Gerrit Cole May Give the Houston Astros Baseball's Next Super Rotation
The rich get richer.
The Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates completed their long-rumored trade involving ace right-hander Gerrit Cole, sending four minor league players to Pittsburgh in exchange for the 27-year-old hurler. And, they just may have created baseball's next "super rotation."
Cole did not have his best season in 2017. He went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 4.08 and a DRA (deserved run average) of 4.15. He gave up 31 home runs, just shy of one per game, and his home-run-per-fly-ball rate jumped from 6.8% in ‘16 to 15.9% last season.
Despite getting hit around a bit, he remained healthy, making a league-leading 33 starts for the Pirates, totaling 203 innings. He's also still generating a good number of strikeouts, as his strikeout rate settled in at 23.1% with a strikeouts per nine innings rate of 8.69. It doesn't hurt that he'll make just under $7 million this season and is under team control through 2019.
Cole was worth 3.1 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs last year (fWAR) and 2.8 according to Baseball Reference (bWAR), but in recent seasons, he had been even better, emerging as one of the best young arms in the game.
Cole finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting in 2015, which shows the kind of potential he has. He was on his way to another outstanding year in 2016 until an elbow injury forced him to miss a significant chunk of time.
Now, instead of being his team's ace, Cole will slot in behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, as the team's third starter. Lance McCullers and 2017 postseason hero Charlie Morton make up the back-end of the rotation, giving Houston what could be MLB's next "super rotation." How does this group compare with recent rotations that were also given that title, though?
Here's what Houston's rotation looks like, using last year's numbers.
Prior to the 2015 season, the Washington Nationals signed free agent Max Scherzer, adding him to a rotation that already featured Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez, with Joe Ross, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark filling in as number-five starters. Here's how that group did.
That "super rotation" didn't pan out, with a 3.62 team ERA that was sixth-best in the NL that season. Not bad, but not super.
Perhaps the best rotation put together in the last 20 years is the 2011 starting staff of the Philadelphia Phillies, who featured three pitchers in the top five of NL Cy Young voting. Clayton Kershaw won the award that year, but Roy Halladay finished second, followed by Cliff Lee third and Cole Hamels fifth. Roy Oswalt was the team's fourth starter, with Joe Blanton and Vance Worley combining to handle the fifth spot. It was a rotation for the ages.
However, even having that good of a rotation doesn't guarantee October glory. The Phils lost to the Cardinals in the 2011 National League Division Series, and the 2015 Nats didn't even make the playoffs. In fact, the 2014 Nats rotation, without Scherzer, actually posted the third-best rotation ERA in the last 20 years (3.03), better than the the '15 crew (3.62).
Things don't always work out the way one would expect, and this MLB offseason is far from over. Free agents like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb have yet to find new homes. Adding one or more of them to an already established rotation -- or seeing another trade go down -- could challenge Houston for starter supremacy.
For now, though, Houston has given themselves a rotation that, for 2018 at least, looks like one of the best anyone's seen since the Phillies' 2011 group. They just hope their guys get them farther than the Phillies did seven years ago.