During his start on Friday night, Gerrit Cole reached the 200 strikeout threshold, becoming the first Yankee to hit that high since Luis Severino in 2018 and the first Yankee not named Luis Severino to do so since CC Sabathia in 2011. Per the tweet below, this was nothing special to Cole: just doing his job. That’s a great attitude to have as it’s yet another example of Cole holding himself to nothing but the highest of standards. Regardless of his modest assessment of himself, this is a great achievement.
As he has been since leaving the Pirates and their pitch to contact approach, Cole has been a strikeout artist this season. When looking into his strikeouts in 2021, something jumped out to me: his fastball. Despite a lot of scrutiny this year–STICKY STUFF PANIC–his fastball has actually become a more effective strikeout pitch for him than it was in 2020. Here are some numbers in table form:
|Usage||MPH||Spin Rate||Run value/100 pitches||Whiff%||K%||Put away%||In-zone swing/miss%||Chase swing/miss%|
In 2021, he’s tallying a better run value on the heater per 100 pitches, a better whiff rate, a better strikeout rate, a higher put away rate, and a higher in-zone whiff rate.
Similar to 2020–and overall Yankee philosophy–Cole works his fastball up the zone. This make sense as it’s a high velocity, high spin pitch. In 2020, he got plenty of strikeouts up in the zone. Take a look.
Those are, unsurprisingly, really strong numbers. But now, let’s look at 2021.
These numbers show straight up dominance at the top of the zone on both sides of the plate and down the middle. Note the increased in-zone whiff rate from the chart above and then compare the two images. He’s not tricking batters or getting them to chase; he’s blowing them away. And while he’s also getting plenty of strikeouts on his changeup and slider, the fastball’s increased whiff rate is what drove me to look into this deeper. It’s even more impressive that he’s doing this while throwing the pitch less than he did last season. Talk about a bang (or lack thereof?) for your buck.
At this point, it’s clear that this is just Gerrit Cole doing Gerrit Cole things. It’s easy to expect this from him given how he’s pitched in his time with the Yankees, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop and appreciate it. There’s a beautiful simplicity to this method of strikeouts: see ball, don’t hit ball.