Last season was an up and down year for Gerrit Cole. As fans, we were hopeful that he would return to the dominant form we saw in 2015. As we approach the end of May, he is meeting expectations and once again proving why the Pirates picked him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. In a broad sense, he is helping himself out by walking less and striking out more, but there are obviously more contributing factors. This article highlights some of the adjustments Cole has made that have helped him achieve this success.
In 2015, Cole used his four-seam fastball on 68.1% of his pitches and only used his two-seamer for .1% of his pitches. The rest of his arsenal included a slider, curveball and a changeup. Since then, he has added a knuckle curve to his repertoire and taken away his regular curveball. His main pitch is a four-seam fastball, but in 2016, he increased the usage of his two-seamer. I love how Cole has implemented different pitches into his game. He ended 2015 with a career year, but continued to work on aspects of his game. This is a testament to his fantastic work ethic and is another reason why we should have never doubted him. Below is a heat-map of Cole’s two-seamer usage from 2016.
As you can see, Cole was leaving his two-seamer up in the middle of the zone. Although the two-seamer was not a brand new pitch for him, he was not using the pitch the way he should have been. Now let’s look at how he is using his two-seamer so far in 2017.
Cole is pounding the bottom of the zone with his two-seamer and its working great for him. The control seems to be spot on and he is delivering this pitch much better than he was in 2016. It is easy to recognize why his ground ball percentage (GB%) has risen from 45.6% to 50.3%. I wanted to also include a heat-map that represents the batting averages depending on the pitch location of his two-seamer for this season.
The lower in the zone the pitches are, the lower the batting average is. Cole is really keeping the ball low with his two-seamer and it is working out for him. It will be interesting to continue to watch how he uses this pitch throughout the course of the season.
If you read the article that I wrote last week about spin rates, you know that Cole’s spin rate has increased drastically this season. During the 2016 season, his average spin rate was 2,161 revolutions per minute (RPM’s). However, his average RPM’s on a four-seam fastball in 2017 is 2,553. This is definitely a contributing factor to his increase in fly ball percentages (FB%) from 29.0% to 35.7%. If you missed my article about spin rates, below I have attached a graph showing how spin rates (SR) correlate to fly ball percentages.
I have highlighted the league average RPM’s (2264) in red for a reference point.
Pitcher release point is another aspect of his game where changes can be found. Below is a graph of Cole’s vertical release points that have been tracked since his debut in the Majors. Notice how the release points for 2017 are below what they have been in the past. These changes represent a lower arm slot that is likely a result of some mechanical adjustments this offseason. Even minor mechanical adjustments can improve the way a pitcher is pitching so it should not be a surprise that Cole would make a few changes. He has the talent to be one of the best pitchers in the league and it is great seeing him bounce back the way that he has.
Data was gathered at Brooksbaseball.net