By: Justin Girshon
July 16, 2020
In January of 2018, the Pirates traded Cole to the Astros for Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin. After arriving in Houston, Cole became a star; but how?
Although Gerrit Cole was an ace in Pittsburgh, he wasn’t a star until he was traded to Houston. With the Astros, Cole made a drastic change, featuring his curveball as his tertiary pitch compared to his sinker that he used with the Pirates. In 2016/2017, Cole threw his sinker 14.8% (2016) and 13.1% (2017) of the time, compared to only throwing his sinker 6.0% (2018) and 2.4% (2019) of the time in 2018/2019. Although Cole featured his sinker as his tertiary pitch in both 2016 and 2017, he achieved little success. In 2016, opposing batters had a .359 xwOBA against Cole’s sinker while Cole was only able to generate an 11.5 whiff%. Even after Cole featured his sinker less in 2017, opposing batters still had a very good .345 xwOBA against the pitch. Cole had even less success throwing his sinker, only generating a 10.0 whiff%. Although Cole only threw his curve 9.8% and 12.1% of the time in 2016/2017, he had a lot of success with the pitch. In 2016, opposing batters had a .186 xwOBA against his curve while Cole was able to generate a whopping 40.0 whiff%. Cole’s curve didn’t nearly have the same amount of success in 2017 as it did in 2016 as seen by opposing batters having a .239 xwOBA against the pitch and Cole generating a 25.5 whiff%, it was still very effective. As a result of throwing fewer sinkers, Cole increased the use of his curveball by throwing it 19.2% (2018) and 15.4% (2019) of the time. In 2018, opposing batters had a .243 xwOBA against the pitch while Cole was able to generate a 33.9 whiff%. In 2019, opposing batters had a .251 xwOBA against the pitch while Cole was able to generate a 31.9 whiff%. It’s evident that Cole’s curve in 2018/2019 was more dominant than his sinker in 2016/2017.
The most important adjustment Cole made with the Astros was increasing the spin rate (RPM) on both his four seamer and slider. With the Pirates in 2016/2017, Cole’s four seamer had an average RPM of 2183 (2016) and 2164 (2017) compared to his average RPM of 2379 (2018), and 2530 (2019), with the Astros. Cole also increased the average RPM of his slider with the Astros, with an average RPM of 2571 (2018) and 2622 (2019) with the Astros. Now compare this with his average RPM of 2287 (2016) and (2417) with the Pirates. By increasing the RPM on both pitches, both Cole’s four seamer and slider started to have more rise. Cole utilized his newly created rise by attacking the upper and outer parts of the strike zone. This adjustment helped Cole go from a solid rotational pitcher to a formidable pitcher.
In 2016, opposing batters had a .325 xwOBA against Cole’s four seamer while Cole was only able to generate a 14.0 whiff%. In 2017, opposing batters had a .364 xwOBA against Cole’s sinker while Cole was able to generate a 19.8 whiff%. In 2018, Cole had more success with his four seamer as opposing batters had a .299 xwOBA and Cole was able to generate a 29.7 whiff%. Cole saw improving results with his four seamer as opposing batters had only a .245 xwOBA against the pitch while generating a whopping 37.6 whiff%. With the Pirates, Cole had a phenomenal slider, but the pitch saw major improvements once Cole arrived in Houston. In 2016, opposing batters had a .284 xwOBA against Cole’s slider while Cole generated a 34.6 whiff%. In 2017, opposing batters had a .247 xwOBA against Cole’s slider while Cole generated a 34.3 whiff%. In 2018, opposing batters had a .236 xwOBA against Cole’s slider while Cole generated a 36.2 whiff%. In 2019, opposing batters had very little success against Cole’s slider as seen by a .215 xwOBA while Cole generated an insane 39.9 whiff%.