How to solve Gerrit Cole in the NLDS deciding game


The St. Louis Cardinals were dealt a rotten hand when they had to try to hit Gerrit Cole in game 2 of the NLDS. The hand they were dealt was dominating stuff coming out of a 23-year old in his age 22 season. Cole faced but 21 hitters in completing six 2-hit innings, while striking out five and walking one. He gave up a solo home run for the only run of the game scored by the Cardinals - meanwhile getting tons of run support (7 runs - especially compared to the 7 runs they have also scored in games 1, 3, and 4 combined).

The Cardinals will counter with Adam Wainwright, who also gave up but 1 run and 3 hits over 7 innings (facing just 24 batters) when he got 9 runs of support in game 1 of the series. Both starters will be on full rest, so it could be quite a barn-burner of a pitchers' duel tonight.

But I want to look a bit more deeply into Cole's start and what he normally tries to do. In general, we are going to be dealing with an extremely small sample size because Gerrit Cole has thrown just 123 1/3 innings of major league baseball including the post-season.

In 2013 (including the playoffs), Cole's pitch set has looked like this:

  • 44.00% Four Seam Fastballs - 96.92 mph - .769 oOPS (190 PA)
  • 20.44% Sinkers - 96.47 mph - .749 oOPS (110 PA)
  • 15.78% Sliders - 89.49 mph - .485 oOPS (74 PA)
  • 12.11% Curveballs - 84.04 mph - .415 oOPS (58 PA)
  • 7.67% Change Ups - 88.53 mph - .471 oOPS (44 PA)

oOPS = opponents' OPS (OBP+SLG) against him on that pitch

So, over the course of the full season, his off-speed stuff is basically unhittable. Luckily for hitters, he only threw the breaking stuff 35.56% of the time and threw his hard stuff 64.44% of the time.

In September and October, Cole's pitch set has changed slightly, but not a lot:

  • 43.29% Four Seam Fastballs - 96.85 mph - .757 oOPS (56 PA)
  • 17.17% Curveballs - 84.85 mph - .000 oOPS (28 PA)
  • 15.74% Sliders - 88.00 mph - .206 oOPS (20 PA)
  • 15.21% Sinkers - 96.90 mph - 1.020 oOPS (28 PA)
  • 8.59% Change Ups - 88.62 mph - .000 oOPS (12 PA)

The sample size is getting smaller...His fastball has been thrown less than 1% less and slightly slower, but neither has a significant differences statistically. He has thrown his curveball 5% more as the season has progressed into September. He's throwing it slightly slower, but still it's not a statistically significant number higher. His slider has been thrown less than 1% less and slightly faster, but neither has a significant difference statistically. His sinker has been thrown over 5% less of the time than the rest of the year, which is statistically significant, and it's been coming in slightly faster - not statistically significant. Lastly, his change up has been thrown less than 1% more and slightly faster, but neither has a significant differences statistically.

However, while his sinker has become entirely crushable, his curveball and change up are thrown a combined 25+% of the time and in 40 plate appearances ending in one of the two pitches, zero people have reached base. When you add in 15.74% more for the slider, on which only 3 people have reached base in 20 plate appearances, that is a total of over 40% of the pitches ending in just 3 hits. The good news is that the four-seam fastballs are still hit better than league average as well.

However, how did the Cardinals fare the one time they faced him all year? (Extremely Small Sample Size)

The Cardinals saw 54.65% fastballs/sinkers and knocked them for a double and a homer in 12 plate appearances ending in those pitches - with 4 Ks. The Cardinals saw only 7 change ups and only one at bat end in a change up, with Cole recording an out. The Cardinals saw 18 sliders, with 5 plate appearances ending in a slider, 1 bb and 4 outs. The Cardinals saw 14 curveballs, with 3 plate appearances ending in one - 1 K. Gerrit might have been a bit amped up. His fastball/sinker were both averaging over 97 mph that game. His change up was down 1.5 mph. His slider and curve were about average.

Lastly, Cole faced 21 batters (as I said earlier). He jumped out to a 0-1 count on 11 of them. He started off with a ball on just 8 of 21 hitters. The Cardinals swung at just 4 first pitches and put 2 of them in play - both sinkers. I'd say the Cardinals need to swing at first pitch fastballs - while differentiating those out from the sinkers - that are belt high. Obviously, everyone should do that, but other than those first-pitches, I would not swing at anything in that count. I would want to make him throw 4+ pitches per plate appearance and get him out of the game quickly. I would just try to tee off on the hard stuff, as well. The Cardinals can do that, they just have to get in the right mind set to do so. They've hit FB/SNK hard this year in the past.

Go Cards!

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