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Gerrit Cole’s 2020 Season Isn’t As Bad, or Abnormal, As It Seems:

Paying $325 Million for a 3.63 ERA and a 4.64 FIP isn’t what Yankees fan expected, but has Gerrit Cole’s 2020 season really been that bad? Ethan Semendinger runs some numbers before his 10th start of the season:

 

Isn’t This What Did Fangraphs Did Yesterday?:

Yes, Fangraphs beat to me to the punch on this type of article yesterday. Ben Clemens authored the article “Gerrit Cole’s Bummer Summer” where he looked at a variety of underlying metrics (Pitch Velocity, Pitch Usage, Batted Ball Profiles, etc.) to assess what was wrong with Gerrit Cole in 2020. I recommend reading it, as I believe his points only help to prove my future points. However, while I won’t spoil his points Clemens did see in the data that Cole has been allowing faster hits (91.1 MPH Exit Velo), more barrels (10.2%), and is getting hit harder (47.2%) than his career norms (87.9 MPH EV, 5.6% Barrel%, and 35.6% HardHit%).

This is all important to consider, however I wanted to extrapolate on Clemens’s piece with a few extra statistics of notice from around the internet.

 

Data from FiveThirtyEight:

In an all-encompassing metric formulated from using Bill James’s Game Score metric as a foundation, using a tweak from TangoTiger from 2014, and then doing some other small adjustments of their own, the statistics website FiveThirtyEight has developed a metric called rGS, or “Rolling Game Score”.

This metric serves as a good and (relatively) simple way to easily evaluate starting pitchers over the course of a season to each other based on how well their performances have gone in each game. The average MLB average rGS is then split up by division, with the AL East at around a 51 rGS and the NL east around a 50.5 rGS.

To put that number into context the lowest rGS across the entire MLB is 39.9 by Jose Suarez (LAA) and the highest is (obviously) Jacob DeGrom (NYM) at 64.0. Beyond DeGrom, there are only 6 pitchers in the MLB with a rGS at or above 60.0. In order they are:

Shane Bieber (CLE) – 63.0

Gerrit Cole (NYY) – 62.6

Justin Verlander (HOU) – 61.7

Lance Lynn (TEX) – 60.9

Yu Darvish (CHC) – 60.6

Jack Flaherty (STL) – 60.4

Other starting pitchers of note rank as follows: Max Scherzer (59.5), Clayton Kershaw (56.9), Trevor Bauer (57.1), Sonny Gray (57.9), and Mike Clevinger (58.9). All other data can be found here.

Gerrit Cole, even in a very poor 9 starts, is still a top pitcher in the MLB. This is in line with what we should expect so this makes sense. It’s also important not to consider a 9 game stretch to be indicative of a giant change in his abilities. There are telling signs (see below) for fixes, but in a normal season 9 games can be easily corrected.

Why do I say that? Because…

 

Gerrit Cole’s First 12 Games of 2019 vs 2020:

Last season Gerrit Cole was 2nd in the Cy Young voting, 10th in the MVP race, and was unanimously the top pitcher going into free agency. However, after his season it’s amazing how soon we forget (or didn’t notice) that his first two months of 2019 weren’t perfect, nor close to it, at all.

Cole started in 12 games over April and May in 2019, in which he ended with the following stats:

2019 Pitching Game LogRkDateOppRsltInngsDecIPHRERBBSOHRERAPitGBFBLDGScWPA1Mar 29TBRL,2-4GS-6L(0-1)6.054101011.50101411562-0.1582Apr 3TEXL,0-4GS-6L(0-2)6.04333903.0010567558-0.0243Apr 9NYYW,6-3GS-77.04333613.3299995600.0274Apr 14SEAW,3-2GS-6W(1-2)6.042201113.24101281670.0735Apr 20TEXL,4-9GS-5L(1-3)4.19983815.2210468516-0.3476Apr 25CLEL,1-2GS-7L(1-4)7.032231024.71103763700.1677Apr 30MINW,11-0GS-7W(2-4)7.010031103.95104371830.309MayMayOppRsltInngsDecIPHRERBBSOHRERAPitGBFBLDGScWPA8May 6KCRW,6-4GS-7W(3-4)6.17440924.17107710552-0.0529May 11TEXW,11-4GS-6W(4-4)6.041101213.8897462720.26310May 17BOSW,3-1GS-55.06001703.5699686610.29811May 22CHWL,4-9GS-6L(4-5)5.07661724.119268535-0.37412May 27CHCW,6-5GS-6W(5-5)6.032211214.0299541690.075

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 9/10/2020.

Let’s look at a few important statistics to highlight over those 12 games last year (left) and compare them to his first 9 games of 2020 (right):

Cole’s 2020 Season (First 9 Games):

3.63 ERA

Average of ~5.2 IP

13 HR’s allowed

0.589 WPA

Cole’s 2019 Season (First 12 Games):

4.02 ERA

Average of ~6.0 IP

12 HR’s Allowed

0.257 WPA

Obviously the home runs are an issue, but this isn’t unprecedented for Gerrit Cole, even in a season where he was almost the AL Cy Young. This could very easily be explained by him being a slow starter, as well as his having a much shorter “Summer Camp” in 2020 as opposed to Spring Training in 2019.

His 2018 season does refute this notion (2.05 ERA, 1.716 WPA over 11 games) but a poor starting two months isn’t completely uncharacteristic to Cole (which is also seen in his first two months in 2017, 2014, and 2013).

 

Baseball Savant:

I think it’s important to highlight the percentile metrics from BaseballSavant as a final big of data to analyze.



Data from: BaseballSavant
Data from: BaseballSavant


Data from: BaseballSavant


If you decided to also read the Fangraphs article (above) you will notice that all of Ben Clemens’s points are also seen easily here.

Gerrit Cole is still performing great when it comes to his ability to get strikeouts and miss bats. His pitches haven’t been greatly altered in speed or usage (not visualized), or spin.

He is still able to keep batters off-kilter and has been keeping them to a solid .263 BABIP (also not visualized).

However, it is obvious that when hitters are able to get on top of a Gerrit Cole pitch, he is getting destroyed.


 

A Quick Conclusion:

Unfortunately, I don’t know where to find a fix to Cole’s Home Run issue, nor do I think anybody truly does. It isn’t a new problem with 2020, as we saw similar lines in 2019, of which Cole was still able to perform to a top level across the AL and MLB. We’re still seeing that this year too. Cole is not only good pitcher, but still top in the game, it’s just that we as fans want to see him DOMINATE, and unfortunately that has been disrupted by some poor starts.

He’ll be back. Just wait and it’ll come with time.

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: September 10th, 2020

#GerritCole

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