Twins Daily: Finding the next Gerrit Cole: A Rocky proposition

An awesome comparison by Twin Daily's Seth Stohs.
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Yesterday, Nick wrote an article talking about how the Twins deserve credit for acquiring Jake Odorizzi and working with him to find his best self in 2019. Today, I wanted to continue the “Finding the Next Gerrit Cole” theme by literally trying to find someone who could possibly provide the type of impact that Cole had on the Astros. Maybe there is one potential trade candidate out there who fits that mold.

Twins fans (at least those who read Twins Daily) have known about Jon Gray and his pitching talents since before the Colorado Rockies made him the third overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. The Twins Geek wrote up a Draft Profile on the flame-thrower from Oklahoma. That year, Gray was taken after the Astros took Mark Appel and the Cubs selected Kris Bryant. One pick after the Rockies drafted Gray, the Twins used the fourth overall pick on Kohl Stewart. Gerrit Cole, of course, was the first overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of UCLA.

Cole is listed at 6-foot-4.
Gray is listed at 6-foot-4.

Cole is listed at 225 pounds.
Gray is listed at 227 pounds.

Of course, height and weight are important in scouting, but in this analysis, it means nothing. There are dozens of MLB (and minor league) pitchers that are 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds or so. I thought it would be interesting to compare more to see how similar the two might be.

To do so, I looked at Gerrit Cole in 2017. He was 26 years old and had two more years of arbitration remaining. In 2019, Jon Gray was 27 years old, and as we look forward, he has two more years before he can become a free agent.

So let’s take a look at how Gerrit Cole performed for the Pirates in 2017 and compare it to how Jon Gray pitched for the Rockies in 2019. And hey, just for fun, let’s throw Cole’s 2019 numbers in there too.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 8.44.21 AM

What does it show us? Obviously we know that Win-Loss record doesn’t tell us anything. Gray’s ERA was better, but Cole held a slight advantage in xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Cole had the better WHIP. It might surprise people to see that Gray actually struck out more batters, though it’s statistically close enough, especially when strikeouts continue to increase across the league. Cole had better control.

The biggest difference is that Cole topped 200 innings in 2017 while Gray pitched just 150 innings in 2019. Gray went on the injured list in mid-August with a fractured left foot. He had surgery and should be ready in advance of spring training. He had a similar foot/ankle injury in 2017 that cost him two-and-a-half months.

Gray gets more ground balls, though I can’t help but wonder if that’s due to how he chooses to pitch in Colorado. The two had very similar strikeout rates.

Again, comparing those numbers to what Cole became in 2019 is more just fun than anything else, something to dream on.

Some will say that Gray isn’t as good as Cole was in 2017. I think that the numbers above show that they are more similar statistically than we may have even thought.

But I think it’s more important to look at how they pitch to see whether or not they are similar. Is their stuff comparable? Here are some numbers, again comparing Gray in 2019 with Cole in 2017. And, of course, I needed to add Cole in 2019 to the chart for fun, but also for a point.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 8.43.06 AM

(SETH CORRECTION: Jon Gray threw 33.5% sliders, not 13.5%. Sorry if that created confusion.)

I happen to think this chart is really interesting. Again, comparing Gray in 2019 with Cole in 2017, there are a lot of similarities.

They both had an average fastball of 96 mph. They both throw 88 mph sliders. Gray’s curveball came in just a little slower, and so did his changeup. Cole threw more fastballs. Gray threw a lot of sliders and didn’t throw many changeups. Cole gave up less contact and got a higher percentage of swing-and-misses on strikes. It all speaks to his stuff being right on par with Garrit Cole’s in 2017.

The big question

In my mind, the big question is - and should be with any pitcher the Twins consider with trades or free agency: Do the Twins pitching coaches, coordinators and evaluators think that Jon Gray can take it a step up from his 2019 numbers the same way that Cole’s performance jumped from 2017 to 2019? 

