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Entries in Gerrit Cole (5)

Friday
Feb212014

Gerrit Cole Stays Strong in Late Frames

Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates rode a high-strikeout, homer-preventing starting rotation to the club's first playoff appearance since 1992. The Bucs' 2014 rotation, however, is far from a lock to post another top-five ERA. A.J. Burnett took his National League-leading strikeout rate and wicked curve to Philly. Francisco Liriano eviscerated hitters last year, but has yet to log back-to-back great seasons during his eight-year career. Charlie Morton mauls righties with his turbo sinker, but turns every lefty he faces into Shin-Soo Choo. Wandy Rodriguez is 35 and has an arthritic left elbow. Jeff Locke walks hitters like Liriano, without the strikeout stuff. By comparison, Edinson Volquez makes Liriano and Locke look like Greg Maddux.

With Burnett gone and the rest of the rotation volatile, the Pirates desperately need Gerrit Cole build upon his excellent rookie year and become a dominant, durable ace. The first overall pick in the 2011 draft looks up to the challenge. Cole quickly progressed from a guy who chucked little more than mid-to-high-90s fastballs in the over the plate to a pitcher capable of expanding hitters' zones with a pair of sinister breaking pitches. Cole struck out just 10.9% of batters faced in June, but he nearly tripled that whiff rate by September (31.2%) and earned a win-or-go-home start over Burnett in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals.

At 6-foot-4 and 240-plus pounds, Cole looks the part of a workhorse. But, more importantly, he performed like one during his rookie season. Most starters get hit harder while facing hitters for the second and third time during a game, losing zip on their pitches and no longer fooling opponents now familiar with their stuff. Not Cole, though. The 23-year-old tasked with leading the Pirates back to the playoffs in 2014 didn't waver in the late innings:

Opponent OPS 1st time through the lineup: .713 (.699 MLB average)

Opponent OPS 2nd time through the lineup: .550 (.730 MLB average)

Opponent OPS 3rd time through the lineup: .612 (.760 MLB average)

Cole started a little slow, with an opponent OPS about two percent worse than the major league average for starters while facing hitters the first time. But then, when lots of guys tail off, Cole smothered hitters. His opponent OPS was 25 percent better than average while facing batters the second time during a start, and 20 percent above average while taking on the lineup a third time.

How does Cole stay strong as his pitch count piles up? He never loses his top-flight fastball. Cole threw his fastball an average of 95.6 MPH in 2013, trailing only Miami's Nathan Eovaldi (96.1 MPH) among all starters. Check out his heat by inning:

1st: 95.7

2nd: 95.5

3rd: 95.7

4th: 95.3

5th: 95.6

6th: 95.7

7th: 95.1

8th: 94.8

When hitters face Cole, they're getting mid-90s gas from beginning to end. And as the game progresses, his fastball gets nastier. Cole got swings and misses 15.2% of the time during the first three innings of his starts. In innings 6-8, he induced whiffs 23% of the time. That's seventh-best among starters throwing at least 200 fastballs during those frames, just behind Yu Darvish and ahead of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

His command of the pitch improves, too: Cole threw 27.2% of his fastballs to the horizontal middle of the strike zone in innings 1-3, but just 18.2% in innings 6-8. That matters because fastballs left over the middle of the plate get plastered (hitters slugged a collective .496 versus middle fastballs last year).

The Pirates surrendered the second-fewest runs (577) in the majors last season, but all of Clint Hurdle's defensive shifts and Ray Searage's reclamation work with broken starters likely won't be enough to keep them at that level (Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA, for instance, expects them to give up 678 runs next year). If Pittsburgh has any prayer of another Buctober in 2014, they'll need to ride Cole's resilient right arm deep into games.

Tuesday
Sep172013

Killer Speed Kills

“The good rising fastball is the best pitch in baseball.” - Tom Seaver

There is a terrific article in today's New York Times by Barry Bearak in which he talks with Glenn Fleisig, a biomedical engineer and the research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute, about a compelling question: Is there a limit to how fast a human being can throw?

His answer: Yes, there is.

And, he adds: That limit already has been reached.

“Oh, there may be an outlier, one exception here or there,” Fleisig said. “But for major league baseball pitchers as a group of elites, the top isn’t going to go up anymore. With better conditioning and nutrition and mechanics, more pitchers will be toward that top, throwing at 95 or 100. But the top has topped out.”

