Gerrit Cole’s new pitch is helping him in a lot of ways. He is not just an ace, but he is one of the most thoughtful and hardest working players. Constantly tinkering and finding ways to get better, Cole may have upped his level even more in 2022. After all, the second half of his 2021 season was very inconsistent and not reflective of who Cole is as a pitcher. Following the sticky substances controversy, it was fair to wonder if Cole could ever be the same pitcher the New York Yankees signed to a $324 million deal in December 2019. However, Gerrit Cole’s propensity for tinkering was on display in 2021. Evident by how he threw his changeup way more than he ever had before. He increased his pitch usage from 5.6% to 14.2%, and the numbers show it was a fantastic decision. Per FanGraphs, Cole had the 6th-best changeup in the sport last year, posting a 5.9 changeup runs above average (wCH). So, how has Cole gotten even better in 2022?
Gerrit Cole’s New Pitch
For the first time in the pitch-tracking era, Gerrit Cole has introduced a cut-fastball into his repertoire (2015-present). In looking at his 2022 pitch usage, Cole has not just sprinkled it in. He is throwing the pitch 13.7% of the time, nearly the same amount he threw his changeup last year. His third-most used pitch is behind the slider (20.4%) and his four-seam fastball (49%). Between his cutter and four-seamer, opposing batters see two different fastballs from Cole 62.7% of the time. They play with hitters ‘ timing with a low-90s cutter and high-90s fastball. This pitch usage combined with varying speeds has made Cole’s hard stuff even more effective than in years past. Hitters are batting .138 with a .355 xSLG, .286 xwOBA, and an average exit velocity of 83.2 MPH off his cutter. Additionally, with a 31% whiff rate and 19% put-away rate, this has been a very effective pitch in more ways than one.
Location is Everything
Location is everything when it comes to Gerrit Cole’s new pitch, or should I say weapon? His cutter has been dominant, and a lot of that comes from where he is locating that pitch. The heat map of where his cutters are thrown shows a very clear purpose and direction for that pitch. Away to righties and inside to lefties. Cole uses his fastball to attack the zone, slider to get batters to chase, and the curveball and changeup to get hitters off balance; he very much nibbles around the zone with his cutter. Additionally, the cut-fastball pairs very well with the high four-seam fastball that Cole likes to throw. Where the high four-seamer gets lots of swings and misses, cutters avoid the bat’s barrel with more horizontal spin.
Pitch tunnelling is a very important pitching term in modern baseball. Pitchers are not only able to change speeds and location but have their pitches play off each other. Typically, this concept applies widely to fastballs and breaking balls. However, as Gerrit Cole did with his changeup last year, that pitch and the cutter play off the fastball exceptionally well. Cole is a strikeout pitcher, but he throws the cutter to miss the barrel of the bat. It’s reflected by the hitters’ 4% barrel rate against his cutter, among the lowest against any of Cole’s pitches.
The Cut-Fastball Revolution
Gerrit Cole started a revolution by throwing a cut-fastball, but he leads the way for this Yankees pitching staff. While Matt Blake, Desi Druschel, and even Mike Harkey serve as coaches for the pitching staff, Cole leads the rotation by example. He is not the only Yankee starter who has incorporated a cutter into his repertoire. Nestor Cortes has been the Yankees’ best pitcher this year and one of the best in baseball. He currently sports a 1.70 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 53 innings. He throws his cutter 39.4% of the time, which is a vast increase over his 23.6% usage rate of the pitch in 2021.
Luis Severino threw his cutter 2% of the time while pitching out of the bullpen in 2021. Before that, he had not thrown a cutter since 2016. It also includes his 2017 and 2018 seasons, in which he was one of the best pitchers in the sport. He currently throws that pitch 10% of the time, with batters sporting a .238 xBA, .359 xSLG, and a whopping 50% whiff rate. Severino is currently putting up numbers very similar to his ’17-’18 peak, sporting a 3.38 ERA and 2.87 xERA.
Jameson Taillon threw his cutter 3.7% of the time in 2021. Now he throws it 13.9% of the time, and even if the surface numbers against that pitch do not look great, there are some promising signs. He has allowed a .563 SLG as opposed to a .446 xSLG, a .346 wOBA compared to a .318 wOBA. Additionally, the average exit velocity off his cutter is 74.2 MPH. Furthermore, Taillon possesses both above-average horizontal and vertical movement on his cutter. On the whole, Taillon is having the best season of his career thus far, with a 2.49 ERA and 3.22 xERA.
Gerrit Cole has dominated in his previous seven starts despite a slow start to the year. He has thrown 46 1/3 innings to a 2.33 ERA, 1.91 FIP, .535 opponents OPS, and a 60-8 K/BB ratio. Even though his numbers aren’t the best in the rotation, Cole is the de facto leader of the pitching staff. There is no doubt that he is leading by example, as it is no coincidence that the rest of the rotation is using a cutter now. It has become a very effective pitch for Gerrit Cole and one that changes his entire scouting report for opponents. While introducing a cutter into the plans for the rotation was not necessarily Cole’s idea, his decision to do so has ultimately benefitted a rotation that has been the best in the AL.