Gerrit Cole, who is starting against the Dodgers on Saturday, has been one of the league’s best pitchers over the last six seasons, including time with the Astros and now with the Yankees. Going back to the start of 2018, he’s pitching to a 2.99 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 142 ERA+ and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. This year has been no different for him as he’s posted a 2.93 ERA and 145 ERA+. Down below we are going to break down what’s made him so dominant and what Dodgers hitters should expect to see.
Pitch #1: Four seam, 2023 usage rate - 55 percent
2023 stats - .227 xBA, .441 xSLG, .330 xwOBA
Average velo - 96.8 MPH - Spin rate - 2,436 RPM - vertical movement - 11.6 inches - horizontal movement - 9.4 inches
Cole’s four seamer is one of the more lethal pitches in baseball when he is able to properly locate it. Hitters struggle when he executes it well as shown by the 185 strikeouts, he has racked up with it since the start of the 2022 season or the 28.9-percent whiff rate it had last season. However, when he makes mistakes with the four seamer, it gets punished as he has allowed 22 homers off of it since the start of the 2022 season. Because of where Cole throws this pitch, it has a propensity to be hit in the air. The combined fly ball and pop-up percentage is a combined 42.4 percent compared to a ground ball rate of 32.3 percent.
Pitch #2: Slider, 2023 usage rate - 21.2 percent
2023 stats - .246 xBA, .343 xSLG, .287 xwOBA
Average velo - 89.2 MPH - Spin rate - 2,570 RPM - vertical movement - 33.2 inches - horizontal movement - 4.8 inches
Historically, this is a pitch that Cole uses to get whiffs. Prior to this season, the whiff rate on it was 39.9 percent or higher in four consecutive seasons, this season it is down to 27 percent. The chief reason for that drop is the chase rate against it going from 42.1 percent in 2022 to 30.1 percent in 2023. It is still being thrown out of the zone at a high rate at 56.5 percent this season, a slight decrease from last year’s mark. When hitters do make contact against this pitch, they do often hit it on the ground with a ground ball rate of 45.5 percent.
Pitch #3: Knuckle curve, 2023 usage rate - 14.8 percent
2023 stats - .278 xBA, .372 xSLG, .304 xwOBA
Average velo - 83.3 MPH - Spin rate - 2,780 RPM - vertical movement - 53.0 inches - horizontal movement - 10.1 inches
Like the prior two pitches discussed, the whiff rate on it is down significantly at 17.2 percent from last season and 12.7 percent from 2021. The chase rate on it is also down from 27.8 percent last season to 25.3 percent this season. His knuckle curve is his second most used pitch against left-handed batters at 17 percent, compared to his 12.8 percent usage rate against right-handed batters. The average launch angle against it is -1 degree and the ground ball rate is an unsustainable 68.8 percent, a 21 percent uptick from last season.
Pitch #4: Changeup, 2023 usage rate - 8.7 percent
2023 stats - .240 xBA, .357 xSLG, .265 xwOBA
Average velo - 88.7 MPH - Spin rate - 1,585 RPM - vertical movement - 24.8 inches - horizontal movement - 15.0 inches
This pitch is a key pitch for Cole to keep batters off balance and off of his four seamer because of the tunneling it has off of it. For the majority of the time, this pitch looks like his four seamer out of his hand, and then once the batter commits to it, it dives to the arm side, and they often swing over the pitch. The dominance in it is shown by the 37.7 percent whiff rate and just the 81.4 average exit velocity against it. Cole rarely throws this pitch against right-handed batters as the usage rate against them is just 2.8 percent.
Key matchup: J.D. Martinez
Martinez and Cole have a lengthy history. They’ve faced each other for 40 at bats with Martinez picking up eight hits and seven walks to 18 strikeouts in that frame. Despite struggling against four-seamers last year to the tune of a -1 run value, Martinez has done well against them with a positive 2-run value this season. The slugger is likely to see a steady diet of them against Cole, but based on the history between the two, there’s a solid chance we see Martinez struggle in this one.
Prediction - Cole throws seven innings, allows two runs and strikes out nine.