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Can Gerrit Cole take it to the next level in 2015?

Ray profiles Pirates starter Gerrit Cole and asks whether he can take his performance to the next level and become a fantasy ace in 2015.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I like to draft one of the top 10-12 starting pitchers in mixed or mono league drafts, and like grab a second top 30 starter by the 7th or 8th round. But, there are some starting pitchers in the next tier that I would target as my first starter, and one of those pitchers that I would not hesitate to make my fantasy ace is Pirates starter Gerrit Cole. Waiting to grab Cole in the 7th round or so allows you to draft six hitters, or five hitters and a top 5 closer before your draft your ace.

I believe Cole, like Jake Arrieta who I wrote about yesterday, can be your fantasy ace in 2015.

Cole was a top 10 prospect coming into the 2013 season, and did not disappoint once he was called up to the big leagues. In 19 starts over 117.1 innings, Cole went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA, 2.91 FIP, and 3.14 xFIP. He struck out 7.67 batters per nine innings, walked just over two batters per nine, and kept the ball on the ground at a 49% clip. One would think that a pitcher who threw in the high 90's and touched 100 mph would strike out more hitters, but that wasn't the case in 2013. But, the sliver lining was the fact that he struck out 75 batters over his last 75.1 innings in 2013, so many expected him to whiff more batters in 2014.

And that he did.

Last season, Cole had an injury-shortened season, making 22 starts, going 11-5 with a 3.65 ERA, 3.23 FIP and a 3.25 xFIP over 138 innings of work. He struck out a batter per inning, but saw his walks per nine bump up to 2.61 BB/9, and his home runs per nine jump to 0.72 HR/9 vs 0.54 HR/9 in 2013. Once again, he kept the ball on the ground at a 49% rate, so while he wasn't dominant, he didn't hurt your fantasy rotation when healthy.

He struggled with his control in the first half of the season, striking out 78 and walking 29 in 85.2 innings, but his command and control improved in the second half, where he struck out 60 batters while walking just 11 in 52.1 innings. As a result, his K/BB jumped from 2.69 in the first half to 5.45 in the second half, good for 18th among all starters.

The projection systems are high on Cole this season:

Season

Team

W

L

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

WAR

2015

Steamer

11

10

29

176

8.25

2.7

3.55

3.39

2.4

2015

ZiPS

13

9

28

170.7

8.44

2.53

3.32

3.25

2.6

I actually think he can outperform both projections in 2015, winning 14-16 games, with a strikeout rate closer to a batter per inning, and an ERA in the 2.85 - 3.10 range. He pitches in a pitchers park in Pittsburgh, with a good bullpen behind him, and a front office that is willing to utilize the shift when needed.

This could be Cole's breakout season, and we could be talking about him as a top 12-15 starter in 2016.

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