Pittsburgh Pirates SP Gerrit Cole has been a mystery this year. At times, he’s looked like one of best starting pitchers in baseball. Other times, he’s given up more tater tots than your elementary school’s lunch lady. It has been an up and down season for Cole but he may just be turning a corner.
On the season, Pittsburgh Pirates SP Cole is 8-7 with a 4.12 ERA and 4.20 FIP. He has 112 strikeouts and 32 walks in 126.2 innings pitched. The most alarming stat has been the 20 home runs given up. Before this year, his career high was 11. In the month of June, Cole had an ERA of 6.17 but somehow managed a 4-2 record in six starts. The month of July has been a different story as Cole has an ERA of 2.52 and is 2-0 in four starts. Is this month a sign of things to come or just another fluke in the roller coaster that is Cole’s season?
In the month of July, Cole has only given up two home runs. Before this month, the lowest number of home runs given up in a month was five in April. The drop in home runs given up in July is in part due to the lighter contact Cole has given up. Cole is giving up hard contact 25.4 percent of the time in July. In June, that number was 31.5 percent. That number was even higher (34-35 percent) in the first two months of the season. In 2015, the year he finished fourth in Cy Young voting, Cole gave up hard contact 29.5 percent of the time.
Cole is also doing a better job of keeping opponents grounded. In July, Cole is giving up ground balls 53.5 percent of the time. June’s rate was at 45.3 percent. In 2015, Cole forced ground balls 48 percent of the time. Although Cole is giving up a slightly higher rate of fly balls in July than he did in June (29.6 to 27.4 percent), the rate of line drives has dropped from 27.4 percent in June to 16.9 percent in July.
Overall, Cole is getting weaker contact this month than he has all season. Coincidentally or not, Cole’s HR/FB ratio is 9.5 percent in July, down from his season rate of 16.7 percent.
Along with getting weaker contact, Cole is also striking out more batters and walking less. In July, Cole has 26 strikeouts and five walks in 25 innings pitched. His K/9 this month is 9.36, higher than any other month. His K/BB ratio of 5.20 in July is also the highest of any month this season – his K/BB ratio overall this season is 3.61. In 2015, that ratio was 4.59.
In the month of July, Cole is striking out more batters and walking less. That paired with getting weaker contact in general has been his major key to success.
How has he adjusted
In terms of overall pitch selection, Cole has been throwing his fastball more. In July, he’s throwing the heat 62.7 percent of the time. Before July, he was tossing fastballs at a rate of 58.6 percent. Cole is throwing his slider less. This month, he’s using it 14.4 percent of the time. Before July, he was throwing the slider 18.1 percent of the time. Both his curveball and changeup have been thrown at about 11-12 percent of the time all year long.
Along with throwing more fastballs, Cole has done a much better job keeping the ball low. This shows Cole’s pitch location before July.
As you can see, there is a lot of red in the middle of the strike zone. There’s not much red in the corners. Now let’s take a look at Cole’s pitch location in July.
Although there is still some red in the middle of the plate, Cole has done a much better job of keeping the ball low and hitting the corners. Even his misses are below the strike zone. Obviously, it is better to miss low than miss right in the middle of the zone.
Some minor adjustments has helped Cole tremendously in the month of July. A slight uptick in fastballs coupled with better pitch location has turned Cole from a guy giving up home runs left and right to a guy looking more like his 2015 self, when he was the unquestioned leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates staff.
This month has been great for Cole but it only has been one month. He needs this to be a starting point. After an injury ridden 2016, Cole may finally be hitting his stride. If he continues to pitch the way he has, it will provide a huge shot in the arm for the Pirates down the stretch.