Some Thoughts on Gerrit Cole
by Tamar Chalker
September 20, 2022
I hadn't even had an opportunity to turn Sunday's game on when I got a text from my dad. Before looking at it, I had an idea of what was on his mind - Gerrit Cole. My dad has had a handful of targets when the Yankees have struggled this season. Some I agree with (Aroldis Chapman and Brian Cashman), some I'm ambivalent about (Aaron Boone), and some that leave me scratching my head a bit (Gerrit Cole). The gist of my dad's text was that Cole is so terrible that the Yankees couldn't even trade him away.
Now, I'm not saying Cole doesn't have some issues, but the level of vitriol he has garnered from some fans, in my opinion, is over the top. His issues giving up the long ball are absolutely a problem, but otherwise, he has been a key part of the 2022 Yankees' success. And despite that, I don't think Cole is particularly thrilled with his performance this season either. So, I decided to delve a little deeper into his numbers to see what I might be missing.
As has been well-documented, Cole is giving up way too many home runs this season. His 29 home runs are the second most in his career (tied with 2019 in Houston and under his 2017 total of 31 with Pittsburgh). Of course, in 2019 he also had 326 Ks, held opposing batters to a .186 average, and had a 2.50 ERA.
Don't get me wrong, Cole is on track to give up the most homers of his career, but his ERA still sits under 3.50, his 236 Ks lead the league, and he is holding batters to a .208 average. In fact, during his Yankee career Cole's average against has dropped considerably compared to earlier in his career. The problem isn't that he is getting hit a lot, it's that when he misses a pitch there is about a 1 in 5 chance it lands over the fence.
Part of the way Cole has minimized his damage is through his ability to strike players out and some key offensive output from his teammates. Granted, while those strikeouts certainly get him out of some tight spots, they also could be contributing to the home run problem. Cole is throwing a lot of pitches. In Sunday's game, he threw 94 pitches in only 5 innings, which is not what you want from your ace.
One of my dad's main complaints was that Cole is supposed to be the ace and isn't pitching like it. I understand where that comes from, but other than a surprisingly good season from Nestor Cortes, Cole would still be the clear number one pitcher for the Yankees right now. If you look at every other metric other than home runs, Cole is still one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball.
My dad also brought up how CC Sabathia was able to adjust his pitching style as his career wore on. Being able to adjust is key to having a long career, especially when you are known for being a power pitcher. I think it is one of the things that separates the truly great pitchers from the rest. I think the antithesis of that may be what we are seeing with Aroldis Chapman - I don't think he can make the adjustments he needs to in order to continue to be the feared closer he was ten years ago.
At some point, Cole is going to have to make similar adjustments to those that CC had to make, but he isn't there yet. He's still throwing 100 mph, he's still striking out over 11 batters per 9 innings, and he is still in his early 30s. The day is coming, but he's not there yet. If Cole wasn't giving up so many homers, everyone would be raving about his season.
Also of note, Cole's home run problem does not appear to be connected to Yankee Stadium being a hitters' park. His numbers in the Bronx are better than his numbers away, though not by a ton. The fact is, he's been pretty consistent in how he has pitched this season. If he could figure out how to keep the ball in the park during the offseason (or even better, before the postseason), Cole would be a key part of another Yankees' championship run. If he sorts that out, I would not be surprised to see Cole have a monster season in 2023.