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Gerrit Cole & The Burden Of Expectations

Gerrit Cole seems to always leave the fanbase wanting more.

On Sunday Gerrit Cole pitched 7 strong innings against the Padres, giving up just 5 hits and 1 earned run (on his requisite homer allowed), while walking just 2 and striking out 8. It capped off a terrific July for Cole in which he went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA/2.99 FIP, pitched 32 innings, allowed 28 hits, walked only 7, and struck out 34 batters. Most importantly, he allowed just 3 homers in the month of July, which has been his bugaboo all year.

Because of Gerrit Cole’s awful June (6.17 ERA), his overall season numbers are good, not great (9-7, 3.97 ERA/4.18 ERA). Every Cole start this year has been scrutinized and re-hashed and debated on whether or not Gerrit Cole is truly an ace. I’ve long held to the notion that in 2015, Cole displayed that he was, in fact, an ace or at least in possession of ace-like capabilities. Injuries destroyed his 2016 season. April and May of 2017 showed that he was back more on the 2015 track, until his June derailed what could have been a resurgent year.

I’ll concede that Cole’s inefficiency with his pitch counts is preventing him from truly ascending into the bonafide #1 starter level, as he still has far too many 6 inning outings for my liking. But there’s no way I’ll say he’s anything less than a high-end #2 on whole. All of this comes around to the impetus for this article today, from a tweet and a response I received on Sunday:

This got me thinking about where Cole stands relative to other pitchers that have been selected 1-1 in the June draft. Using Baseball Reference’s Draft sorting tools, I came up with 15 pitchers that have been selected 1st overall in the 53 year history of the draft. I’ve broken them down by left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers, then arranged them by total WAR (albeit Baseball Ref’s version of WAR). Also note, I did not include Tim Belcher or Brady Aiken, neither of whom signed when they were the 1st overall pick that year (Belcher signed in a January supplement draft the following year).

Name LHP/RHP Career bWAR Career ERA Career WHIP Career Wins Career Losses
David Price LHP 33.00 3.24 1.15 126 68
Andy Benes RHP 31.70 3.97 1.31 155 139
Mike Moore RHP 28.50 4.39 1.42 161 176
Floyd Bannister LHP 26.90 4.06 1.33 134 143
Stephen Strasburg RHP 21.30 3.18 1.10 79 44
Ben McDonald RHP 20.90 3.91 1.26 78 70
Kris Benson RHP 13.00 4.42 1.39 70 75
Gerrit Cole RHP 11.50 3.37 1.21 56 37
Luke Hochevar RHP 3.10 4.98 1.34 46 65
Paul Wilson RHP 2.20 4.86 1.45 40 58
David Clyde LHP 0.80 4.63 1.53 18 33
Brien Taylor LHP 0.00 —- —- —- —-
Mark Appel RHP 0.00 —- —- —- —-
Matt Anderson RHP -0.30 5.19 1.58 15 7
Bryan Bullington RHP -0.50 5.62 1.58 1 9

Since Gerrit Cole is still in the early stages of what will hopefully be a long career, his raw numbers don’t compare to some of the other 14 pitchers. However, he still ranks 8th in career WAR with 11.5 and 8th in total wins. With time in his career, he’ll easily eclipse many of those ahead of him on both lists.

Where he shines, though, is in the rate stats. Cole ranks 3rd in ERA at 3.39 for his career, behind only Stephen Strasburg (3.18) and David Price (3.24). He’s also 3rd in WHIP (1.22) behind those same two pitchers: Strasburg (1.10) and Price (1.15).

As it stands today, Strasburg and Price are probably the two best overall 1-1 picks as pitchers in the draft’s history, albeit their competition isn’t the strongest. Neither of them has had their decline phase of their career to dampen their numbers yet, though. I’d feel safe saying that Gerrit Cole is comfortably making a case to claim the bronze medal in this ‘Best Pitcher at 1-1 Pick’ competition.

If Cole was drafted in the 1st round, but slightly later, would that affect expectations? Stephen Strasburg was far and away the consensus 1-1 pick in 2009 when the Nationals were pretty clearly tanking in 2008 to get him. Gerrit Cole was in a four person mix for consideration at 1-1 with his UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer, high school phenom Dylan Bundy, and 3B Anthony Rendon from Rice.

I’m not sure what fans expect from a 1-1 pick, I guess. It seems like people just automatically want to start engraving the plaque in Cooperstown. Just getting a competent front-end pitcher is a huge win in and of itself, considering the meat grinder that is the minor leagues (hey, Mark Appel) and what injuries can do to a career (hey, Brien Taylor and your bar fight). As stated at the outset, Gerrit Cole is at worst a high-end #2 and at best a low-end #1. His initial draft investment of $8M has long since paid for itself.

About Kevin Creagh (298 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.