Days after we first thought Gerrit Cole would be traded to the Houston Astros, the young right-handed pitcher is now finally on the move. FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported on Friday evening the Astros agreed to send third baseman Colin Moran, starting pitcher Joe Musgrove, relief pitcher Michael Feliz and outfielder Jason Martin to Pittsburgh for Cole. The deal is now confirmed by the Pirates.
It marks the first and potentially only big move by the defending World Series champions this offseason. Months after they traded for Justin Verlander to bolster their rotation, the Astros now bring in another potential front-line starter to slide in behind Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.
A look back at Cole's numbers from the 2017 season leaves a bad impression. Across 203 innings pitched, the 27-year-old righty registered a 4.26 ERA, 4.08 FIP and 96 FIP-. All three numbers represented significant career lows for his young career and cut into his trade value.
Cole's struggles in 2017 can't be traced back to sudden issues with his command. The right-hander's walk percentage (6.5), strikeout percentage (23.1), zone percentage (49.5) and first pitch strike percentage (49.5) all represented improvements or closely matched his career rates.
We can trace the cause in Cole's ERA inflation to a sharp rise in opponent's success putting the ball in the air and it leaving the yard. After two consecutive seasons of a HR/FB percentage under seven percent, Cole saw it jump to 15.9 percent in 2017 and he allowed the sixth-most home runs by a starting pitcher (31).
In comparison over his previous three seasons, Cole allowed 29 home runs in 462 innings pitched. In itself that presents an issue and one that could be traced to opponents catching up to Cole's fastball.
The 27-year-old, who used his fastball 66-plus percent of the time from '14-'16, increasingly saw opposing hitters time his fastball and adjust to its movement and location. The result, Cole adjusted and started to use his fastball slightly less often (60 percent) of the time and started using his slider (18.1 percent), changeup (10.5 percent) and cutter (12.3 percent more this season.
This past season proved to be rough, but Cole now lands in Houston with a veteran pitching staff featuring two Cy Young pitchers and one of the most highly-regarded coaching staffs in baseball. He'll have time this offseason, especially in spring training, to work on his secondary pitches with coaches and develop his swing-and-miss stuff more.
With further improvements in the repertoire and consistently mixing his pitches to generate a higher swinging strike rate and cutting down on the HR/FB rate with a cut in fly balls, could easily push Cole's ERA back down below four. To pair a pitcher of Cole's caliber with Verlander, Keuchel and Lance McCullers, gives Houston the best rotation in baseball.