Gerrit Cole is impossible right now

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 23 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.

FanGraphs

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.

Top 10 second half strikeout rates since 2002

# Season Name Tm IP K%
# Season Name Tm IP K%
1 2019 Gerrit Cole HOU 95.2 44.1%
2 2019 Justin Verlander HOU 96.1 40.7%
3 2018 Justin Verlander HOU 76.1 38.9%
4 2018 Blake Snell TBR 61.2 38.5%
5 2019 Yu Darvish CHC 81.2 37.8%
6 2015 Stephen Strasburg WSN 66.1 37.4%
7 2017 Chris Sale BOS 86.2 36.6%
8 2019 Lucas Giolito CHW 76.2 35.3%
9 2015 Clayton Kershaw LAD 109.2 35.3%
10 2018 Max Scherzer WSN 86 34.8%

FanGraphs

For xFIP, Cole’s second half ranks as elite, as his mark of 2.19 trails only 2015 Stephen Strasburg, 2015 Clayton Kershaw, and 2014 Carlos Carrasco.

Top 10 second half xFIP’s since 2002

# Season Name Tm IP xFIP
# Season Name Tm IP xFIP
1 2015 Stephen Strasburg WSN 66.1 1.95
2 2015 Clayton Kershaw LAD 109.2 2.00
3 2014 Carlos Carrasco CLE 69 2.16
4 2019 Gerrit Cole HOU 95.2 2.19
5 2014 Corey Kluber CLE 104 2.21
6 2018 Justin Verlander HOU 76.1 2.22
7 2018 Patrick Corbin ARI 77.2 2.28
8 2018 Carlos Carrasco CLE 85 2.30
9 2018 German Márquez COL 93 2.30
10 2004 Randy Johnson ARI 116.1 2.32

FanGraphs

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.

Top 10 pitchers in second half xwOBA

Rk. Player xwOBA
Rk. Player xwOBA
1 Gerrit Cole 0.212
2 Justin Verlander 0.220
3 Jack Flaherty 0.227
4 Jacob deGrom 0.229
5 Yu Darvish 0.245
6 Mike Clevinger 0.264
7 Ryan Yarbrough 0.267
8 Kenta Maeda 0.268
9 Michael Pineda 0.272
10 Stephen Strasburg 0.272

Minimum 200 batters faced Baseball Savant

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.


Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.

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