Gerrit Cole Is Pitching Like an Ace Again
Not the start Cole wanted, but he quickly got his revenge on the Seattle outfielder, retiring Aoki in his next at-bat in the third inning on a skillful connection between he and David Freese.
We should have recognized it as a sign of what was to come.
Including the leadoff double, Cole faced five batters in the first inning and threw 20 pitches. Both totals were the highest they would be for any inning the rest of the way, as Cole cruised to a three-hit, 92 pitch complete game.
He faced just four batters over the minimum, and after the first frame, averaged a minuscule nine pitches per inning for the rest of the game, according to Brooks Baseball, only reaching double-digit pitches twice more (in the fourth and ninth innings).
Cole's dominant performance coupled with the Mariners' propensity for swinging early in the count, led to the low pitch count, which has only been bested once this season for a nine-inning game.
Gerrit Cole with the second-lowest pitch count for a 9-inning start this season. https://t.co/dvodgf176Q
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) July 28, 2016
Cole relied heavily on his fastball and sinker, throwing 71 of them combined. Lumping the two pitches into one "fastball" category means he threw his heater 77.4% of the time on Wednesday. This is his second-highest total of the season in 15 starts, and while he didn't have a ton of strikeouts -- just six on the day -- he was effective at getting the Mariners to swing often, even when the pitch wasn't a strike.
Gerrit Cole went the distance for the first time in his career last night, and he did it beautifully. #Pirateshttps://t.co/CkxkIAkoeH
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 28, 2016
Cole induced hitters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone at a massive 42.1% of the time on Wednesday (league average is currently 29.8 percent), and it is only the second time this season he's posted a total higher than 37%.
Seattle was only able to muster three hits against him, two of which came from Aoki, meaning the rest of the Mariners lineup went 1-for-25.
Not only was the complete game the first of Cole's career, but it was almost two years to the day since a fellow right-handed pitcher for the Pirates accomplished the same feat.
Gerrit Cole is the first #Pirates right-handed pitcher with a complete game since Vance Worley on July 28, 2014.
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) July 28, 2016
Cole returned from the disabled list to pitch on July 16, and I wrote about his importance to the Pirates and their chances of making the playoffs. He got knocked around in his first start back against the Washington Nationals, but Cole has pitched like an ace in his last two starts.
Even including the four earned runs he allowed in four innings to the Nats, Cole has posted a 3.26 SIERA, 23.40% strikeout rate, 3.90% walk rate and 52.8% ground-ball rate (league average is 45.0) in 19 innings since returning from the disabled list.
He's back to looking like the pitcher who posted the 5.4 fWAR last season, the 9th-best mark among pitchers, and Cole will need to kept it up to keep the Pirates in the playoff picture.
With a record of 52-48, they are currently on the outside looking in, and our projections give them just a 12.9% chance of making the postseason, which is 16th highest.
We forecast Cole to post a 3.59 ERA and 19.80% strikeout rate over the remaining course of the season. Those are solid numbers, but the Pirates will need more performances similar to what he did Wednesday, instead of what we project, if they want to sneak into the playoffs.