I decided to do a separate article on Gerrit Cole, the 28th pick in the Major League Draft by the New York Yankees, for a few reasons:
1. The quality of his overall stuff
2. The many questions about his mechanics
3. The debate over what to do about his mechanics and how to develop him
My initial thought on Cole was this: If Justin Smoak was the draft’s best pick, Cole was a very close second. Cole profiles as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, and to get a player of that sort with the 28th pick in the draft is a coup for the Yankees.
Cole has the best raw stuff of any pitcher in this draft.
Fastball – He has two fastballs: a four-seamer, which comes in between 95-97 with plenty of movement, and a two-seamer, which he throws between 91-93 and which has a great deal of sink to generate a lot of ground balls. Both profile as plus pitches, though I like the four-seamer a little more because of its better velocity and movement.
Curveball – This pitch comes in on a similar plane as his two-seam fastball, only about 17 mph slower. The pitch looks faster than the radar gun would indicate, and it has a late-breaking action, though the break isn’t as big as that of other power curves.
Below you’ll see Cole’s curveball and two-seam fastball:
Fastball Grade – 60/65 Now, 70 Future
Curveball Grade – 50 Now, 60 Future
Change-up – This pitch has good fading action, and once again it is difficult to discern from a fastball (this time, his two-seamer). Below is his change-up and two-seamer, and although you can’t see how each pitch comes in on similar planes, you can see the similarities in each pitch’s action all the way up to shortly before the ball reaches home plate.
Like most younger pitchers, Cole will have to work on maintaining that arm speed when throwing the pitch, but he shows a good feel for it.
Change-Up Grade – 50 Now, 60 Future
So you have three pitches—four if you count both fastballs—that are difficult for the hitter to pick up because all come in on a similar plane. Also adding to the difficulties for hitters is Cole’s intent when he throws each pitch; this is especially true with his curveball. Namely, hitters gear up for something hard because he appears to have the intent of throwing hard. As I said earlier, Cole will need to maintain the arm speed with the change-up, but the aggressive mechanics, the active lower body—everything prompts hitters to react to his intent, and as a result they are vulnerable to Cole’s off-speed pitches.
Cole’s mechanics give a lot of people some pause. And it’s true that Cole needs to clean up his mechanics some.
For starters, he occasionally throws across his body. His arm action is long, as you see him reach far back, which adds to the time between the break of his hands and the release of the pitch. His elbow, along with the ball, are brought high above shoulder height before sweeping forward. He then lands on a stiff front leg and there is some recoil in his arm after release.
So sure, there is risk involved here, just as there is risk involved in any pitcher. One thing that might follow from Cole’s longer arm action is his tendency to stay back, not letting his upper body get out in front as his arm sweeps forward. As a result, he lands stiffly on his front leg and looks almost as if he is pitching uphill. This also gives Cole’s arm less room to decelerate after release.
One thing that Cole does well is firm up his glove to prevent his front shoulder from opening (this also improves off-speed pitches), and you also see him leave the glove out in front of his chest, allowing his chest to move into the glove rather than tucking the glove into his side. This allows the pitcher to achieve a better upper-body tilt and extension out in front, which should allow Cole to release the ball just a little bit closer to home in addition to giving the arm more room to decelerate. However, by landing stiffly on his front leg, he neutralizes some of the advantages he gains with his very good front-side mechanics, such as the extra distance for the arm to decelerate and the release of the ball closer to home plate.
For an excellent finish, look at David Price:
Front leg has some bend to it and is in an athletic position; the upper body is tilted forward; the arm is given plenty of room to decelerate; and Price finishes with intent.
With all that said, Cole has a tremendously fast arm. He has an aggressive move into foot plant to kick-start his hip rotation. And although the change-up needs work in this department, Cole throws each pitch the same way: with intent.
To change or not?
So we have a pitcher with tremendous stuff but some questionable mechanics. How much should he change mechanically, if at all? That’s up to the New York player development team and Cole himself. Every pitcher has a wind-up that works for him. You must also look at the reputation of the organization in terms of the success they’ve had in changing a pitcher’s mechanics. With Joba, the Yankees did quite well; with Phil Hughes, not so much.
The title of the Hughes article at the link is “If It Ain’t Broke.” The same concept applies to Cole: Why fix something that ain’t broke? The answer is, They shouldn’t. For now, the focus should be on simply letting Cole pitch. If needed, tweak his mechanics to make his current mechanics more efficient (such as shortening his arm action just a little bit, which I think would help solve a couple other problems as well). But let him pitch. Should there be problems, whether they be health- or productivity-related, clearly changes should be considered. But that is a debate for another day.
Grade – A