Cole added 1 mph on his fastball and on his slider. He did so while throwing a fewer fastballs and changeups and a few more sliders and curveballs.

Can Jon Gray add a tick or two to his velocity? Can his pitch mix be altered in such a way to reduce his contact rate and improve his swing-and-miss stuff?

Ultimately that’s what the Twins brass needs to consider.

What might it take?

If they do consider Gray to be a guy that could take a step forward in performance and possibly be an elite starting pitcher, well, then they need to figure out what they are willing to give up to acquire him from the Rockies.

So again, let’s look at Gerrit Cole for a comparison.

The Houston Astros acquired Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for four players:

  • RHP Michael Feliz - He was 24 years old and spent two-plus seasons with the Astros before the trade. He had a 5.13 ERA over that time period before the deal.
  • OF Jason Martin - He was a 22-year-old at the time of the deal. He split 2017 between High-A and AA and hit 35 doubles and 18 home runs that season.
  • 1B/3B Colin Moran - He was 25 and had been a high draft pick. He was a Top 100 prospect in previous years but no longer at the time of the deal.
  • RHP Joe Musgrave - He was a 24-year-old, a first-round pick in 2011. He spent time as a part-time starter with the Astros in 2016 and 2017.

So what might a similar deal look like for the Twins? Obviously this is a hypothetical, but I think it would take something similar to below. I think that the package should be similar, but still a little less than what was required to acquire Cole.

  • RHP Fernando Romero - Romero is currently 24 years old and has spent parts of 2018 and 2019 in the big leagues. While his numbers in 2019, his first year as a bullpen arm, weren't great, his potential is still high.
  • IF Travis Blankenhorn - He was just added to the 40-man roster, but like Martin, he split 2019 between High-A and AA and hit 19 home runs despite missing a bit more than a month with a broken finger.
  • OF/1B - Brent Rooker - Can you imagine what Brent Rooker could do to baseballs in the Mile High City? Rooker had been in the top 100 prospects last year but injuries cost him time in 2019. But his power is legit.
  • RHP Griffin Jax - Now, when I put this together, I wasn’t sure if Jax would be added to the 40-man roster. The Denver-area native wasn’t added to the 40-man roster, so he’s less likely to be tradable until after the Rule 5 draft. But there are any number of similar pitchers in the organization that the Rockies might have an interest in as well. If I were to keep the theme of Denver-area people, Bailey Ober might be a candidate. Or, might it take a pitcher with some big-league service time like a Devin Smeltzer or even Lewis Thorpe to be a sufficient final piece?

Let’s be honest. There’s no way to know what the Rockies would ask for. Maybe instead of four similar prospects, they may ask for one big prospect with one lesser prospect, or maybe the fourth player in this deal could be two other players.

Summary

  • The Twins - and every team in baseball - want to find the next Gerrit Cole.
  • Rockies ace Jon Gray has a lot of similarities to Gerrit Cole pre-trade, both statistically and in terms of stuff.
  • The Twins - and every team in baseball - will need to attempt to evaluate if they have ways that could make Gray take the next step toward becoming an elite starter.
  • Determine how much your team is willing to trade in exchange for Jon Gray (and then go-ahead and try to convince the Rockies that it is enough).
  • Hope! Hey, just because there are similarities between pitchers (age, size, stats and stuff) does not necessarily mean that they will have the same success. There is a lot of luck involved. But Derek Falvey has a reputation for developing pitchers. Wes Johnson got a lot of credit for some of the Twins' pitching successes and improvements in 2019.

If nothing else, it’s fun to think about. Finding the next Gerrit Cole is half the battle. Helping him develop into that pitcher is another thing. Maybe there are red flags, concerns about Jon Gray specifically. Maybe there are other issues that the Twins need to factor and consider. We can’t know it all, but as fans, we’ve been waiting for a true ace since Johan Santana.

This story originally appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News. 

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