Breaking News: Gerrit Cole is good. Really good. What if he could be even better, though? It seems as if Cole and the Yankees asked themselves this very question, because Cole has deployed a shiny new toy so far this season, and it’s making him even more difficult for opposing hitters to square up.
Throughout his career, Cole has predominantly thrown a fastball, slider and curveball, along with intermittent use of a changeup. The change was never more than an auxiliary offering for Cole over the years – he never used it more than 10% of the time, and really only threw it against left-handed hitters last year.
Through three starts of this young season, however, Cole is using his changeup in a much different way. He’s thrown it 13.7% of the time, and equally to righties and lefties. By some measures, the pitch is the same as it ever was – the spin rate, velocity and movement all align with his career norms. But, Cole’s confidence in and sequencing of his changeup can’t be measured by a metric, and those are the main reasons why he’s already tallied almost the same number of strikeouts on the change as he did all of last season.
According to Cole, it’s a pitch that started coming into its own last season:
“I used it sparingly in ‘18 and ‘19,” Cole said. “There were days when it would be good, so I would lean on it, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise to a certain extent, being forced to use it in certain situations last year. Trying to identify better reads and opportunities to throw it. I’m just trying to get better.”
Cole has certainly grown more confident in the pitch. Check out how the bottom falls out from under this 0-2 changeup:
We got a King Cole performance from Gerrit Cole himself. What a nasty changeup... pic.twitter.com/vlP4FRUdo5— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) April 7, 2021
That one came in a put-away situation to a lefty, and it was sharp. This pitch against a righty slugger like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a little more flat, but it still locked him up because it came in a 1-1 count against a righty - not the typical situation Cole goes to the change:
Aaron Boone thinks it all has to do with Cole’s ability to get ahead with his fastball.
“I just think he’s in such a good place with his fastball, driving it to different lanes,” Boone said. “I think he’s really in tune from a delivery standpoint, and that’s allowed him to get the right profile. He’s executing a lot of fastballs to start with and that’s setting everything else up. He’s doing a good job mixing in his changeup and then the slider and the curveball.”
Cole’s high-spin, high-velocity fastball has been as dominant as ever this season. And when he gets ahead, he now has another option to finish hitters off. The changeup has been his preferred offspeed offering against lefties this season, while he’s reserved his slider largely for right-handed hitters. Opposing hitters have yet to record a hit off of Cole’s changeup, and their sky-high launch angle of 41 degrees is a key reason why his pop-up rate is over 15% on the season. The changeup is doing its job keeping hitters off-balance.
Of course, Cole has only pitched three games this season, and his pitch mix may vary over time. But for a guy who learned some tips on the pitch from none other than Nolan Ryan, maybe there’s something to Cole’s new toy.