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How worried should we be about Gerrit Cole?

About a month ago, I hopped on this very website and told you all that Gerrit Cole was the Cy Young favorite and that it wasn’t even close. I am here to tell you now that I am an absolute idiot. In my defense, at the time, he was leading Robbie Ray in pretty much every stat. Since then, however, Cole has imploded in one of the worst months of his career.

Since his 15 K game against the Los Angeles Angels, Cole has pulled a hamstring and mostly been ineffective. Including the game he got injured, Cole has thrown 24.2 innings allowing 18 runs. His September ERA is hovering in the mid 5’s, and he hasn’t struck out more than seven batters.

Clearly something is off with the $324 million man. The question now shifts from “Is he going to win the Cy Young?” to “How concerned are we heading into a potential one-game Wild Card?” If he can physically throw a ball, Cole will be taking the mound next Tuesday (assuming they don’t collapse). Can he still get the job done?

Hamstring over sticky stuff

To me, it seems obvious that Cole’s hamstring is still bothering him. Despite what Yankee haters may believe, Cole has actually still been very effective since the sticky stuff. Like I said, before the month of September, he was actually running away with the Cy Young.

Something is clearly off with his mechanics since the hamstring and we can see it on the mound. Even in his two moderately effective starts since (6.0 IP 3 ER 6K @ Boston | 5.0 IP 1 ER 7 K @ Baltimore) , he didn’t look comfortable out there.

Either his hammy isn’t 100%, or his mechanics were messed up along the way trying to protect it. He doesn’t appear to be in any physical pain while he’s pitching, so let’s hope it’s the latter. If it is truly just a mechanical issue, Matt Blake makes plenty of money to spot that out and fix it.

Best case scenario – he nursed it while rehabbing, is overcompensating, and we fix it before the (please happen) Wild Card. Worst case scenario – he really is still hurting. If this is the result of an injury, it’s up to him to say something. While I admire the determination, throwing hurt and being ineffective only hurts the team.

Fastball effectiveness

Here is what is most concerning – the fastball is no longer effective. This could be due to the hamstring and struggling with location, but the bottom line is this; if Cole cannot locate his fastball, he turns from elite to “meh.โ€

Part of what makes Cole so special is that he can dot 100 mph on the corners routinely. When a fastball hitting team, i.e. the Toronto Blue Jays, comes up expecting 98-100 AND you don’t locate it, you’re in trouble. From April-August, Cole’s fastball had a .208 batting average, a .202 expected batting average, a 36% K percentage, a 45% hard hit percentage, and an average exit velo of 90.9. Moreover, in the span of those 5 months, Cole only surrendered 10 total homeruns on his fastball.

THIS is what locating a fastball looks like.

Since the injury however, Cole’s fastball has yielded a .340 batting average, a .307 expected batting average, a 23% K percentage, and a 93.3 average exit velocity to go along with 4 homeruns. Not good. When the fastball is off, all of the other pitches become less effective.

You know the old saying, “the harder it comes in, the harder it goes out.”? Well, when you can just sit and wait on the hard stuff, you can hit it very hard and very far. Take Mr. Marcus Semien as an example. Last night, Cole clearly couldn’t locate any of his pitches, sits on a fastball, and this happens.

THIS is what not locating a fastball looks like.

Normal, healthy, mechanically sound Cole, elevates that pitch and gets a weak pop up or a strike out. Every other pitch works off the fastball. When opposing hitters no longer fear your bread and butter, you don’t have much ground to stand on.

For Cole to be a weapon moving forward, this is the single most important thing he has to figure out.

Final panic meter

Because I don’t believe that he is fully healthy, my final panic meter grade is:

6.3/10

I am nervous that he can’t locate that fastball come a do-or-die Wild Card. Whatever team we end up facing, if we make it, can hit and can hit for power. Power hitting, fastball feasting lineups are a nightmare matchup for a pitcher who can’t locate.

Now, that being said, I am not concerned about Cole in the long term, or Cole the pitcher in general. We know he can pitch in big games. We know he is a top tier pitcher in the league. The only caveat to this is, he has to be healthy. If he can get the hammy under control, there isn’t a guy I trust more, especially with the season on the line.

If not, well, please score some runs.