The Pirates have a rich history of great players, which happens when you’re a storied franchise that has been playing since 1882. History just tends to accumulate over the years, like old pieces of exercise equipment and holiday decorations in the basement.
But the Pirates don’t really have a huge cadre of great pitchers in their history, especially Hall Of Fame-caliber pitchers. Of the 37 Pirates enshrined in Cooperstown, only 10 are pitchers. And only two of them pitched after World War II. And none of them spent more than five seasons with the team.
Using Fangraphs’ single-season sorting tool, check out the list of the top 30 single-season pitching performances. Bob Veale’s 1965 season paces the field with an 8.0 WAR, which is outstanding over his 266 innings (17-12, 2.84 ERA/2.22 FIP, 9.34 K/9, 4.03 BB/9), but the 30th best season is only a 5.0 WAR season tied by three pitchers. And if you think the game hasn’t drastically changed over the years, take a look at Ed Morris’s 2nd and 4th best all-time seasons:
- Ed Morris (1886) — 63 starts, 555.1 IP, 2.45 ERA/2.68 FIP, 7.6 WAR
- Ed Morris (1885) — 63 starts, 581 IP, 2.35/2.49 FIP, 6.9 WAR
In back-to-back seasons, Morris made 126 starts and logged 1136 innings. There are guys that don’t have careers that last 1136 innings and Morris dropped that in just two seasons. And that was without having Dusty Baker as a manager.
All of this preamble brings us around to 2015’s Gerrit Cole. After Monday’s start against the Giants, Cole has now taken 11 turns in the rotation or approximately 1/3 of his expected (keep your fingers crossed) 33 starts this season. Cole’s 1.90 ERA compares favorably to his 2.41 FIP and his in-line-with-career-norm BABIP of .317. All of these factors have contributed to Cole putting forth a 1.9 WAR so far this year. Extrapolating that out gives 5.7 WAR, which would put Cole right around the 15th best season for a Pirate pitcher in their entire history.
But with the Ed Morris’s of the world prior to 1900, plus the whole concept of the deadball era, let’s take a look at where Cole would rank with a 5.7 WAR season if you re-adjust the scale from 1945 to 2015. As you can see, Cole now slides up to the 7th highest single-season WAR total in team history. Kudos to Gerrit for potentially breaking into “The Bobs’ Club” of the Top 10 (Veale, Moose, Friend occupying eight of the ten spots). With the dawning of integration and advances in the game, this 1945 starting point seems more real to me.
|1||1965||Bob Veale||17||12||0||39||37||266.0||9.34||4.03||0.17||.305||74.0 %||2.84||2.22||8.0|
|2||1960||Bob Friend||18||12||1||38||37||275.2||5.97||1.47||0.59||.286||75.3 %||3.00||2.59||7.1|
|3||1945||Preacher Roe||14||13||1||33||31||235.0||5.67||1.76||0.42||.298||76.4 %||2.87||2.50||6.6|
|4||1964||Bob Veale||18||12||0||40||38||279.2||8.05||3.99||0.26||.281||74.8 %||2.74||2.71||6.5|
|5||1956||Bob Friend||17||17||3||49||42||314.1||4.75||2.43||0.72||.276||72.1 %||3.46||3.21||6.1|
|6||1969||Bob Veale||13||14||0||34||34||225.2||8.49||3.63||0.32||.338||74.2 %||3.23||2.36||6.0|
|7||1963||Bob Friend||17||16||0||39||38||268.2||4.82||1.47||0.44||.255||74.3 %||2.34||2.59||5.7|
|8||1974||Jim Rooker||15||11||0||33||33||262.2||4.76||2.84||0.38||.261||74.1 %||2.78||3.06||5.3|
|9||1966||Bob Veale||16||12||0||38||37||268.1||7.68||3.42||0.60||.279||76.6 %||3.02||2.97||5.3|
|10||1972||Bob Moose||13||10||1||31||30||226.0||5.73||1.87||0.44||.281||72.6 %||2.91||2.46||5.2|
While they lack an all-time great pitcher (Bob Friend accrued 60.0 career WAR over 16 seasons to hold the franchise record), the Pirates have had some great individual seasons. But at no time in my baseball-watching memory have I had such complete faith that a pitcher was going to deliver a winning, dominant game every time out like with Gerrit Cole.
Oliver Perez’s 2004 season had some overwhelming performances (12-10, 2.98 ERA/3.45 FIP, 10.79 K/9, 3.72 BB/9), but you always had the feeling that it could implode at any minute. Doug Drabek’s 1990 Cy Young-winning season was obviously successful, but it wasn’t electric (22-6, 2.76 ERA/3.28 FIP, 5.10 K/9, 2.18 BB/9) — it was more workmanlike. Gerrit Cole combines the fastball of searing heat that Oliver Perez had in 2004 with Doug Drabek’s leadership, dedication to his craft, and ability to be a stopper in 1990.
Cole’s 96-98 mph fastball is the basis of his success, but his 86-87 mph slider has been up to the task, as well, this year. Cole can do it with both the strikeout (10.01 K/9) or let his defense do the work (54.1% groundball rate, 14th in MLB among starters), but he’s also limiting baserunners with a paltry 2.03 BB/9.
The crazy part is that with the great numbers that Cole is putting up so far in 2015 (yes…I know it’s only June 2nd), he’s not even close to being the leader for the NL Cy Young. That would be the Terminator-esque performance on display by the Nationals’ Max Scherzer (6-3, 1.51 ERA/1.77 FIP, 10.67 K/9, 1.26 BB/9), who has already compiled 3.0 WAR and shows no signs of slowing down.
There’s two-thirds of the season left, so there’s no telling what will happen by the beginning of October, but it’s shaping up to be a very special season for Gerrit Cole.