Where has THAT been? Seven innings in less than 100 pitches (60% of which were strikes) with only eight base runners allowed and zero runs. Zero.
This is the Aaron Cook that the Rockies were hoping they would get back in February. I don’t believe anyone within the Rockies organization thought they might get a pitcher that good on a nightly basis but that Cook would at least pitch a few games like this during the year mixed in with games in which he allows a few runs (OK, maybe five or six runs occasionally). The only people who thought Cook would pitch like that all year are the guys and gals at Root Sports who obviously are not allowed to say anything negative about anyone within the Rockies organization. They think Ty Wigginton is the most versatile defensive player in baseball and would love to have seven clones of him in the field behind the pitcher every night.
What was it that Cook did so well last night? It is pretty simple; he kept the ball down and in against both left hand and right hand batters.
Here are the pitchFX charts from Cook’s outing last night (thanks to Fangraphs!). Notice how very few pitches were up in the zone and how there were very few pitches over the outside part of the plate where a batter can extend his arms and generate power. Most of his pitches were either in the bottom half of the zone or out of the zone and low, exactly where he needs to live to generate the ground balls he requires to be successful. He isn’t a strikeout pitcher and for him to be successful he must keep the ball on the ground.
To compare to Cook’s most recent outing, which wasn’t all that bad and certainly not his worst of 2011, look at the pitch location. Especially against right hand batters Cook struggled to keep the ball down and in. Against lefties the ball was all over the place, in and out especially.
Finally, in looking at Cook’s season as a whole we can use the Heat Maps feature on Fangraphs to see how he is locating his two-seam fastball – the pitch he must control and locate low in the zone to effectively generate those ground ball outs. As you can see he uses his two-seamer more often against lefties and he leaves it right in the middle of the plate entirely too often. Against right hand batter the majority of his two-seamer’s end up low and inside; an ideal location to get those weak ground outs to third or short.
While I normally wouldn’t get excited or even write about a single game performance this one came out of nowhere. Before the game started last night I asked the Twitter world (follow me!!) which would be higher: runs allowed by Cook or innings pitched by Cook. Never did I think (or those who responded) that he would last more than four or five innings much less pitch seven innings of shutout baseball.
PS – I don’t care if the Dodgers had Aaron Miles and his career .355 slugging percentage batting fifth or that Jamey Carroll and his career OPS+ of 87 was also in that same lineup or that Tony Gwynn Jr. and his career .321 on-base percentage was batting leadoff; shutting out ANY team for Cook right now is impressive.