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“On Bzdek” What the Hell is Wrong with Gerrit Cole?

If you own any shares of Gerrit Cole, you’re likely wondering the same thing as me…what the hell is going on with him right now? Through his first nine starts of the season, Cole posted a 2.84 ERA, but in his last four starts Cole’s ERA is a whopping 10.71. In those four starts, Cole has allowed 8 home runs and given up 5, 4, 7, and 7 earned runs in each game. Clearly, something is off with Cole.

Lets dig in. The first area I look at with any struggling pitcher is velocity. At age 26, it’s not reasonable to expect a decrease in velocity for Cole, but often times decreased velocity is an indication of an injury. According to Fangraphs, Cole’s average fastball velocity in 2017 is 96.1 mph, consistent with 2016’s average of 95.2 mph after factoring in a 1 mph increase due to the change in velocity measurements starting in 2017. So, no concerns here, which is a relief because nobody hopes for an injury.

Next, I investigated Cole’s pitch mix, where I noted his change-up usage has more than doubled this year, up to 13.7% in 2017 from 5.4% in 2016. I decided to dig deeper and see how this pitch was faring in 2017 with increased usage. I found this graph of slugging percentage per pitch for each start of 2017 and filtered to show only change ups. Data is courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

 

As you can see, in the early goings, the change-up was not getting touched. Cole’s adjustment in pitch mix was working. However, as the season progressed and opponents made adjustments to Cole’s adjustments, batters started teeing off. This is the cat and mouse game that is pitching. Perhaps Cole became too predictable with his change-up, and batters figured it out. If this is the case, an adjustment from Cole to keep batters guessing is needed, and should pay dividends in the future.

Of course, one stat never tells the whole story. I looked into all the usual sabermetrics for Cole from 2015 – 2017. 2015 was Cole’s best season, and while he regressed in 2016 his ERA was 3.88, a whole run below the 4.83 ERA he has in the current season. This information can be seen in the table below, with a brief discussion following.

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% Soft% Pull%
2015  8.7  1.9  0.5 48.0% 20.0%  33.7
2016  7.6  2.8  0.5 45.6% 21.3%  34.7
2017  7.8  2.0  1.8 45.7% 19.4%  41.7

As you can see, 2015 was Cole’s best season for his peripheral stats as well. He posted his best strikeout and walk rate during that season. 2016 took a step backwards, but 2017 is pretty much in line with 2016 with the exception that Cole is walking slightly less batters, batters are pulling the ball more, and there are a lot more balls flying out of the park. My initial thought was that the home runs were skewed by the four recent outings. This holds some weight, as Cole’s HR/9 is 2.73 in the last four games. However, in his first 8 outings Cole’s HR/9 was 1.11, which is still up a lot from the 0.5 he posted in 2016 and 2015. My guess is that Cole’s increased usage of off-speed pitches is resulting in batters ability to pull the ball more – slower pitches are easier to get around on. This is supported by the graph below of Cole’s pitch mix from 2015 – 2017. Four seamers are down, while off-speed pitches as a whole are up. Batters can wait on an off-speed pitch and try to crush a hanger.

 

Based on the analysis above, I think Cole is just an adjustment or two away from getting out of this funk, however don’t expect him to revert back to the 2015 Gerrit Cole. His peripheral stats are more in line with 2016’s performance which was decent but not Ace material. From a buy-low / sell-high perspective, I would be selling. Hopefully you can find a buyer who thinks Cole still has 2015 upside, in which case trading him at a discount off 2015’s value can still net you a premium on his 2016’s performance.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. davidjkatz

    June 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for this. Good analysis.

    • Kevin Bzdek

      June 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Thank you and thanks for reading!

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