2018 Projection: Why Gerrit Cole May Never Develop Into The Once Expected Ace

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

There has always been a lot of hype surrounding the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole, with the belief that he could develop into a top of the rotation ace.  That has never happened, unfortunately, and we have to start wondering if the development will ever come.  Coming off 2017, which was arguably his worst to date, it’s fair to conclude that it never will:

203.0 IP
12 Wins
4.26 ERA
1.25 WHIP
196 Strikeouts (8.69 K/9)
55 Walks (2.44 BB/9)
45.8% Groundball Rate
.287 BABIP

The biggest questions were a spike in his home run rate, as well as if his “pure” stuff is enough to take the next step forward.  Both bring more questions than answers, and it does cast some doubt as to his future.  What can we expect?  Let’s take a look:

Home Runs
After never posting a HR/9 above 0.72 his mark ballooned to 1.37 last season.  He did improve in the second half (1.59 to 1.13), though that still represents a spike, and he was far worse on the road (1.65).  While we’d expect an improvement, look at his groundball rates over his past four half seasons:

  • First Half (2016) – 42.9%
  • Second Half (2016) – 49.3%
  • First Half (2017) – 46.1%
  • Second Half (2017) – 45.3%

That should tell us where the new truth lies.  While we can point to left-handed hitters doing the bulk of the damage (1.73 HR/9), his mark against righties also was worse than before (1.07).  He should improve, but there’s obvious concern.

“Stuff”
He posted a 9.5% SwStr% and 27.9% O-Swing%, neither of which encourage much hope to what the future holds.  For his career he holds a 9.5% SwStr%, which has led to an 8.44 K/9.  While that’s a fine number, it’s not a big selling point.

His slider represented his best swing and miss pitch (17.42% Whiff%), but it’s simply not highly utilized (17.43%) as he uses his curveball (12.05%) and changeup (10.69%) nearly as much.  The increase in his changeup usage was a spike over past years (5.39% in ’16), and maybe that caused some of the issues, but opponents only hit .226 against it so it’s more of a positive than anything.

Cole also has consistently struggled with an elevated line drive rate, carrying a 22.2% mark for his career.  While he was better last season (20.6%), it’s still nothing special and his .298 BABIP doesn’t add much hope.

When you put those things together you get the following projection for 2018:

200.0 IP, 13 W, 3.87 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 181 K (8.15 K/9), 56 BB (2.52 BB/9)

Sure Cole has above average control, but the strikeouts are pedestrian and the numbers don’t represent significant upside.  Coupled with the risk in his home run rate not improving enough and the thought of an elite starting pitcher is no longer there.  Maybe he figures it out, but it’s not something we’d be willing to bet on.  At this point value him more as a SP3/4 with the potential to deliver more, but don’t let the name convince you to pay a premium.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections:

Player
Date Published
Cano, Robinson10/09/17
Castillo, Luis10/03/17
Gerrit Cole10/30/17
Didi Gregorius11/20/17
Wil Myers10/24/17
Quintana, Jose11/13/17
Sanchez, Aaron12/05/17
Schoop, Jonathan11/27/17
Stroman, Marcus10/16/17
Walker, Taijuan 11/06/17

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