The Pirates are a team on the cusp of great things. But if there is one thing holding them back it is that their National League rivals hold the ace cards. The Pirates have been aced out of the playoffs two straight seasons. In 2013 it was Adam Wainwright that foiled the Bucs in the NLDS. In 2014 it was Madison Bumgarner shut them out out in the NL Wild Card Game. Look around the National League and you see aces everywhere. Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles. Johnny Cueto in Cincinnati. Jon Lester in Chicago. The Pirates just don’t have an ace as accomplished as their rivals. What the Pirates do have is Gerrit Cole.
Cole’s stuff is among the best in the league. At times he looks dominate. But Cole still has a ways to go before he can be considered on par with the elite ace pitchers in baseball. What does Gerrit Cole need to take the next step? A lot of analysts seem to think he needs to diversify his pitch selection. Cole has relied heavily on his fastball over the first two seasons of his career. Over 65% of his pitches have been fastballs. It is easy to understand why. Triple digit heat is easy to fall in love with. But as RumBunter.com pointed out last week it is actually the slider that is Gerrit Cole’s most effective pitch. So if the slider is Cole’s filthiest pitch it makes sense that he should throw it more often, right? Maybe, or maybe not.
I did some research into Cole’s pitch selection on his best and worst days, and surprisingly his fastball and breaking ball usage did not look drastically different. I went through the game logs from all of Cole’s starts and found which games he posted a Game Score (GmSc) of 65 or greater. Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James to judge the quality of a pitcher’s performance. Any GmSc over 65 is considered a gem. Cole has posted a 65+ GmSc nine times in his young career. I looked at his pitch selection for those nine games. I then did the same thing for games in which he posted a GmSc of less than 45. Cole has eight such games thus far in his career. These games make up his worst performances. Here are the percentages:
|GmSc||Fastball %||Breaking ball %||Changeup %|
|> 65 (Best)||64.9%||30.5%||4.6%|
|< 45 (Worst)||66.7%||26.8%||6.5%|
The difference in pitch selection between Gerrit Cole at his absolute best and his absolute worst is only about 3 to 4 more breaking balls per game. He is still throwing 65% fastballs regardless of whether he is “on” or not. This is not to say that Cole would not benefit by mixing in more of his secondary pitches. But just altering pitch selection is not what will make Gerrit Cole an ace.