Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
He’s pitching at a level that’s rarely been reached.
The story of Gerrit Cole’s career in Houston has had one prominent theme. Improvement. Entering the trade block coming off a down-year, subsequently leading to a deal with the Astros, the hard-throwing right-hander has hit an unbelievable stride in Houston.
The stories of the adjustments that Cole made have been well publicized. The increase in spin rate, the decrease in sinker usage, etc. Throughout an impressive 2018 season in which he put up a 2.88 ERA and 2.70 FIP, it was a constant story.
At the start of the 2019 season, it looked like Cole had regressed to a certain degree (3.95 ERA/3.05 FIP in April, 4.13 ERA/2.97 FIP in May). But heading into the All-Star break, with some reassurance, it was clear he was still pitching at his 2018 elite level. Little did we know, in a Cy Young worthy season, he still hadn’t even hit his highest ceiling.
In the second half, Cole has been pitching at an absurd level. To gauge this, here’s where he’s ranked among 58 qualified pitchers in the second half:
- 1.97 ERA: 3rd
- 2.18 FIP: 2nd
- 2.19 xFIPL 1st
- 2.20 SIERA: 1st
- 39.0% K-BB%: 1st
Since the All-Star break, Cole has pitched 102 2⁄3 innings across 15 starts, striking out a whopping 171 batters, while walking only 18. He’s striking out batters at a higher rate than at any other point in his career and his current stretch has reached historical standards. Somewhat unsurprisingly, his increase in swinging-strike rate is the main driver of this development.
Looking back to 2002, Cole’s performance ranks among the best second half performances. His strikeout-rate of 44.1 percent stands as the best strikeout-rate in a second half during that time, having a 3.4 percentage lead on his teammate, 2019 Justin Verlander. The gap between him and Verlander in strikeout-rate is larger than the gap between Verlander and sixth place 2015 Stephen Strasburg.
Finally, diving into the Statcast data, his second half has seen him put up a .212 xwOBA against, first among all 132 pitchers with at least 200 batters faced, also right on line with his .217 wOBA against. Since the beginning of September, he’s been even better, allowing only a .184 xwOBA, by far top in baseball.
Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, but the Astros could not be in a better position pitching-wise heading into game five. Gerrit Cole has been an elite pitcher since being traded to the Astros, but right now he’s at his best, and his best is historically good.