A few weeks ago I wrote an article on why Gerrit Cole was succeeding. He looked great earlier in the season and was looking like his 2015 self. The night I posted the article, Cole was shelled by the Braves and has not looked good ever since. I pointed out in my article how Cole was precisely locating his two seamer and pounding the bottom of the zone. I also highlighted how in 2016, his problems stemmed from missing his spots with his two seamer and hanging them in the middle portion of the zone. When he did this, the batting average on balls that were left high in the zone were much higher than those that were low in the zone.
There is more than one reason why Cole is struggling again. It is not strictly the location of his two-seamer that is causing him problems, but I do want to highlight how he is using this pitch. Since Cole’s start on May 17th against the Nationals, Cole has not looked good. Here is a heat map of Cole’s two-seamer usage after that start. You will immediately see how sporadic his two seamer has been. He has been all over the zone and often times, he leaves it high in the zone. This dates back to some of his struggles through 2016 as well. When his command is off, he leaves too many pitches directly over the plate and he gets hit hard.
I also want to include the contact% depending on the location of the pitches. This shows that the higher in the zone the pitch is, the more batters are contacting it. When he is throwing the ball low in the zone, he sees more success. Cole actually has a good two-seamer, but if he fails to locate the pitch correctly, it will be ineffective. He should be exploiting the lower half of the zone on a regular basis with this pitch and judging by this contact% chart, he would see more success.
Astros ace, Dallas Keuchel, has looked great this season and the heat map below helps to represent why. This is a pitcher who lacks velocity, but is still seeing great success due to his elite control. He struggled in 2016 after posting career numbers in 2015, but has rebounded nicely and once again looks like a legitimate ace. Notice how he pounds the bottom portion of the zone. This is a great example of how to locate a two seamer effectively. He has made it a habit to keep the ball low in the zone and his ground ball percentages are high because of this. Houston has a top-notch analytical department, and I am sure they had an influence on Keuchel’s new approach to pitching.
Cole can be elite and we have all seen glimpses of ace potential. It is time for him to develop some consistency and string a few great starts together. The Pirates took him with the first overall pick in the entire 2009 draft, so expectations are going to be lofty. He knows how to be an effective pitcher, and I believe that if the Pirates are going to make a World Series push in the coming years, he is going to be one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle.