When you’re drafted first overall, all the pressure falls squarely onto you to perform at the highest possible level. Gerrit Cole looks to do that and more. Cole made his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League and everyone came away impressed.
The scouting report on Cole prior to the draft was that he had a mid-90’s fastball that touched 99 that at its best has nice sink, but occasionally straightened out and also mixed in a two-seamer from 91-94 MPH. His changeup was his best secondary pitch, hitting the mid-80’s with excellent late sink, and he also threw a slider that at his best had sharp late break, but other times was much less dynamic and hittable. Let’s see how the data we have on Cole from the AFL compares. We’ll us the data from Brooks Baseball displayed by one of my original Pitch F/X graphs.
(For a general explanation of the topic of Pitch F/X and specifically how to read this type of graph, please click here.)
The most staggering things in this entire graph are in the key: the average velocity on Cole’s fastball during the sample of pitches from the AFL was 99.4 MPH (!), and his sinker wasn’t too shabby either, coming in at 98.8 MPH. The velocity is a dead giveaway this Pitch F/X is misidentifying the sinkers. Both the blue and purple lines are Cole’s fastball, and what’s going on is what the scouting report above told us about. The purple line is Cole’s fastball at its best as it features nice run away from right-handed batters and also impressive late sink. His blue line is when he had too much velocity on it and it really straightened out. Not that a 99 MPH fastball is easy to hit by any means at all, but when you’re throwing it 99 MPH with late sink hitters are in trouble. Cole has one heck of a fastball either way, but if he can get the consistent late sink, it can be a nearly unhittable ptich.
What was described as a two-seamer in the scouting report is designated by Pitch F/X as a cutter. Cole’s cutter starts out like his fastball before breaking up and featuring nice late cut. It actually acts almost like a second changeup for Cole thanks to its 5-6 MPH difference from his fastball. But it’s not as effective as Cole’s true plus changeup. Cole throws it from the arm slot of his fastball and it mirrors the movement on his “sinker”, but with more sink and late tailing action down-and-away from righty batters. It’s death to hitters to be sitting dead-red to hit Cole’s fastball and then he throws them a ridiculous changeup. It will be a pitch that forces swings-and-misses and weak contact all day.
Cole’s slider is a nice pitch, but it pales in comparison to his various fastballs and his changeup. It features pretty good late downward movement, but it’s by no means dynamic and if it doesn’t improve significantly, it could more of a groundball pitch than a K pitch for Cole.
Overall, Cole’s Pitch F/X confirms to us what we already know: Gerrit Cole has one heck of a right arm and should be an ace in the major leagues before too long. He has a dominating fastball, a ridiculous changeup, an effective cutter, and a solid solid, and that repertoire is not one that hitters will enjoy facing at all. Pirates fans should start getting excited. With the first overall pick in the 2011 Draft, they got a stud.
For more on the Pirates, please check out Rum Bunter.