The story of Gerrit Cole‘s 2013 rookie season was a tale of two pitchers. From his call up in June through the end of August, Cole was a reliable starting pitcher but failed to dominate hitters. Although he had trouble putting hitters away, the Pirates could count on Cole to go 6 innings and keep them in games. Cole basically pitched like a good number 4 starter. Most people are thrilled when a 22 year old rookie steps in and solidifies the back end of a rotation like Cole did during the summer months of 2013. But most rookie pitchers do not come with the expectations and pedigree of Gerrit Cole. Some fans and media expressed disappointment with his early results. Things changed quickly in September. An increased usage and refinement of his curveball, perhaps with a little help from A.J. Burnett, turned Cole into an ace. Did Burnett really make a big impact on Gerrit Cole? Cole seems to things so.
“I think my second day up here (A.J. Burnett) got a hold of me and started talking to me about it,” Cole said. “I don’t have quite as big of hands as he does I can’t really get around it as much as he can, but I try to copy (the knuckle-curve grip) as much as I can.”
Regardless of how it happened, the new weapon in Cole’s arsenal gave him a much needed lower velocity pitch to complement his repertoire of hard stuff. The results were devastating. Cole’s strikeout rate increased by a whopping 50% in September. He posted a 4-0 record and 1.69 ERA for the month to help lead the Pirates into the playoffs. He continued his dominance in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. The young phenom had arrived.
2014 will bring all new challenges. Cole will enter the season as the Pirates’ undisputed staff ace. Those are lofty expectations for a pitcher that has made just 19 major league starts. I see very little reason to believe Cole won’t meet those expectations. His stuff is spectacular. He led all starting pitchers last year with an average fastball velocity of 95.6 mph. His off speed pitches are plus offerings. Cole is built to be a workhorse. He is solidly put together and has clean and efficient mechanics. There is no question in my mind that he could work 230+ innings a season year after year. The only reason I’m projecting a lighter workload in 2014 is because I believe the Pirates won’t ramp him up quite that high this early in his career. The concern is understandable. This is the most important pitcher that has come through the Pirates’ farm system in my life time. The team will want to protect their asset.
The one area where Cole will need to improve is getting settled earlier in games. First innings were rough for him in 2013. His first inning ERA was 5.68. That needs to get better. However, this isn’t an issue unique to Gerrit Cole. Many ace pitchers struggle in the first frame. Adam Wainwright, Justin Verlander, and Yu Darvish are all noted for their first inning struggles.
I believe Cole will continue to make solid strides and grow into his role as an ace in 2014. I think we are still a few years away from seeing Cole as a CY Young contender at the top of his game, but he is getting there. 2014 should be the first of several years that Cole will anchor the Pirates’ rotation.
Without further ado, here are the projected stats I am using as inputs for Wahoo’s on First Simple WAR Calculator For Pitchers to estimate the 2014 WAR for Gerrit Cole:
Innings – 196
ERA/FIP/xFIP – 3.21
K/9 – 8.25
BB/9 – 2.5
Note: Using League ERA adjusted for Park Factors of 3.80
And the verdict for Gerrit Cole 2014 WAR is… 4.4