Astros' Gerrit Cole is leading the majors in strikeouts and setting himself up for a big payday this offseason

Consider the 2019 outputs of Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole

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Gerrit Cole HOU • SP • 45
ERA3.03
WHIP1.00
IP136.2
BB34
K205

You'll note that Cole, as of his 11-strikeout gem against the Athletics on Monday, has topped 200 strikeouts for the season. On that note: 

Admirable company, I'm sure you'll agree. Yes, the current era is overstuffed with strikeouts, but Cole stands out even by those standards. In addition to leading the majors with those 205 strikeouts, he's also struck out 37.9 percent of opposing hitters. That K% leads the majors by a significant margin. To put it in context, the average MLB starting pitcher this season has struck out 22.2 percent of opposing batters. Oh, one more: Cole would rank 33rd in strikeouts this season -- just behind Jose Berrios and just ahead of Hyun-jin Ryu -- if you counted just those strikeouts he achieved using his four-seam fastball. He's got 113 of those. 

This isn't a brief run of top-tier pitching -- since joining the Astros, he's put up an ERA+ of 144 and a K/BB ratio of 4.91 in 331 innings -- and that's in part why Cole is poised to be MLB's next $200 million pitcher. He's eligible for free agency this coming offseason, and even with a down-cycled market for players coming off six years of service time Cole is going to get some stacks. That's for a number of reasons, but mostly it has to do with the level of dominance Cole has attained since the January 2018 trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to Houston. 

First, there's the spin rate. A number of teams seek out high spin rates these days, and Cole on the Astros' watch has developed into an elite performer in this regard (Mr. Bauer's thoughts on this topic are duly noted). Back in 2017, his final season with the Pirates, Cole was in just the 33rd percentile when it came to spin rate on his fastball. Last season, Cole added RPMs to his four-seamer and vaulted into the 83rd percentile. In 2019, he's progressed further and is presently in the 95th percentile. His curve showed strong spin rates even in Pittsburgh, and it's also near the top of the scale now.

As well, Cole's fastball averages 97 mph, and he pairs it with a hard slider (89 mph), that high-spin curve, and a changeup. Elite velocity plus elite spin yield those jaw-dropping strikeout numbers noted above, and they also suggest that Cole can keep it up for seasons to come. And when you're capable ringing up hitters at such a clip while also limiting walks, you're talking about a true ace. 

Beyond all that, Cole's a former No. 1 overall pick, so the upside has always been there. He's also going to hit the market at age 29, which is fairly young as frontline free agent pitchers go. With pitchers it's more about skills retention than age, but Cole ticks off both boxes. He's also been free of arm trouble since late in the 2016 season, and he's on pace for his third-straight 200-inning campaign. 

Teams these days won't pay for much at free-agent rates, but they will pay for strikeouts, spin rate, health, and relative youth. Cole has all of that going for him as he heads down the homestretch of his walk year. 

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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