Gerrit Cole Curves His Way To Stardom

Gerrit Cole finished 60th in our end of season starting pitcher rankings. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he finishes quite a bit higher than that in 2014, because the only reason he finished that low this year is simply because the Pirates didn’t call him up to make his major league debut until June 11, giving him time to pitch only 117.1 innings on the season.

While we look back and remember Cole as blossoming into an ace, it’s probably fair to remember that his time in the bigs didn’t exactly start out with total dominance. For his first few weeks, there were some questions about how few bats Cole was managing to miss despite owning one of only two fastballs to average more than 96 miles per hour (minimum 100 innings). In his first start, Cole struck out only two Giants; in his next, just a single Dodger. He didn’t strike out more than five hitters until his ninth big league start.

Because he was limiting the walks and homers he was still successful, but in more of a Minnesota Twins way than anything that was particularly exciting. But of course, it’s folly to pass judgement on a former top overall pick after his first nine starts in the bigs, and it didn’t take long for Cole’s undeniable talent to shine through. We don’t even need to dig too deeply into the advanced metrics to see it:

First 9
Last 9

He then followed that up with two solid starts against St. Louis in the NLDS. So what happened?

Well, Cole started using his curve more…


…and seeing better results with it:


His curve was so good that it was on the short list of the most valuable curves in baseball, right up there with names like Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish (who was outdueled by Cole in a memorable September game), A.J. Burnett, and Adam Wainwright. And it was no accident — he started attempting to mimic Burnett once he reached the bigs, and soon realized he had another great pitch on his hands.

But what’s truly scary about Cole is that he’s one of the very few pitchers who appear on the FanGraphs pitch value lists as having four different pitches with positive value. Kershaw can’t say that, and neither can Darvish. (Jose Fernandez and Clay Buchholz can.)

Cole’s only headed into his age-23 season, but he’s already proven that his command is plus. Over the second half of the season, he proved that he can miss bats with a killer curveball… and he throws harder than nearly anyone around. It’s probably not that controversial to say that he’s going to be a star and should be valued accordingly.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and is an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

5 Responses to “Gerrit Cole Curves His Way To Stardom”

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  1. Dave Utah says:

    Finally a Pirates’ pitching draft pick that seems like the real thing. Having watched all his starts, the other intangible he brings is bulldog toughness (apologies to Orel for the bulldog reference). I don’t think anyone is expecting more out of Garrit Cole than Garrit Cole. I can’t wait to see what he turns into. I have not seen a pitcher like this on the Bucs in a long, long time. Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Garrit Cole, Michael Wacha,… A lot of exciting young arms out there.

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    • Tim says:

      I wouldn’t put Wacha in that group just yet. He wasn’t considered as good of a prospect at the time of his promotion as the other two and his time in AAA wasn’t exactly dominating with a 7.73 K/9 IP and 3.53 ERA. If he can sustain his increased velocity over an entire season then I think he can belong in that group, but I’m not convinced of that yet.

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  2. FrustratedHypocrite says:

    Wouldn’t mind seeing Burnett re-signed so he can teach that knucklecurve to Jameson Taillon, too…

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    • Gideon Clarke says:

      Jameson Taillon doesn’t need anybody to teach him to throw a curveball. He already knows how. If you didn’t watch the World Baseball Classic last year, then I’m sorry to say you missed out. Taillon was filthy. He made guys look bad. A bunch of bona fide major leaguers couldn’t touch his bender. I’m actually more excited about him than I was about Cole last year.

      I love watching power pitchers throw curveballs. It’s my favorite thing about summer, other than maybe Andrew McCutchen.

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