The Houston Astros really didn’t need another ace. They won 101 games and the World Series last year with a roster that has, for the most part, returned unchanged. Their biggest move? Trading a package of young players for the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole, a pitcher with big stuff, but not quite the numbers to match.
Well, Cole’s numbers are now beginning to match the stuff and then some. Cole struck out 14 batters in Friday’s game while allowing two runs in seven innings against the Rangers, giving him 36 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched across three starts to begin the 2018 season.
“… this is total dominance.” – @RealToddKalas
Gerrit Cole has set a career high with 13 strikeouts in a game!!!
— AT&T SportsNet SW (@ATTSportsNetSW) April 14, 2018
The 14 strikeouts represents a new career high for Cole, who now has more double-digit strikeout games in this young season than in any of his seasons with the Pirates, per MLB.com’s Andrew Simon. Cole isn’t just breaking his personal records, though, as he has now matched strikeout records by Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, the top two strikeout artists in MLB history.
Gerrit Cole joins Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers in recorded major league history to strike out 11 or more in each of his first three starts of a season. Ryan struck out 12, 11 and 14 in his first three starts of 1973 for the Angels.
— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) April 14, 2018
Gerrit Cole has a career-high 14 strikeouts tonight, giving him 36 strikeouts in his first three games with the @astros.
That's the most by any player in the live-ball era in his first 3 starts with a new team, surpassing Randy Johnson (34 with the Diamondbacks in 1999).
— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) April 14, 2018
Gerrit Cole struck out 14 batters on 93 pitches. No pitcher in MLB history had ever recorded that many strikeouts in a game by throwing 93 pitches or less.
— Chris Peixoto (@cp_astros) April 14, 2018
Now, obviously, we shouldn’t get too worked up about a sample as small as three starts. But it’s looking more and more apparent that Cole has made some changes since joining the Astros and that might be why we are seeing a new Cole.
Most important, it looks like Cole is getting in on the latest trend in pitching by throwing his fastball less and his secondary pitches more. This was a natural change given where Cole began his career and where he ended up this offseason. As Fangraphs pointed out Tuesday, the Pirates led all of MLB last season in rate of fastballs thrown with 62.8 percent of their pitches. The Astros sat all the way back at 27th at 49.6 percent thanks to players like Lance McCullers Jr. and Chris Devenski, who went for breaking balls more often than their fastballs.
That new strategy was on full display Friday, when Cole threw 46 fastballs out of 93 pitches, according to Baseball Savant.
Cole wasn’t exactly a slouch with the Pirates, but it always seemed odd that he never exceeded the vaunted strikeout-per-inning pace in Pittsburgh despite some of the top velocity in baseball. He is now at that pace and so much more in Houston, having struck out a league-leading 46.8 percent of batters faced so far this season. And it’s all thanks to embracing pitches like his filthy knuckle curve.
Seriously, look at this thing.
Have fun with that, AL West and whoever the Astros might face in the playoffs.
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