It was the unstoppable force meeting the immoveable object of prospect hype: Gerrit Cole makes his second-ever big league start against the Dodgers and phenom Yasiel Puig. Cole, with all the polish and pedigree of a first overall college pitcher and Puig, the Cuban import signed after little more than a single workout.
After a whirlwind few weeks in the big leagues, these two young players captured the interest of much of the baseball-watching world. Well, Puig captured the attention of the baseball world while Pirates fans and internet types watched Gerrit Cole closely, wondering when his results would match up with his legendary velocity and stuff.
Meanwhile, Puig seems to succeed in spite of his lack of seasoning and unrefined approach. Might the man who pounds the strike zone best the man who swings without much concern for it?
Yasiel Puig hasn't yet walked (non-IBB)
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) June 17, 2013
This tweet is already days old and yet it still holds true. Yasiel Puig is not in the big leagues to walk, he is here to hit. Much like Puig, Gerrit Cole is yet to walk – as a pitcher, this is far more virtuous than the hacktastic ways of the Cuban superstar.
So far as a pro, Yasiel Puig has hit just about everything thrown his way. His four homers have come off four different types of pitches: fastball, changeup, curve, and slider. He doesn’t discriminate – he’ll hit whatever you throw. He’ll also swing at whatever you’re offering, strike or ball, it matters not.
Gerrit Cole’s experience as a pitcher has been strikingly different. Almost exclusively fastballs both two and four seam and strikes by the boatload. Whether Cole and continue with this rather peculiar approach is questionable, especially considering the strength of his secondary offerings. So what happened when the strike-thrower met the strike-hitter?
Unsurprisingly, Cole threw a tonne of fastballs to Puig. Similarly unsurprising, Yasiel Puig managed three hits against Cole’s fastballs. It is really a testament to both men that it worked out as it did.
Below is a heat map showing all the pitches Cole threw Puig on Sunday. Ten total pitches (in three at bats!), nine fastballs and one lonely slider.
First at bat:
- Fastball inside – ball
- Fastball over the plate (inside half, up) – foul
- Slider over the plate (middle, middle) – foul
- Fastball inside – single
If anyone was wondering about the concept of “weak contact” can use the above base hit as Exhibit A. The 97 mph fastball bores in on Puig’s hands. It is by no small miracle that Puig was able to muscle this ball just beyond the grasp of Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer.
The key pitch in this sequence, for me, is the slider. Puig was so far out front of the lone offspeed offering he almost hit it backwards. Puig is still geared up but fights off a cheap single.
Second at bat:
- Fastball inside – single
Cole and catcher Michael “The Fort” McKenry go right back to the identical spot, boring that 97 mph fastball in on Puig’s hands. Puig again makes weak contact, bouncing a high chopper beyond the reach of statuesque Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. SS Mercer fields the ball and looks to second for the force but no dice. Another infield hit.
This pitch and result point directly to the immovable force/irresistible object battle that is Puig v. Cole. If a pitcher with lesser stuff tries to get into Puig’s lightning quick hands, they’re probably cooked. Puig has six hits on inside fastballs already in his career. Any pitch that catches too much plate can expect to suffer a much worse fate than these two bounding balls.
But this seems to be Cole’s plan of action as a big leaguer – so few can actually touch his fastball, so why waste time with much of anything else? As nice as it was to get Puig off-balance with the slider in his first at bat, the fastball is the bread and butter.
Third at bat:
- Fastball low – ball
- Fastball low and away – ball
- Fastball low and inside – ball
- Fastball middle middle – foul
- Fastball inside – single
Oh boy. 3-0 cookie right down the middle that Puig offers at but JUST misses. Just missed, we can assume, because it touched 97 on the gun. Puig took a VERY healthy hack at the 3-0 pitch before finally hitting an honest to goodness single on another inside fastball.
Cole tried to get inside the spot again, sticking with fastballs against a guy clearly geared up for the heat. No thought to the change, which Keith Law points out was long Cole’s best pitch? Neither broadcast clearly shows Cole shaking off his catcher (somewhat unlikely in his second start) but it is in keeping with his pitch sequencing thus far.
Three times Gerrit Cole tried to get inside of Yasiel Puig and three times he “failed.” The pitches weren’t bad and the hits were cheap but, honestly, does Yasiel Puig seem like a man unafraid of fastballs? Look at where he dug into the box against Hiroki Kuroda today, daring the Yankees starter to throw him fastballs.
Most hitters dig as far back into the box as they can. Against the wily vet, Puig moves up in hopes of knocking some of the movement off Kuroda’s breaking pitches and getting a fastball he can handle.
It will be interesting to see how Cole handles Puig next time they meet (which won’t come until 2014 or the playoffs*). For Pirates fans’ sake, hopefully Cole’s more comfortable with his curve/change to take advantage of the Cuban’s aggresiveness. But who knows. I refuse to believe any pitch can get Puig out, no matter how slow or fast it travels.
* – lol