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Gerrit Cole is diversifying his portfolio

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – If you remember back to Gerrit Cole‘s first few months in the big leagues he was often a one-pitch pitcher. In his first few starts, 80 percent of his pitches were fastballs. For the season, two thirds of his offerings were fastballs. Now, it was a heckuva one pitch – a 96 mph fastball – velocity by a starter that perhaps only Kansas City’s Yorando Ventura can exceed.

But no matter how hard you throw, it’s tough to miss bats with four-seam fastballs. And Cole was having a difficult time missing bats until he found velocity separation with a curveball in September.  Then he took off. He was so good he earned a Game 5 start in the NLDS as a rookie.

Cole’s pitch usage for the 2013 season:

Pitch            Pct.

Fastball      64.8

Slider          15.0

Curveball  12.4

Changeup     7.8

 

What’s interesting is Cole’s second best pitch,  his strikeout pitch, coming out of UCLA was his slider.  It was 90-mph with tilt, filth that buckled knees and made scouts swoon. But that pitch wasn’t great in 2013. In fact, Cole essentially shelved it in September in favor of the curveball. You’re probably familiar with his strikeout rate:

Mont   K-rate

June:       4.07 (Yikes!)

July:        7.48

August:   7.3

Sept:      10.97 (Watch your back, Kershaw .. and you, too, Jose Fernandez)

 

See, it’s off-speed pitches that miss bats.

Cole found one in September and he might might be rediscovering another this spring as I wrote about in today’s Trib.

(Yes, Pirates fans, now is the time to be excited).

One issue with Cole last year from April through August is that everything he threw was too hard. I swear I saw him throw a 94 mph changeup at the Angles on the night he threw eight pitches 100+ mph last June, pumped up to throw before friends and family for the first time as a major leaguer in his native California.  Still, the everything-too-hard-theory doesn’t completely explain the lack of Ks. Randy Johnson threw two pitches including a 90 mph slider and struck out 300+ per season. No, I think Cole’s slider also lacked proper shape, proper break in 2013. Too often it seemed flat.

That wasn’t the case at UCLA, though. It was a monster pitch at times. And perhaps we saw it returning to that form Wednesday.

Two of Cole’s three strikeouts came via the slider. He induced professional hitter Josh Willingham to swing and miss at the pitch twice. Small samples are dangerous in March. But one thing I think I’ve seen so far is better shape, better command of Cole’s offspeed stuff.

“I threw some good ones to Willingham,” Cole said of the slider. “The slider shape was good. I was trying to play a little bit with the shape of the slider (Wednesday). I left it up a couple times. … I’m trying make myself make those adjustments that I was able to make later in the year last year.”

Imagine what Cole can be if he has the 96 mph fastball and two plus breaking balls with different shapes and speeds? Oh, he also throws a two-seam fastball and a changeup. You’re looking at a potential five-pitch mix and perhaps three plus  pitches and above average command.

Cole found a different level with the arrival of the curveball last season. If the slider comes, he can reach another level in 2014: that of a Cy Young contender.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Jim S. says:

    Really good post, Travis. I always wonder when players take that next step forward that is hoped for, was it mostly because they figured something out on their own that would have likely occurred with any franchise? Or, are they in a really good position, with great tutelage, just the right amount of instruction and advice as well as just the right amount of freedom to figure things out?

    Pirates power pitchers, for so long, never seemed to take that next step. Either the organization did not identify and acquire the right ones, or they simply screwed up the ones they did have. Or, maybe the pitchers themselves just didn’t figure it out at the major league level for so long. Whatever the case was in the past for this organization, I get the feeling that Cole won’t be the only power pitcher for the Bucs that figures things out over the next several years. We won’t know until it happens, of course. But, I have a completely different vibe about how the organization develops these young arms now from what they did in the past. Your recent article about their drafting and development strategy was enlightening in this regard. I’m excited about the futures of Cole, Taillon, Kingham, Glasnow, etc. They won’t all break through to be stars, but I’m guessing more than 1 will over the next few years.

