Cole transformed by Astros analytics
NEW YORK — Gerrit Cole walked into a conference room after one of his first spring training workouts with the Houston Astros in February 2018 and was met by about 10 people.
“There was charts, video, matching charts,” Cole recalled. “It was all new then, but it’s pretty straightforward to me now.”
Cole transformed into perhaps the best pitcher in the major leagues after that one-hour presentation, increasing the usage of his four-seam fastball and curveball, pretty much dropping his two-seam sinker and attacking the top of the strike zone far more frequently.
With the Astros and Yankees tied at one game apiece in the AL Championship Series, Cole is 18-0 in his last 24 starts heading into his matchup Tuesday night against New York ace Luis Severino.
“It’s a blast. This is the big stage,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s rowdy from the first pitch on. It will bring some adrenaline out of you.”
Houston may be known for oil, but this October it’s been Cole country. He is pitching his way into a postseason elite that includes Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Madison Bumgarner.
Once upon a time, the Astros remembered May 22 for hitting into a triple play.
Now it’s notable as the last time Cole lost.
Taken first overall by Pittsburgh in the 2011 amateur draft, Cole was 59-42 with a 3.50 ERA in five major league seasons when he was dealt to Houston in January 2018 for right-handers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, third baseman Colin Moran and outfielder Jason Martin. Since that spring training meeting, his regular season record is 35-10.
Pitching coach Brent Strom did most of the talking during the discussion, joined by bullpen coach Josh Miller, minor league pitching coordinator Doug White, manager of major league advance information Tom Koch-Weser and Brandon Taubman, senior director of research and development and a former Ernst & Young derivative valuation expert.
“I just hadn’t dove into that whole realm much before. So I guess that was most surprising, that you could even like forecast what a pitch would project to be like against the rest of the league,” Cole said.
Hinch considers the presentation a trade secret, not surprising for an organization whose analytics team employed former NASA biomathematician Sig Mejdal, now with Baltimore.
Cole threw just over 8 percent of his pitches in the upper third of the strike zone during his last season with the Pirates and another 11.5 percent wide of the upper third or above, according the Brooks Baseball. This year he threw nearly 13 percent in the upper third plus 21 percent high and wide.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone marvels at Cole’s “ability to really pitch at the top of the strike zone with his high-end fastball and really command it up there.”