The Pittsburgh Pirates disappointed on the field in 2017 and one guy that turned in a rather disappointing season on an individual standpoint was starting pitcher Gerrit Cole.
Cole is the perceived ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates staff and was anything but ace-like this season.
Grading out Cole’s 2017 season is a bit trickier though as he did do some good things, as well as some bad, on the bump for the Bucs.
Finally healthy, Cole made 33 starts this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the most in his big league career.
He also threw 203 innings, eclipsing the 200 IP mark for the second time. A top of the rotation pitcher needs to eat innings and Cole did a decent job of that, giving the team at least six innings in 24 of 33 starts.
The fastball velocity was there, averaging 95.9 mph on the season, the third highest mark in the majors. That also led to a nice strikeout season a Cole fanned 196 batters, nearly missing the 200 K mark for the second time.
While Cole gave up a lot of hits, the league only hit .252 off him, a big drop from the .282 in 2016. His WHIP also dropped from 1.44 to 1.25 this season so those are positive trends. As was the BABIP which dropped from .345 in 2016 to .298 this year. While the Bucs came out slow out of the gates and Cole only started 2-5 through May, he really didn’t pitch all that bad, posting a 3.60 ERA in April, followed by a 3.68 in May.
He really showed flashes of the pitcher who finished fourth in the CY Young voting in 2015 with a month of July that saw him finish 3-0 in five starts with a 2.25 ERA. That wasn’t to be sustained though.
Cole was downright hittable this year, allowing career highs in hits (199), runs (98), earned runs (96), walks (55), and FIP (4.08).
As bad as Cole looked at times, he was slightly better than the league average in almost every category, which shows where the game is headed, and he did manage a 2.8 WAR, but the Pirates need a lot more from Cole at the top of the rotation.
He can’t have months like June where he finished with an ERA of 6.17 for the month or September where his ERA was 5.50.
For the most part Cole used his fastball, a slider, a curve and a changeup this season and while the fastball and change had positive values, the slider (-0.22) and the curve (-0.39) did not.
Let’s start with the 4.26 ERA, which is pretty much unacceptable from the guy that is supposed to be the horse at the top of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation.
That marks Cole’s highest ERA of his career and represents a concerning trend. That ERA jumped from 2.60 in 2015 to 3.88 in an injury-plagued 2016 to 4.26 this season. That’s a rise of 1.66 runs in just two seasons.
Nothing was worse though than Cole’s inability to keep the ball in the yard, allowing a career-worst 31 homers this season. The most he allowed in any other season was 11.
Juiced balls could have something to do with it, but the majority of the time, it was lack of command. When Cole missed his spots, opposing hitters made him pay dearly as Cole allowed a whopping 1.37 HR/9.
Every time Cole allowed a fly ball you had to hold your breath as his HR/FB% rose to 15.9 percent. By comparison it was 6.8 percent last season. To put that into perspective, one out of every 6.2 balls Cole allowed to be put into the air left the yard.
Cole did some good things this year and also was roughed up on a few occasions.
He looked healthy, which is good going forward, but the bottom line is that the Pirates need a lot more from him at the top of the rotation in 2018 for them to be successful. He simply can’t grade out like an average pitcher.
2018 Final Grade: C
Image credit – Daniel Decker Photography