  2. Andrew says:

    I quickly checked Cole’s whiff rates from last year, curve was definitely the only one above average, let us hope the refinement of that slider continues.

    Cole’s Whiff Rate/League Average
    Fourseamer: 6.6%/6.9%
    Sinker: 6.1%/5.4%
    Change Up: 15.6%/14.9%
    Slider: 16.0%/15.2%
    Curve: 19.9%/11.1%

  3. Nate83 says:

    I think when he first came up last year control seemed to be his biggest problem in the minors. I assume he was told we don’t need you to win games for us by shutting everyone out just don’t lose them by giving up big innings with walks. Searage might have even told him your fastball is good enough that you don’t need to mess around with other pitches and fall behind hitters. As the year went along and he became more comfortable I’m sure the loosened the leash a little and mixed in some off speed stuff.

    This year should be a progression from that. Very exciting stuff. I’m really look forward to the next 3 or 4 years where it would seem we will have 1 or 2 good prospects coming up every year. The anticipation of how those guys will play and progress through their first 2 years is a fun process for me personally.

  4. Nate83 says:

    It seems odd that his Fourseam would be lower then league average but some of that could be attributed to him throwing it so often and batters sitting on it. Hopefully it’s not because of lack of movement or bad location because we know it’s not because of velocity.

  5. Jim S. says:

    Me, too.

  6. Jim S. says:

    I think so. The pitch he threw a very high % of the time to start with was his 4-seamer, I think. Coincidentally, the start of his big league career was when he wasn’t striking out many guys. There was a lot of “Here it comes. See what you can do with it.” going on.

  7. NMR says:

    He always carried a reputation of being more hittable than his velocity would lead you to believe, even back in his UCLA days.

    It’s fast, but it’s also poker straight and he has about the cleanest delivery you can get. No deception at all to help the fastball play up.

    That is completely fine by me, fwiw, since “deception” usually equates to a mechanical flaw that can lead to injury.

  8. Jim S. says:

    Non-Gerrit Cole question. Following are the career minor league stats of a RH reliever for the Bucs.

    245 innings
    213 hits
    62 BB
    277 K’s
    13 HR
    1.12 WHIP
    11.3 K/9 & 1.8 BB/9 in AA
    11.0 K/9 & 1.4 BB/9 in AAA

    Oh yeah, he’s also been better at AA/AAA than lower levels.

    He’ll be 26 in May, so I don’t know what the holdup is. Just goes to show you, I guess, it isn’t all about stats in the minors. But, I don’t know what he needs to show them.

    This is Zach Thornton. Does anyone know what this guy needs to do to make the team? Is there some glaring weakness about him that would present itself in Pittsburgh that is so far undetectable in the minors? I know he only throws 91/92 or so, but he appears to be deceptive.

  9. Jim S. says:

    Excellent synopsis of what I have always heard, NMR.

  10. NMR says:

    Why thank you, sir!

    Conversely, this is what gets me so excited about Mr. Glasnow, who I know you’ve been found of for a while. If he can be dominating like he has with, by most accounts, his fastball as his main pitch, then the projection is enormous.

  11. NMR says:

    Wow, those K and walk rates really surprised me, Jim. Great conversation starter, by the way. Much appreciated.

    Knowing nothing more about Zach Thornton than what you just wrote, the only red flag I see would be age. Not as impressive doing that as a 25 yo in AA. Certainly good to see him maintain performance in AAA, but this situation generally is probably a bit analagous to what Andrew Lambo did last year.

  12. Jim S. says:

    That’s what I’m hoping.

  13. Jim S. says:

    Yeah, the age is probably the only red flag. I do think when an inevitable injury occurs this year, he’ll probably get his shot and we’ll see if he can make it.

  14. Steelag70 says:

    I play in a fantasy baseball keeper league and have adopted the PBC philosophy of strong pitching. Of my 5 keepers this year, three are pitchers: Verlander, Cole and Fernandez…..lol.