As reported in the article, according to the manager of data analytics and operations, Graham Goldbeck, of Sportvision which operates use of the Pitch F/X system, the fastest pitch recorded by the system is 105.1 miles per hour. It was thrown by Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman on Sept. 24, 2010, during an at-bat by Tony Gwynn Jr. of the San Diego Padres.

This season's fastest pitches

With this in mind, I wanted to look at the numbers for the fastest pitches thrown this season.

I broke this into starters and relievers since relievers know that they are out there for a short time and often let it all hang out.

2013 Fastest Pitches by Starters
MxVel
Gerrit Cole (PIT)101.0
Andrew Cashner (SD)100.2
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)100.1
Matt Harvey (NYM)100.1
Danny Salazar (CLE)100.0
Justin Verlander (DET)99.9
Carlos Martinez (STL)100.9
Wily Peralta (MIL)99.3
Jose Fernandez (MIA)99.2
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)99.1


2013 Fastest Pitches by Relievers
MxVel
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)104.0
Bruce Rondon (DET)102.8
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)102.3
Kelvin Herrera (KC)101.5
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)101.4
Carlos Martinez (STL)100.9
Nate Jones (CWS)100.8
Fernando Rodney (TB)100.7
Jose Dominguez (LAD)100.6
Greg Holland (KC)100.2
Jeremy Jeffress (TOR)100.1
Justin Wilson (PIT)99.7
Tommy Hunter (BAL)99.6
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)99.6
Blake Wood (CLE)99.6

There is nothing average about this heat

Here are the starting pitchers with the highest average speed this season
2013 Starters with the Highest Average Speed
PVelMxVelMnVel
Carlos Martinez (STL)38093.7100.976.9
Danny Salazar (CLE)65093.1100.078.3
Gerrit Cole (PIT)1,53692.9101.078.3
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)1,39692.8100.173.9
Matt Harvey (NYM)2,69792.1100.177.1
James Paxton (SEA)19291.798.279.3
Kevin Gausman (BAL)70891.899.478.9
Zack Wheeler (NYM)1,62091.498.474.7
Wily Peralta (MIL)2,89591.399.375.8
Alex Colome (TB)26591.396.982.6
Taijuan Walker (SEA)23391.197.870.0
Garrett Richards (LAA)2,08291.797.674.5
Carlos Carrasco (CLE)76091.498.175.6
Johnny Hellweg (MIL)43791.298.173.4
Chris Archer (TB)1,85491.098.879.9


Here are the relievers - Chapman is simply ridiculous
2013 Relievers with the Highest Average Speed
PVelMxVelMnVel
Blake Wood (CLE)4296.699.688.2
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)1,02996.5104.081.1
Bruce Rondon (DET)43295.8102.884.9
Jake McGee (TB)1,05595.699.179.2
Jose Dominguez (LAD)14995.3100.680.7
Johnny Hellweg (MIL)43791.298.173.4
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)1,21894.9101.477.0
Pedro Figueroa (OAK)6594.398.687.3
Kelvin Herrera (KC)97794.1101.577.4
Joel Hanrahan (BOS)15894.199.282.6
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)95094.099.680.6
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)45093.9102.380.1
Carlos Martinez (STL)38093.7100.976.9
Brayan Villarreal (BOS)13393.797.782.3
Kevin Jepsen (LAA)67593.799.044.3
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)93593.699.575.9
Allen Webster (BOS)48690.397.774.6
Edgar Olmos (MIA)7693.598.282.0
Ernesto Frieri (LAA)1,17593.296.980.9
Michael Tonkin (MIN)10593.196.682.4

How fast are the fastballs?

"Every hitter likes fastballs, just like everybody likes ice cream. But you don't like it when someone's stuffing it into you by the gallon. That's what it feels like when Nolan Ryan's thrown balls by you." - Reggie Jackson

So far, I've been talking about the whole repertoire of pitches, but before I end this fast look into fast pitching, I want to talk fastballs.

According to the New York Times article, according to Sportvision, high-velocity fastball pitchers are on the rise. In 2008, 26 pitchers were averaging 95 and above. In 2009, the number rose to 29; in 2010, 41; in 2011, 42; in 2012, 44. This season the number is 46.

