Head on over to Gerrit Cole’s Baseball Savant page. It’s largely aesthetically pleasing, with the exception of his poor grades in average exit velocity (42nd percentile), hard hit percentage (48th percentile) and barrel percentage (38th percentile). The New York Yankees ace gives up a lot of hard contact, we know.
But is there a reason for that? Something we haven’t been paying closer attention to in 2022? Cole throws hard, so he’s going to get hit hard, right? He’s a location master, so when he’s not hitting his spots, he’s more prone to hitters barreling over his offerings.
Maybe Cole’s problem has been … mixing it up too much? It’s understandable that 98-100 MPH fastballs aren’t exactly “special” anymore. Three guys out of the bullpen can throw that heat on any given team. But Cole’s velocity hardly wavers and there’s no reason for him not to dot corners and continue overwhelming hitters with his heater.
Yankees fans saw firsthand on Tuesday night how much of a difference that makes. Cole utilized his fastball and attacked hitters with the pitch over 70% of the time, which resulted in seven scoreless innings during which he allowed only four hits and zero walks.
Our only question … why has Cole only been throwing his fastball a shade over 50% in 2022 when it’s far and away his best pitch? His four-seamer features his highest put away percentage (25.4%) and lowest expected batting average (.194), especially when he gets it atop the zone. Isn’t that enough data?
Why didn’t the Yankees tweak Gerrit Cole’s pitch mix earlier this year?
Here’s a quick counterargument though: Cole’s highest fastball rate (outside of the shortened 2020) was 51.6% in 2019 with the Houston Astros, which was by far his best season. So maybe the fastball doesn’t need that much emphasis.
Counterpoint to the counterargument, though: Cole’s five-pitch mix (four-seamer, slider, curveball, changeup, cutter/sinker) was much less top-heavy. Since coming to New York, he’s either thrown his fifth pitch a whole lot less (sinker 0.8% in 2021, sinker 0.2% and changeup 5.6% in 2020) or has seen a dip in his curveball usage (this year he throws it 9.6% of the time compared to 15.7% last year, 17% the year prior, 15.4% the year before that, and 19.2% in 2018).
There seems to be a quick, easy fix here: continue emphasizing the fastball, but have a healthier mix of the slider/curve/changeup/cutter so it’s a bit more evenly distributed. During his 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Astros, here were his breakdowns:
- Fastball: 50.3% in 2018 and 51.6% in 2019
- Slider: 19.9% in 2018 and 23.2% in 2019
- Curveball: 19.2% in 2018 and 15.4% in 2019
- Sinker: 6.1% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019
- Changeup: 4.5% in 2018 and 7.4.% in 2019
- Fastball: 47.1% in 2021 and 51.1% in 2022
- Slider: 22.2% in 2021 and 21.4% in 2022
- Curveball: 15.7% in 2021 and 9.6% in 2022
- Changeup: 14.2% in 2021 and 9.1% in 2022
- Sinker/Cutter: 0.8% in 2021 and 8.8% in 2022
Perhaps him subbing out the sinker for the cutter has created an adjustment period? The slow disappearance of his sinker, coupled with the declining effectiveness of his curveball (.299 and .286 opponents’ average against that pitch the last two years!), has maybe played a role in more blowup outings than Yankees fans would prefer to see.
When in doubt, though? Keep pumping the fastball as long as you’re locating it to your standard, Gerrit! Now that 2022 will be his first, true full season as a Yankee without pandemic or injury interruptions, the data should be more comprehensive when the offseason arrives.
The eye test says fastball, though. Don’t dance around hitters when you don’t need to.