Gerrit Cole uses movement for all-time strikeout numbers

On Monday night, Gerrit Cole became the second fastest pitcher to 200 strikeouts in a season.

While Cole has always been a high strikeout rate pitcher, he has taken it to new levels in the past two seasons with the Astros. Last season, Cole featured a K/9 rate of 12.4, which led the league. This year, he has upped his game even more and is sitting at 13.5. Clearly, based on the numbers, if Cole continues this rate, it would be the best K/9 total in Major League history.

Cole’s 2018 season was dominant enough for 10th all-time. The only other two pitchers to have multiple seasons in the top 10 are Chris Sale and Randy Johnson, who owns the top season mark at 13.4 K/9. Cole’s 2018 campaign with 276 totals strikeouts was good for 98th best all-time. Clearly, he looks to best that mark this season.

While Cole has always been an ace, he exploded in missing bats since he was traded to Houston. In Pittsburgh, over his five seasons there, Cole posted a strong 8.4 K/9. For comparison, Roger Clemens and Cole Hamels are at 8.5 and Jake Peavy and Felix Hernandez are at 8.3. Obviously, that is nothing to sneeze at. However, since going to Houston and upping his career total mark to 9.76, Cole has moved to 10th all-time for his career. He is one spot ahead of Clayton Kershaw and just behind Chris Archer and Corey Kluber.

So what changed for Cole to get him into this elite status? First off, Cole rarely throws his sinker, which he threw between 10 to 20 percent of the time with the Pirates, as the organization has a heavy emphasis on movement and keeping the ball on the ground. Cole is also throwing fewer change ups and about the same amount of four-seam fastballs. However, he has started using his slider and his curveball much more heavily. He threw the slider between 17 and 18 percent of the time his final two years in Pittsburgh. In his first two seasons in Houston, Cole used the pitch nearly 20 percent of the time in 2018 and over 23 percent of the time this season. He has also seen a whiff percentage uptick to over 20.95 percent in 2019.

While the whiff percentage is not much higher for the curveball, he has started using it much more as well, up to over 16 percent in 2019 and 19 percent in 2018. One of the main reasons for confidence in this pitch has come from vertical movement. In those same final two seasons in Pittsburgh, Cole saw movement of -4.4 to -4.5 on his curveball. In 2018, that rose to -6.92 and to an astounding -9.12 in 2019. The huge difference in break is the drastic increase in spin rate that Cole has seen. In 2019, his spin rate is 2905 RPM. In ‘18 it was 2842 and in ‘17 it was 2667.

Cole is also seeing an improved spin rate on his slider as well, though not as drastic. In 2019, the rate is 2623, which is up from 2571 in ‘18 and 2417 in ‘17. With this, Cole is getting more movement, but not near as drastic as with his curve.

Regardless of his process to get there, Cole has improved his breaking balls each season and has gotten it to an elite level that hitters are not able to come close to. Based on this, Cole is missing bats at an unreal rate. Lucky for him, it is just in time to cash in on a huge payday this offseason. Lucky for us is that we get to see an all-time dominant season.

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