  15. If younz guys really think that Gerrit Cole has a good chance to finish in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting for 2014, here’s your chance to put your money where your hopes are:

    The Vegas odds are out right now for 2014 NL Cy Young. Cole comes in at 25-1.
    He is 16th in listing, behind:
    Clayton Kershaw
    Adam Wainwright
    Stephen Strasburg
    Jose Fernandez
    Cliff Lee
    Madison Bumgardner
    Zach Grienke
    Cole Hamels
    Gio Gonzalez
    Jordan Zimmermann
    Hyn-Gin Rhu
    Johnny Cueto
    Tim Lincecum
    Bartolo Colon
    Francisco Liriano

    And tied at 25-1 with Michael Wacha, Matt Cain, Julio Teheran, Ty Corbin, Mike Minor, and Shelby Miller

    Everybody get your credit cards ready . . . .

  16. Arriba Wilver says:

    So, if I bet a buck, I could win $25?

  17. Steelkings says:

    You mean if you bet a Buccaneer!

  18. Steelkings says:

    It also could be that the 4 seam fastball is the “get me over” Pitch that often gets turned around. In the insanity that is Rate stats, we would need to know what percentage of those 4 seam fastballs were thrown when Cole was behind in the count.

  19. Pitchers can miss bats with fastballs, just not where the Pirates pitchers like/are taught to throw them. I know we all praise the emphasize on GB% but guys with heat like Cole can rack up a ton of Ks with fastballs just above the top of the strike zone. High heat is hard to catch up with. I’d like to see Cole change eye level and get more misses with 4 seamers upstairs.

  20. Just another point on Cole’s fastball. His command low in the zone is very good. But that is a place major leaguers can make contact. When he has tried to climb the latter his command has been off. Especially so up and in to LHH.

  21. Leo Walter says:

    HV : not to be totally snarky,but don’t you think Benedict and Searage might have that bit of insider information too ?

  22. Of course they do. I’m just explaining why Cole wasn’t missing a lot of bats with his fastball. Given the emphasis on dispatching hitters in 3 pitches or less, they don’t want him challenging hitters upstairs a whole lot. At least not early in the count.

  23. NMR says:

    Hahahaha…

  24. Steelkings says:

    Off Topic – SK’s 9

    1. Interesting battle for right field going on in Philly between John Mayberry, Marlon Byrd and Bobby Abreu.

    2. Garrett Jones lighting it up in Florida with a .143 batting average.

    3. Justin Morneau only has 10 Ab’s this spring. His counterpart in Ben Paulson has 29 AB’s and is hitting .310

    4. Everyday Gabby Sanchez with 13 AB’s cranking it at .462. only one Strike out.

    5. Josh Johnson 9 innings, 7 hits, 2 BB’s 4ER’s

    6. AJ Burnett 9 innings 12 hits 2 BB’s 10 ER’s (4K’s)

    7. Bad News…Ryan Braun 14 AB’s 8 Hits, 2 doubles , 2HR’s, 3 BB’s .571 BA , .647 OBP…even for spring that’s ridiculous.

    8. More Bad news…
    Matt Holliday 16 AB’s – .563 BA
    Allen Craig 22 AB’s – .421 BA
    Yadi Molina 21 AB’s – .381 BA

    9. Good news/Bad News…Aroldis Chapman is being stretched out. Threw 3 perfect innings in his last outing. So far he has thrown 8 innings total while striking out 10.

  25. King of Steel,

    Did I enjoy reading your list you took time to compile? Yes I did, because I really enjoy baseball statistics and I have interest in individual baseball players as well as teams.

    Is there any statistic appearing there that has anything to do with the regular season? Not one! Not successes, not failures, not even Chapman being stretched out.

    But I like reading them.

  26. Steelkings says:

    “”"”"Is there any statistic appearing there that has anything to do with the regular season? Not one! Not successes, not failures, not even Chapman being stretched out.”"”

