Ode to a Pitcher: As free agency looms, Gerrit Cole strikes out the world

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Chances are it’s a heater and you probably won’t touch it.

You like strikeouts? We got strikeouts.

Well, Gerrit Cole does, anyway. He gets it done with raw power, right in your face. The Houston Astros righty leads Major League Baseball in strikeouts per nine innings; he throws the second hardest average fastball among starters. He throws that 97 MPH fastball almost 55 percent of the time, challenging hitters over and over with it.

This stat kind of blew me away. Hitters whiff against Cole’s fastball almost 38 percent of the time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that’s the value of velocity and spin rate coming together. Cole’s fastball is dominant.

I’ve profiled some awesome, creative pitchers in this Ode to a Pitcher series. Take Dodgers lefty and possible NL Cy Young favorite, Hyun-Jin Ryu, for example. Ryu gets outs with deception. He moves the ball around the zone, cuts it and runs it, changes speeds. He uses everything at his disposal to get outs.

Cole doesn’t work quite that way. Maybe once his fastball loses its edge, but not now. Cole does work throughout the zone, but almost everything he throws is harder than 90 MPH. Cole forces the batter to contend with hard velocity on every pitch, be it a fastball, slider or changeup. You won’t get an eephus from Gerrit Cole.

It works. Cole has been an ace for the Astros since they acquired him before the 2018 season, and he’s lining himself up for a big payday this winter. Cole is fourth in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement, behind only Max Scherzer, Lance Lynn (!!!) and Charlie Morton. Good company.

It’s remarkable how effortless it looks with Cole. He doesn’t have the long whip delivery of an Aroldis Chapman, for example, or even the classic style of Justin Verlander. Cole just … throws. Visually he doesn’t seem to strain or exert, and yet, he’s pumping gas past big-league hitters.

Let’s take a look at how Cole fared in the bottom of the seventh inning in a recent start against the Los Angeles Angels.

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Reviewing Fight for the Fallen and Marveling at the G1 Climax

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This is my first G1 Climax and it hasn’t disappointed one bit.

Yo! On today’s show, I get into the awkward psychology of Brandi Rhodes’ work at Fight for the Fallen, the somewhat flat babyface run of Hangman Page, Chris Jericho’s good but familiar heel work, the astonishing Dustin Rhodes and more. Then, I gush over my favorite wrestler, Kazuchika Okada, and look forward to his battle with Will Ospreay. Finally, I ponder the possibilities with Jay White and grin at the zaniness of Jon Moxley.

You can find the show on iTunes and the below links.

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Ode to a Pitcher: With the velocity still strong, Aroldis Chapman finds his slider

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Power.

Aroldis Chapman throws the baseball very hard. At his hardest, maybe no ever has thrown one harder. Now, as mileage and innings take their toll, he doesn’t throw quite as hard, but make no mistake, he’s still a flamethrower.

It’s become a bit of a topic de jour for the YES Network to mention Chapman’s declining velocity. It’s true. He doesn’t throw as hard as a 31-year-old as he did as a youngster, especially in Cincinnati. I don’t mean to pick on the broadcast team — hey, you gotta fill time — but Chapman’s velocity is hardly a cause for major concern. Among qualified relievers, his average fastball velocity is fourth-best.

Ah, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The thing is, Chapman does seem aware that he’s lost just a bit of velocity, and that’s where this story picks up steam. Because he perhaps doesn’t feel as safe just blitzing every opposing batter with heat, he’s turned to his slider more and more the last two seasons. It was always at least a tantalizing pitch, but as we’ll see in the breakdown, when he is commanding the zone with the slider, he remains as lethal as ever.

Consider Fangraphs’ pVal metric. It tells us that for the last two seasons, Chapman’s most valuable pitch has been the breaking ball, not the well-known heater. The fastball remains quite a handful — and when Chapman is on his sequencing game, probably lifts the slider. The combination of the two, mixed around the zone with confidence and command, have kept Chapman among the game’s elite relievers even as age tries to draw its fee.

Chapman closed out the 2019 All-Star Game with epic flair. Let’s take a look.

Continue reading “Ode to a Pitcher: With the velocity still strong, Aroldis Chapman finds his slider”