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Looking at the Keys to Gerrit Cole’s Dominance for the Astros

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As the newest member of the Houston Astros pitching staff, Gerrit Cole has made some significant adjustments to his game and, so far, has benefited greatly from those adjustments.

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Gerrit Cole has been the most exciting pitcher to watch for the Houston Astros this year. He has arguably been the most entertaining pitcher in all of baseball through nearly two months of the 2018 season.

Watching him paint 98 on the outside corner is a beautiful sight for Astros fans. He seems to have taken the organization’s analytical approach and run with it. His stuff is finally getting the results that it should as Cole as being maximized to his full capabilities.

A little past the quarter mark in the 2018 season, Cole’s numbers are outstanding. He currently holds a 1.86 ERA in 67.2 innings of work. Cole has struck out 101 batters and only walked 2.3 batters per game.

He is currently 2nd in the AL (5th overall) in ERA, only trailing fellow Astros pitcher Justin Verlander. His 101 strike outs are second to only the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, who has 104. This is elite stuff and could get him into contention for a start in the All Star Game.

We all know about how hard Cole throws his fastball, but it’s not only how hard but the spin rate on this pitch that makes it so nasty. The average major league spin rate typically sits around 2,220 RPMs, Cole this season has thrown multiple pitches in the 2,500 RPM range and normally sits around 2,350 RPMs. This truly makes this pitch effective and separates it from other fastballs.

Studies done by Driveline baseball recently have shown that increasing your spin rate has a direct influence on a decrease in opponents’ batting average, a key stat in determining how well a pitcher’s stuff plays or will play throughout their career.

Cole has also adapted to an approach of mainly pitching up in the zone with his four-seam fastball. This is a trend that has developed with a lot of Houston Astros pitchers. This pitch, especially when hard, is a really tough pitch for upper cut and launch angle hitters to catch up with.

The upper cut swing is what most hitters and organizations (including the Astros) are teaching these days. The heat map below shows where Cole has thrown his fastball this year (top) and where he threw it last year (bottom).

Cole 2018
Baseball Savant
Cole 2017
Baseball Savant

This year Cole has been dominating opposing hitters with primarily with his fastball, throwing it around 46% of the time, but also likes his slider and curveball throwing them both around 19% of the time.

When the big right-hander gets ahead of hitters he still favors the fastball, but he also has begun to use the slider more as a “put away” pitch, throwing it 33.1 % of the time when he is ahead 0-2. Part of what has made him so effective this year has been his ability to throw all three of these pitches in any count, making it really hard for a hitter to ever eliminate a pitch from their approach.

A big indicator that hitters are having more trouble with Cole this year besides his ERA is his swing and miss rate. Last year for the Pirates, Cole made hitters swing and miss on 10.1% of his pitches. This year he has made them miss on 16.5% of the time. His stellar stuff is finally starting to produce stellar results.

Cole has always had tons of potential and elite level stuff in the MLB but hasn’t been able to put together elite level production. With his new approach to pitch his fastball up in the zone he has generated more swing and misses and he is producing higher-level results because of it. Don’t be surprised if his name is being talked about for the Cy Young later this year.