    No# 6 stands out as the best example of what you are saying, Grote. ST pitching stats are very uninformative as you cant consider what rules or demands are placed on a pitcher for that particular day. We all know that those stats are no indicative of AJ Burnett. I’m sure he didnt forget how to do what he does over the cold hard winter.
    On the other hand, Hitters not so much!
    I included number 8 because the scuttle butt around here has been that the Cardinals cannot continue the torrid pace of hitting with runners in scoring position. Well, I give you number 8. Its the Cardinal RBI guys. when they drift back down to earth they will land somewhere around where they were last year.

    I mentioned Braun because Pirate fans have kind of brushed the Brewers away. And we need a friendly reminder. The brew crew were hot at the end of last year without Braun. If Garza is healthy and Lohse is decent, with Braun back that team will be far from easy to beat.

  27. Nate83 says:

    I didn’t know that about Chapman. I agree it is good news/bad news. He could be more valuable as a starter but it doesn’t always work out that way. It will be interesting to see in his case.

    Not to concerned about the 3 cards or Braun. Martin, Cutch and Pedro are all having good springs and like Cole said the hitters know that you messed up on a fastball and are probably coming right back to it because you want to get it right and are not concerned with getting the guy out like you would be during the regular season.

  28. Nate83 says:

    I’m not saying it won’t happen but the chances of the Cards matching their RISP batting average from last year is very slim. The chances of them even getting within .020 is probably remote. It was a statistical anomaly that should not be repeatable.

  29. Jim S. says:

    To me, Spring Training stats are like an old saying in my business: “50% of advertising works, and 50% is a complete waste of money. It’s just so hard to tell which 50% is which.”

    I’m quite sure some of those stats are very telling about what will happen this year, Steel. And, a lot of them probably won’t mean much. But, we just don’t know right now which is which.

    I have always thought ST stats for pitchers who are trying to make the team are at least worth looking at because those guys are trying to get guys out. They are veterans fighting for that last spot in the bullpen, or some kid trying to break through for the first time. So, they are treating the innings as though hits and runs allowed matter. Of course, they are pitching to hitters who may or may not be concerned with the end result of their at bats.

    On the other hand, if AJ gets lit up, who cares? He isn’t fighting for a roster spot. He’s trying to work himself into shape. He may be throwing his 2-seam fastball on every pitch to build up arm strength. He may be throwing his curve a very high % of time because repetitions give him the feel he needs for it. AJ doesn’t give a rat’s rear end whether the batters know what pitch he is throwing because it isn’t about getting them out in March for him. He is concerned about preparing himself to get them out in April and beyond. Batters are the same way, I’m sure. Some want to concentrate on seeing more pitches. Some want to concentrate on driving the ball the other way. I think every veteran is working on doing things they won’t be doing a month from now.

    ST is different for everyone, and I think we are right to not put too much stock into most of the stats. I still catch myself doing it, though. Force of habit, I guess.

  30. Nate83 says:

    I don’t know how to link web addresses but below is a nice summary of concerns the Cards have going into this season. It’s nice to see the guy knew enough about the Pirates to make some notes that are accurate at the end.

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/bernie-bytes-cards-concerns-for/article_88c0c554-e346-5b42-a63c-3c7e935650f0.html

  31. Nate83 says:

    I guess it links automatically so I do no how to link web addresses.

  32. Jim S. says:

    The first 10 or so make sense to me. All very good to great pitchers.

    But, Rhu, Cueto, Lincecum, Colon, and Frankie? Lincecum has 2 Cy Youngs, but I doubt even he would lay money down on himself vs. Cole.

    Cueto has to re-work his motion to lessen the torque on obliques, right? I think the torque was a big part of why he was so good. I used a lot of words with Q’s there, btw.

    Colon?

  33. NMR says:

    re: 1. Good news for the losers of the RF battle in Philly. They’ll be able to start collecting Social Security upon being cut.

  34. NMR says:

    It is impossible to say one understands sample sizes and yet still considers spring training stats meaningful.

    They aren’t.

    Ever.

