Gerrit Cole Is Back Pitching Like Gerrit Cole Again

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 24: Gerrit Cole
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 24: Gerrit Cole /

One of the keys for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates season was Gerrit Cole getting healthy and pitching to the standard that he has created for himself.  It is what the Pirates needed from Cole to have a shot at the playoffs.

When Gerrit Cole is good, the Pirates are good.  From 2013-15, when Cole was 14th in FIP-, adjusting for ballpark and league, the Pirates won 280 games, trailing only the St. Louis Cardinals 287 for most in baseball.  Over the last year and half, Cole has posted a 92 FIP-, which is better than league average of 100, but not the 78 FIP- guy Cole was from 13-15.  Cole’s struggles early are part of the reason that the Pirates faltered in May and June, winning 43.3 and 50 percent of their games respectively.  It is also why the Pirates best month came in July, as the club won 56 percent of their games, and have won 60 percent in August, though that has been just 10 games. Here’s Cole and the Pirates record by month:

MonthInningsERAFIPPirates Record

Cole being back to Cole in July, though just 32 innings, and being better in August, two runs scored on a 68 mph triple by Nick Castellanos in his last start, is a big reason why the Pirates sit just three games back from the first place Chicago Cubs.

The key for Cole, and almost all pitchers, is getting the strikeout and limiting walks.  It is the easiest and most efficient way for pitchers to get outs and limit base runners.  That’s why when pitchers are tossing well, their strikeout rates are usually up.  Getting the strikeout while limiting walks has allowed Cole to be better of late.  Below are his strikeout rate, walk rate (walks+hit by pitch-intentional walks), and strikeout-walk rate.  You can scroll the tableau page or simply turn your phone to the side to see the full chart:

Cole was at his best in early of 2015, that is unquestionable, as he was able to earn an All-Star game appearance and helped the Bucs reach 98 wins that season.  Last year was an up and down season, and really never found a groove, despite having a 2.94 ERA and 2.86 FIP entering his final four starts.  Cole was injured entering spring training and later missed time in June and July.  Even with that exceptional ERA and FIP, coming in just 98 innings, Cole was missing the strikeout, a clip of 20.2 percent.  And through his final four starts of the season, which also saw Cole being placed on the disabled list twice, he was striking out only 16 percent of hitters in his final four starts.

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Cole getting the strikeouts going and decreasing his walks, which has allowed him to get back on track since his rough month of June, which saw Cole allow seven runs three times, back-to-back June 2 and 8, and also on June 30.  Since July start, Cole has a .294 wOBA against, and an estimated wOBA, factoring in quality of contact, strikeouts, and walks, of .271.  His xwOBA ranks 21st among 186 starting pitchers with 100+ results.  From May through June, Cole’s xwOBA was .344 ranking 139th of 215 pitchers with 100+ results.

Cole is not just getting the strikeouts back while lowering his walks, he is also getting less quality of contact off of him in the last month and a third.  It’s a good step in the right direction for Cole and the Pirates.  Hopefully we see this version the rest of the season and into next.

*Numbers from fangraphs and baseball savant