerrit Cole is a very good starting pitcher, one of the games best in not allowing runs, and even so when just using three outcomes the pitcher is thought to control. Good pitchers don’t need personal catchers, and if you take away Cole’s final three starts in 2016, the FIP’s come out to 2.89 with Cervelli and 2.86 with Stewart. You can’t throw out starts, because they did occur, but those starts came with injury. Cole with Stewart has been great, but so has Cole with Cervelli. Good pitchers don’t need their own catcher, and Cole is a good pitcher, and the numbers show he doesn’t really need his own catcher either.
*Numbers calculated using features from the baseball-reference play index