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2020 Season Preview: Gerrit Cole

Every day, Start Spreading the News will be previewing a Yankee every day at 4:00 PM. We began our series last week and continued this week with looking at Giancarlo Stanton yesterday.

Today, we will be looking at the newest Ace of the Yankees staff, pitcher Gerrit Cole.

 

Overview of his Career and How He Finally Came to the Bronx:

After being the talk of the offseason and the Yankees first big marquee free agent signing since they signed Masahiro Tanaka in early 2014, I’m sure at this point we all know how Gerrit Cole’s history with (finally) getting to the Bronx has happened. However, if you don’t, it is an interesting story.

He first almost ended up in pinstripes as early as 2008, when the Yankees used the 28th Overall pick in the MLB Draft to select the senior RHP from Orange Lutheran High School. Ultimately, Cole decided to pass-up the Yankees and instead honor his commitment to attend and pitch for UCLA, where he stayed until after his junior year when the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him with the 1st Overall Pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. This wouldn’t be the end of the Yankees trying to acquire Cole though.

After the 2017 season and during that offseason, the Yankees were in talks with the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire the RHP, yet ultimately could not come up with a deal that would satisfy both sides. Looking back on it, the Pirates seemed to be truly only after INF Gleyber Torres while the Yankees may have been more comfortable trading OF Clint Frazier and RHP Chance Adams to make a deal. However, in January of 2018 Cole got traded away to the Houston Astros- a team that had just “legitimately” won the World Seriesfor a package of four players including Joe Musgrove and Colin Moran.

Then, a few long years later as the Yankees just missed out on reaching the coveted World Series again, they were finally in a position to get their man. On December 10th, 2019 the journey was finally over. And, all it took was a 9-Year, $324 Million contract.

And, I couldn’t be more happy.

 

Injuries:

Gerrit Cole has had his fair share of injuries since his MLB career started in 2013, with ending up on the Injured List (then called Disabled List) 4 separate times, twice in 2014 and three times in 2016.

His first stint on the IL was from June 4th to June 28th when recovering from Right shoulder fatigue.

He then spent another month and a half from July 4th to August 20th that season when recovering from Right lat soreness.

The 2015 season was healthy for Gerrit Cole, but then in 2016 he suffered a Right triceps muscle strain which kept him out for just over a month from June 11th to July 16th.

At the end of August brought about Gerrit Cole’s most major injury, as he ended up on the IL from August 29th to September 12th with Posterior inflammation of right elbow.

Then, the next day Cole ended up going right back onto the IL after reaggravating the injury, which sent him immediately to the 60-day IL until the end of the season.

Since then, over these past 3 seasons, Gerrit Cole has not yet been back to the IL.

 

The Numbers (2019):

In 2019, Gerrit Cole had his best season in his career by ERA+ (182), which was considerably above his career average of a 127 ERA+ and his previous career best of a 144 ERA+ in 2018. What is interesting is looking at the overall advanced metrics of Gerrit Cole across his 5-pitch repertoire and seeing an incredible stability in terms of Pitch% (seen below), Pitch Velocity, Horizontal Break, and Vertical Break. However, we can pinpoint two very probable causes for his tremendous 2019 campaign.



GERRIT COLE PITCH% BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM
GERRIT COLE PITCH% BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM


GERRIT COLE PITCH% BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM


One of the biggest advanced metrics that teams have been emphasizing in recent years is Spin Rate, and no other team has been as good as the Houston Astros in increasing this for their pitchers. (Credit where credit is due…even if they are a bunch of cheaters.)



GERRIT COLE SPIN RATE BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM
GERRIT COLE SPIN RATE BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM


GERRIT COLE SPIN RATE BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM


When looking at Gerrit Cole’s Spin Rate through his career, an obvious jump can be noticed between where he was in 2017 (his last year with the Pirates) and 2019. Of note, over two seasons, Cole added nearly 250 RPM to his curveball, over 200 RPM to his slider, 366 RPM to his fastball, 412 RPM to his sinker, and 237 RPM to his change-up. (See above, right.)