  35. Nate83 says:

    Yes even if a guy is fighting for a spot on the team it still doesn’t matter because the guy he is facing may or may not care if he gets him out. Spring Training matters to some players but their stats have very little effect. Things that are not statistically driven are more likely to have an impact on them making the team because they are still measurable. Like fielding the short hop at first, getting a good jump and taking the correct route to the ball in the outfield, making the right throw to the correct cut off, being patient at the plate……etc.

  36. Andrew says:

    The thing about the Brewers is after you look at their starting lineup and top five in the rotation there is nothing there. I think they will be respectable, and they have always given the Pirates fits but need will need a great run of good health because there is no depth to the team or organization.

  37. Andrew says:

    When is Volquez schedule to pitch again because I want miss all the consternation and complaining about the front office that will bring?

  38. Starting line-up and their 5 Starting Pitchers———that will carry you through 85 % of the season.

    Don’t discount the Brewers. If they dumpster-dive on cutdown day like BMTIB tends to do, they may pick up some bullpen arms to strengthen them even more.

  39. King of Steel,

    I agree with you 100 %.

  40. Jim S. says:

    As I have contended, Nate, I don’t believe the Cards are w/o warts. But, they still look like the class of the division heading into the season to me. But, that’s why they play the games. Anything can happen.

    As for that Cards’ average w/ RISP last season, it was the highest since it has been MLB-trackable (at least 20 yrs) by, like, .040. I think .291 may have been the highest previous average. I will say, though, that the Cards key hitters (Holliday, Craig, Yadi, etc.) do seem to take a disciplined approach to hitting with RISP. I remember seeing a stat last year that showed Holliday greatly increasing his % of hitting to RF in close game RBI situations. And, he had a very clear distinction in terms of performance going to RF vs. pulling the ball to LF. He pulled the ball for power and hit to RF for average. I don’t know for sure, but Craig seemed to follow the same philosophy to me. Craig has maintained a ridiculous average w/ RISP for 2 straight years. They have some very smart, veteran hitters. But, a much higher average w/ RISP than other situations for almost every guy on the team again? That will be tough to duplicate, I think.

  41. Nate83 says:

    I agree they are still the class of the division but I just don’t think they are 10 games better then the Pirates on paper. Maybe 4 or 5 games.

    Them beating the previous record by .040 shows exactly how insane that stat was last year and how improbable it is to repeat that. If they even bat above .300 in the same situations I will be shocked. I wonder what they hit against the Pirates in those situations last year.

  42. I agree, Rhu and Colon are poor listings.

    But Wacha and Matt Cain could be listed higher. And Shelby Miller was very good against everybody except the Pirates. Remember: Shelby Miller was listed higher on Baseball America’s Top 100 than Gerrit Cole. And no Kyle Lohse——I think/fear he is a real good Starter.

    I believe Gerrit Cole is a Top 5 Cy Young finisher. Just not this year.

    He has great talent, but is not a finished “pitcher.” Wacha is more finished than Cole right now.

  43. NMR says:

    In magic land where injuries never happen, sure!

  44. Andrew says:

    Average team needs 32 starts outside their top five, so 20%, there 1st base situation is worse than the Pirates, what is Scooter Gennet’s upside, Ramirez will be 36, and Kris Davis isn’t going to slug .600. Additionally there is no help coming from the minors, that said I think they will be respectable but I see last year’s Phillies as their upside.

    I might be biased, I hate the Brewers and there playground of a park.

  45. Andrew says:

    their* I make enough typos/grammatical errors.

  46. Andrew says:

    Good link, these pieces are great when fans become negative about the Pirates thinking that needing good health and luck is something unique. The Cardinals are definitely better, their rotation is better and more consistent/proven, which might not mean much but it matters for projections. Cardinals lineup also has less holes, or hitter with obvious flaws.

    The difference in their team hitting with base empty and men in scoring will regress, Holliday and Craig are good contact hitters, with elite line drive rates but the performance with men in scoring position is not sustainable.

    However, remember Pirates pitchers were by a wide margin the best in the league in high leverage situation and that will regress back to league average.

 
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