There were a limited number of sure things heading into the 2019 season, but one of the sure things for the Astros was that Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole would come off their near-Cy Young performances in 2018 to lead the pitching staff and hopefully give good NASCAR drafting to whoever the three fill-ins behind them would be.
While Verlander has been as good or better this season than last, it is hard to look at Cole’s performance this season and say he has been any better than the 4th best starter in the rotation.
Those aren’t terrible numbers for Cole, but disappointing a bit vs. his tremendous 2018 season.
Now some folks (and I have been one of those folks) will say, well you just drop that one terrible game from Cole (4.1 IP and 8 ERs) and you have him close to who he really is.
Well to be fair, the following shows each of these four starters with their one worst outing pulled out of their stats…Verlander (4 IP, 4 ER), Wade Miley (4 IP, 3ER) and Brad Peacock (3.2 IP, 7 ER).
While looking at their stats through these rose-colored glasses allows Cole to narrow the margin, it still is clear that he is 4th in line (though with very solid numbers). Peacock improved even more after dropping his one worst start.
So, what is happening with Cole this season?
On the plus side, his walks are down (2.3/ 9 IP vs. 2.9 in 2018) and his already MLB leading Ks/9 IP are up (14.1 / 9 IP vs. 12.4 in 2018). But his HRs are up more than 50% to 1.5 per 9 IP and his innings per start are down (5.93 IP/start vs 6.25 in 2018). His luck may be down a bit as the opposition is hitting .310 BABIP (batting average for balls in play). 14% of the flyballs hit against him are HRs, which is almost double last season. He already has as many losses (5) this season as all last year.
In what are called high leverage situations (most pivotal) the opposition is raking .333 BA / .907 OPS this season vs. a meek .216 BA / .574 OPS in 2018.
It would probably be fair to say that his high K output (and the extra pitches required) is helping to lead to less innings per start. It is also possible that his control is working against him in giving up HRs. He is not walking very many hitters and has not hit one batter to date. Maybe he needs to back off a few guys here and there to make sure they are not leaning over the plate and taking advantage of his control.
It would be wrong to not expect him to reach the 2nd spot in production again this season. He has already lowered his ERA more than a point since his lost game in Arlington last month and he has shown to be a real workhorse for this team.
But for the time being, if you said he has been the fourth best starter on this team to date…you wouldn’t be wrong.