MLB

MLB: Gerrit Cole’s 2019 Season Is 1 of the Best Ever by a Starting Pitcher

2019 MLB All-Star Game - Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros

The Houston Astros are currently one of the best teams in baseball. One of their greatest strengths is starting pitching. Justin Verlander is well known as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and they recently traded for another ace in Zack Greinke. 

One of the less-heralded Astros is Gerrit Cole. While he may not have the big names of his other two rotation-mates, Cole is quietly having one of the very best seasons ever by a starting pitcher. Let’s take a closer look at what he’s doing so well. 

Gerrit Cole’s career achievements

Before examining Cole’s 2019 season thus far, it helps to look at his entire career. Over his first seven seasons, the 28-year-old has a win-loss of 89-52 1,153 innings pitched, an ERA of 3.29, and 1,262 strikeouts. He’s made three All-Star games and finished in the top five for Cy Young Award-voting twice. 

In five postseason appearances, Cole has a record of 2-3, an ERA of 3.72, 29 innings pitched, 31 strikeouts and only five walks. The California native began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates before departing for Houston prior to the 2018 season. Now he’s part of what has to be considered the best starting rotation in all of baseball alongside Greinke and Verlander.

Cole’s 2019 numbers

Based on his numbers, Cole is having about as good a season as a starting pitcher can have. Check out his 2019 statistics: 

  • Win-loss of 15-5
  • ERA of 2.89
  • 170.1 innings pitched
  • A league-leading 252 strikeouts
  • A WHIP of 0.957

The UCLA alum will likely win (or win close to) 20 games. His ERA is sub-3.00. He’s got time to reach 200 innings pitched. All these numbers show off Cole’s dominance. But it’s the rate he’s striking out batters that’s truly remarkable. 

Buster Olney tweeted that this season, Cole has 117 strikeouts on pitches 98 miles per hour or faster. He’s struck out 37% of the batters he’s faced, behind only Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Randy Johnson in 2001. 

According to The Ringer, if Cole maintains this strikeout pace, he may challenge Randy Johnson’s record for rate of strikeouts per nine innings (13.41), which occurred in 2001 when Johnson K’ed 372. Right now, Cole sits at 13.3. He’ll have to pick up the pace a bit, but he’s well on his way. The Ringer detailed some of the adjustments Cole made this season that may account for his banner year:

His sinker rate, which he cut from 16.5 percent to 2.8 percent last year, has shrunk to nearly untraceable levels, at just 0.5 percent. He has continued to pound the upper half of the zone with fastballs and dot the lower edges with breaking balls. He has also implemented some minor tweaks to his repertoire, such as throwing a few more sliders at the expense of curves.

To put Cole’s season in perspective, let’s look at some other great pitching performances. 

Great single-season performances by starting pitchers 

Here are some comparable seasons by starting pitchers in the modern era: 

  • Randy Johnson, 2002: 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 260 IP, 334 K, 2.5 walks per nine innings, 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings
  • Pedro Martinez, 1999: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 313 strikeouts, 0.4 walks per nine innings, 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings
  • Zack Greinke, 2009: 16-8, 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 229.1 IP, 242 K, 2.0 walks per nine innings, 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings
  • Justin Verlander, 2011: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 251 IP, 250 K, 2.0 walks per nine innings, 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings

Cole’s numbers are right there with some of those amazing seasons. He will be a free agent this offseason. If he keeps this up he’ll have a Cy Young Award to go along with a big contract heading into the next season.