On top of these specific advanced metrics, comes a more general look at them overall for Gerrit Cole that goes to show how good he truly was in 2019 across the league. He ranked in the Top 2-4% in XBA (.184), XSLG (.317), WOBA (.245), and XWOBA (.238) while allowing a Barrel% of only 5.9%, a BB% of 5.9%, and a Top-1% K% at an incredible 39.9%. (!)

When looking more at the traditional statistics, these advanced metrics show when it comes to just about every one of his phenomenal stats from 2019. His record (20-5), AL-Leading ERA (2.50) and FIP (2.64), Innings (212.1), MLB-Leading K (326) and K9 (13.8), WHIP (0.895), and BB9 (2.0). It really should be no surprise why he was an All-Star, 2nd in the Cy Young Award (to teammate Justin Verlander), and 10th in MVP voting (an award notorious for not going to pitchers).

Like with my other 2020 Season Previews, I highly recommend checking out Gerrit Cole’s Baseball Savant page, which you can find here.



GERRIT COLE 2019 MLB RANKINGS, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT: MLB.COM
GERRIT COLE 2019 MLB RANKINGS, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT: MLB.COM


GERRIT COLE 2019 MLB RANKINGS, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT: MLB.COM


 

The Projections (2020):

Given how good he was in 2019, what have the numbers been looking like for Gerrit Cole as we head into the 2020 season? Let’s take a look:



GERRIT COLE 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF BASEBALLREFERENCE.COM
GERRIT COLE 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF BASEBALLREFERENCE.COM


GERRIT COLE 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF BASEBALLREFERENCE.COM




GERRIT COLE 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM
GERRIT COLE 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM


GERRIT COLE 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM


While replicating the 2019 would be incredible, Baseball Reference (BR) does expect that Cole is going to regress when going into 2020, although even with it would still be a great season. This is most prominently shown in his ERA going from 2.50 to 3.24 (near his career average of 3.22) and a drop in strikeouts from 326 to 247 (career average of 237). Other projecting systems from Fangraphs seem to expect a little bit better of an ERA (averaging around 3.15) and a much better number of strikeouts with an average of 287.6 across the 5 projection systems.

Across the BR projections seem to be very in-line or a little better than Gerrit Cole’s career averages, seen by a projected WHIP of 1.065 (career average of 1.129), HR9 of 1.2 (0.9), BB9 of 2.6 (2.4), yet keeping a much better K9 at 12.0 (10.2), closer to his 2019 performance. This was to be done over 186.0 innings and factors in an 80% reliability rating, which factors in a 20% regression towards the mean.

Fangraphs expects Cole to be better overall than BR, especially seen below.



AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM
AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM


AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM


For the most part, Fangraphs was expecting a little better performance over more innings for Cole in 2020 (at an average of about 207 innings), with a HR9 of about 1.21, a BB9 of about 2.45, and a K9 of 12.51. Combine this with a solid expected FIP of around 3.05 and we would move towards an fWAR of around 6.1 to 6.7, which would be the best pitching season for a Yankees pitcher since Mike Mussina in 2001, who had an fWAR of 6.9.

According to these projections, at best, this would’ve ranked as the 9th best season by fWAR for a Yankees pitcher and at worst, it would’ve been tied for 12th best.

 

Conclusions:

Gosh, looking at previews for Gerrit Cole makes me truly wish that we were still counting down the days until Spring Training. It would’ve been so enjoyable to witness what he could do on the mound.

However, this does give me things to look forward to for when the season is set to return.

In terms of performance, and now that he is working with another analytical-mind in Matt Blake, it will be interesting to see how his advanced metrics change as he starts his Yankees career. He has been very consistent in his career (expect for Spin Rate, which we touched on earlier) so it’ll be cool to see where the Yankees believe there is a part of his game that can be improved to produce even better performance.

It’s also nice to have a true cornerstone for the rotation again, as Cole will be the next Yankees ace, taking the short-term reigns from Luis Severino and longer-term reigns from C.C. Sabathia.

#GerritCole

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