Gerrit Cole is the most dominant pitcher in the sport and it isn’t particularly close as he is about to step into Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the ALCS set to euthanize the most powerful offense in baseball history.
Cole hasn’t lost a start since May 22nd.
For context, the Washington Nationals were 19-30 on May 22nd and they’re now a game away from sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals and walking into the World Series easily.
Andrew Luck was an early MVP candidate on May 22nd.
He has gone 18-0 with a 1.66 ERA after that May 22nd lose to the Chicago White Sox as if he took that L personally and is on the scariest ‘fuck you’ tour since Walter White at the end of Breaking Bad.
Cole averaged 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
His 362 strikeouts were the most in Major League Baseball since Randy Johnson back in 2002.
In his first playoff game this year against the Rays, Cole struck out 15 batters in 7 innings because of course he did.
But when did Cole become unhittable?
In Pittsburgh, Cole was a great pitcher but he was in no way murdering batters as he is currently.
Fangraphs has a stat called K%+ which is a lot like wRC+. It sets the baseline average of strikeout rates at 100 and adjusts for the player’s environment and blah blah.
In five seasons playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cole’s highest K%+ rate was 118. (His lowest was 91).
In 2018, his first season with the Houston Astros, Cole’s K%+ rate jumped to 156. This season? 17fucking6. He was 76% better than league average. Wonderful.
I’m not sure if Houston deserves all the credit for transforming Cole or if the league just changed. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.
A few years ago, ground balls were the wave.
Pitchers were praised for their ability to create double play opportunities. In 2015, Major League pitchers set a record for the most ground balls in MLB history.
You could also factor in the growth of the infield shift and the complete removal of ground ball singles in the game so naturally, hitters said ‘fuck all this’ and changed their swing trajectory and started swinging for the moon.
And pitchers had to adjust as well.
You can give credit to Houston for being ahead of this curve as they’ve encouraged their pitchers to focus more on swings and misses and that actually, hitters making any sort of contact is bad bad not good.
But not only are strikeouts more valuable but Houston specifically teaches their pitchers to throw their four-seam fastballs at the top of the zone because it negates that upward swing trajectory that hitters have now adopted.
So it should surprise no one to find out that Gerrit Cole had 220 swings and misses on fastballs at the top of the strike zone which is the most since Justin Verlander’s 185 in 2017—the year Verlander was acquired by Houston.
Gerrit Cole had 66 in 2017.
Okay, so we get it. Gerrit Cole is decent or whatever.
In two ALDS games against the Rays, Cole held Tampa Bay hitters to a .118/.167/.196 slash line. Those are like, Tim Tebow numbers.
But let’s look forward.
How do you actually beat Gerrit Cole?
Hitters are batting .356 with a 1.051 OPS against Cole on the first pitch so batters need to be aggressive as hell and attack Cole before he starts setting them up all over the zone.
Hitters are batting .247 with a .878 OPS when they are ahead of the count which isn’t super great but against a pitcher of Cole’s caliber, that could be the difference in the win column.
I know the idea of swinging at the first pitch and getting ahead in the count are two opposing thoughts but the point is, you live in the stroke zone and don’t try to do too much.
He’s not the type of pitcher that pounds the strike zone so if you sit there with your bat on your shoulders, you’re going to strikeout looking.
Nah, Cole is throwing all over the place and hitters need discipline.
(When Cole is ahead in the count hitters are batting .149 with a .412 OPS. Ok.)
Also, getting runners on base can disturb Cole’s work.
We saw it affect Justin Verlander in Game 2 who was rolling until he walked DJ LeMahieu thus taking him out of his full windup and forcing him to throw from the stretch which led to Aaron Judge’s bomb.
I truly believe Verlander sent that flat slider because he couldn’t pitch from a full windup so get runners on and let Cole make mistakes.
Cole doesn’t give up a lot of homers but this season his fly ball rate jumped up to 16.9% from 10% in 2018.
You don’t want to give up fly balls to a team like the Yankees especially at Yankee Stadium because Gleyber Torres will send a pitch into the Hudson River.
Cole served up 29 home runs which was his second highest in his career.
But my biggest solution to beat Gerrit Cole is to go back in a time machine and travel back to the end of 2017 when Pittsburgh made Gerrit Cole available and I’d send every single prospect at them to acquire the Ace.
It’s how the Avengers beat Thanos and Gerrit Cole is the closest version to Thanos that exists in baseball.
Or you go back in time and kill Hitler? I don’t know. Now we’re getting into time machine etiquette.
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