Gerrit Cole has always been a very good pitcher. He was the No. 1 overall pick out of UCLA by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2011 draft. He put together a 3.50 ERA and 3.27 FIP in five seasons over 728 1/3 innings with the Pirates, and was named an NL All-Star in his 2014 season.
But the 6’4″, 225-pounder always left you wanting more with the Pirates, especially when he’d show flashes of greatness with a fastball that can touch 100 MPH and wipeout offspeed pitches. He was the ideal change-of-scenery candidate, especially at just 27 years old.
So when the defending champion Houston Astros acquired Cole over the offseason, it was easy to see a breakout coming. But it’s doubtful that anybody saw him looking this good so soon.
Cole entered play on Friday as arguably the best starting pitcher in MLB so far this season (if not Houston teammate Justin Verlander: 1.13 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 1.8 fWAR), and took things to another level at hitter-friendly Chase Field against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The right-hander threw a complete game shutout (the first of his career), allowed just one hit, and struck out a career-high 16 hitters in Houston’s 8-0 win.
Count ‘em. 1️⃣6️⃣ pic.twitter.com/679rhom6M9
— Houston Astros (@astros) May 5, 2018
Maybe the most incredible factoid from the game: Cole’s final pitch (No. 114) was his fastest pitch of the season at 99.3 MPH:
Gerrit Cole's fastest pitch of this season was the last pitch of his complete game… 99.3 MPH. Wow!
— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 5, 2018
That’s a pretty damn good way to start off May after what he did in April.
"This is total dominance."
All 61 of Gerrit Cole's strikeouts in April. pic.twitter.com/OmMD3t5wtD
— Jeff Blogwell (@tylercstafford) May 1, 2018
Cole now leads MLB pitchers in fWAR (2.5) and FIP (1.90). He’s second in strikeouts per nine innings at 13.18 — behind only James Paxton, owner of a 16-strikeout performance the night before — while walking just 1.73 batters per nine.
With Cole, Verlander, and Charlie Morton (1.72 ERA), the Astros currently have three starting pitchers with sub-2 ERAs. They also have the 2015 AL Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel, and a nasty 24-year-old arm in Lance McCullers Jr.
It seems hard to believe, but the Astros appear to have a better starting rotation right now than the team that won 101 games and the World Series in 2017.