Here are the 15 pitchers who have thrown at least 200 fastballs this season and have the highest average speed for their heat.

2013 Fastest Average Fastballs (min 200)
PVelMxVelMnVel
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)84298.4104.094.4
Bruce Rondon (DET)34797.8102.887.3
Nate Jones (CWS)64097.3100.887.9
Kelvin Herrera (KC)72697.3101.587.9
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)31197.1102.392.8
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)65396.899.592.7
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)1,06396.4101.487.9
Fernando Rodney (TB)69596.3100.790.1
Carlos Martinez (STL)30996.3100.984.9
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)99496.3100.187.9
Jake McGee (TB)97096.299.190.2
Chris Withrow (LAD)33696.298.988.0
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)77096.199.689.7
Tom Wilhelmsen (SEA)53896.099.290.0
Greg Holland (KC)56596.0100.290.3

Just because you throw it fast, doesn't mean you can't be hit

"I looked for the same pitch my whole career, a breaking ball. All of the time. I never worried about the fastball. They couldn't throw it past me, none of them." - Hank Aaron
"Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster." - Joe Adcock

Here are the batting averages against and slugging pct. of those same pitchers with the fastest average fastballs. Check out Chapman and Kimbrel in contrast to Rondon and Jones.
2013 Fastest Average Fastballs (min 200)
PVelAVGSLUG
Aroldis Chapman (CIN)84298.4.177.287
Bruce Rondon (DET)34797.8.304.468
Nate Jones (CWS)64097.3.287.393
Kelvin Herrera (KC)72697.3.238.450
Henry Rodriguez (CHC)31197.1.258.419
Craig Kimbrel (ATL)65396.8.193.333
Trevor Rosenthal (STL)1,06396.4.217.318
Fernando Rodney (TB)69596.3.267.375
Carlos Martinez (STL)30996.3.300.400
Nathan Eovaldi (MIA)99496.3.244.360
Jake McGee (TB)97096.2.217.354
Chris Withrow (LAD)33696.2.250.450
Tanner Scheppers (TEX)77096.1.241.346
Tom Wilhelmsen (SEA)53896.0.235.336
Greg Holland (KC)56596.0.272.380

In closing...

Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez was said to have remarked after three Bob Feller pitches blew by him, “That last one sounded a little low.”
Thursday
Sep122013

Cole Putting Hitters Away with Slider, Curve in 2nd Half

Will Gerrit Cole be a starter or reliever come October? Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington isn't tipping his hand as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft nears an unknown organizational innings limit. Whatever his role, Cole looks primed to make make an impact in the playoffs. The rookie has boosted his strikeout rate during the season's second half (from 5.4 per nine innings pitched to 7.9 K/9) and trimmed his ERA from 3.89 to 3.18.

Cole fell in love with his fastball early on during his big league career, but he's pitching more like the ace he's expected to become now that he's mixing in his breaking stuff.

During the first half, Cole threw his fastball about 77% of the time -- more often than any starting pitcher not named Bartolo Colon. In the second half, he's throwing his heater about 67%. The difference is even more pronounced in two-strike counts: 66% fastballs in the first half, and slightly under 54% in the second half.

In place of those fastballs, Cole is snapping off signifcantly more short-breaking, upper 80s sliders (six percent overall in the first half, 21% in the second half). He's throwing his low-80s curveball at about the same frequency (12% in the first half, 10% in the second). Cole is using his slider and curve as chase pitches far more often in the second half, particularly with two strikes:

Location of Cole's slider and curveball in two-strike counts during the first half

 

Location of Cole's slider and curveball in two-strike counts during the second half

Cole threw 44% of his two-strike sliders and curves in the strike zone during the first half, well above the 39% big league average for starters in such situations. In the second half, he's throwing just 33% of his two-strike breaking balls over the plate. Cole got eight strikeouts with his slider and curve in the first half. During the second half? Thirty.

Throwing more breaking pitches out of the zone has helped Cole put hitters away in two-strike counts. Opponents hit .246 and slugged .290 against Cole when down to their last strike during the first half (starters overall allow a .172 average and .257 slugging percentage in two-strike counts). Now that he's using his slider and curve, he's limiting batters to a .151 average and a .264 slugging percentage with two strikes. Starter or reliever? Only Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle know. Either way, Cole looks postseason-ready.