Pittsburgh Pirates starter Gerrit Cole has had a bit of a roller coaster season. The season opener did not go well, but he then cruised to a 2.84 ERA before May 22. Over the next four starts, he allowed 23 runs in 19.1 innings. Those starts inflated his ERA to 4.83. On June 13th, Cole flipped the script again by throwing seven innings and allowing one run to a high-powered Colorado Rockies offense. Outside of last week’s start, it appears that Cole has gone back into ace mode.
Perhaps Gerrit turned it around by fixing a mechanical flaw, although he kept stating he felt physically fine. The pitching sorcerer, Ray Searage, could have sacrificed another goat or sat down with Cole to talk about his issues. Of course, the reason could also be a much simpler reason to explain: the Pittsburgh Penguins finished their playoff season.
I don’t know Gerrit Cole as a person and I can’t “research” him via Twitter but I know he’s either: A. A big hockey fan or B. A Pittsburgh Penguins fan (maybe he’s best friends with Sidney Crosby?). He has notoriously been rowdy when in attendance to Pen games. He was told to stop banging on the glass back and heckling so much during the 2016 playoffs, and he even draws penguins in the Pirates locker room.
It’s pretty obvious he is a fan.
The Penguins started their championship journey on April 12th against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They dispatched the Jackets quickly, winning the series 4-1. This series was not worthy of Gerrit Cole’s attention. He had only made two starts at that point and needed to focus on himself. The next series was against the Washington Capitols, and it was much, much closer. It went all the way down to game seven but again Cole had to focus on himself and prove that he was an ace after last year’s rough year.
The night that the Penguins took a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, Cole had a 2.84 ERA. Cole had overcome the questions of last year’s performance and was getting talked about consistently as the top starter that could be traded. The Pittsburgh Penguins also had a real shot at repeating as champs, and that’s when Cole became distracted. The next day Gerrit gave up five runs in less than five innings, and that’s where the nosedive began.
By Gerrit’s next start, the Pittsburgh Penguins had secured their spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. There was an extremely nerve wracking double overtime Game seven that Gerrit more than likely watched and may have still been feeling the effects of. Which would explain how he allowed four runs in five innings the next day.
The Penguins were up 2-0 in Cole’s next start and were set to play the next night in Nashville. Apparently, Gerrit was worried about the Predators home ice advantage because his head was sure as hell not in the game. He gave up seven runs in five innings. He probably took a shower and donned his Penguins gear and got ready for the game. Baseball players tend to be superstitious so I’m betting that he’s got a specific Stanley Cup jersey and a stuffed penguin he keeps by his side when he watched the game. I’m not Cole but I’d name the penguin Patrick.
June 8th was the worst and final game in which the Penguins potentially distracted Cole. The Stanley Cup Finals were tied, the Penguins were in Pittsburgh and COLE WASN’T AT THE GAME! Instead, he had to pitch against the Miami Marlins, excuse me I meant “pitch”. He gave up eleven hits, seven runs, in 4.2 innings of work. That’s one way to ensure you get to watch the game from the clubhouse.
Correlation does not mean causation but you got to admit that it was a little strange that pre-Penguin playoffs Cole’s ERA was 2.84, he only allowed seven homers in nine games, and had 4.2 Ks per BB. When the Penguins were in the hunt he had an 10.71 ERA, eight homers in four games, and 3.2 Ks per BB. Cole’s made five starts since the Penguins were crowned. In those starts he has an ERA of 4.07 (heavily influenced by allowing seven runs in one game), four homers, and a 3.6 K per BB.
Maybe it was a bad stretch, even Cy Young caliber pitchers struggle during the season. However, his first game after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup he went seven innings and only allowed one run. He never threw more than 5.2 innings the entire time the Penguins were playing. The next three games he held opposing lineups to one run and pitched through the seventh all but once. Over the last five games he’s only allowed more than two runs and pitched less than six innings once.
If the four games “influenced” by the Penguins were ignored, then the perception of Cole would be very different. He would’ve pitched at least six innings in all but two games and allowed more than three runs twice. His ERA would be 2.96, which would be the fifth best in the National League. However, those games did happen and the fan base is perplexed by this ace one day and James Shields-look-alike the next day act.
In all honesty, the Pittsburgh Penguins probably had very little influence over Gerrit Cole’s season. Although everyone can relate to having their work suffer after watching a playoff game the night before. On the other hand this could be the next analytical breakthrough in baseball (although this Moneyball movie will be pretty boring). It can’t be denied that when the Stanley Cup was over, Cole went back to dominating offenses. So take note Clint Hurdle, maybe next year keep Gerrit Cole away from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.