Between now and each pitcher’s first start, we are going to do a deep dive Statcast breakdown on the New York Yankees’ rotation options. Previously we covered Jonathan Loaisiga and Jordan Montgomery. Up today: Gerrit Cole
The story of Cole is well known by now. The Yankees drafted him in the 1st round of the 2008 draft, but he turned them down to go to college at UCLA. After starring there for 3 years, he was the first overall pick by the Pirates in 2011. He had some success with Pittsburgh, but really took off after he was traded to Houston before the 2018 season. In two years with the Astros, he pitched to a 2.68 ERA with 602 K and 112 BB in 412.2 innings.
How did he do it? Simple – he stopped throwing his sinker and started throwing his fastball up in the zone. This chart shows his pitch mix by season:
You can see the uptick in four seam and slider % coinciding with the decrease in sinker % after being traded to Houston. It also helped that he dramatically increased his spin rates, which he credited to Justin Verlander.
Cole was about as good as you can be last season. In 33 starts and 212.1 innings, Cole pitched to a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.48 xFIP, and 2.62 SIERA. Those numbers being so consistent tell us Cole was just that damn good last year and his success was not a fluke. He also struck out 13.82 batters per 9 innings and had a 39.9 K%, both of which are records for starting pitchers. To make it even better, he walked less than 6% of batters. That led to a 34% K-BB% which is just incredible. Cole was literally as good as you can be last year, and is arguably the best pitcher on the planet. His best start came on 9/8 against Seattle where he threw 8 innings of 1 run ball while striking out 15 batters. That start had a game score of 91.
Where even to begin? Here’s Cole’s Statcast Breakdown:
I’ve never seen anything like it. His fastball velocity, spin rate, and curveball spin rate all rate above the 93rd percentile. His predictive stats are incredible – xERA, xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA all in the 96th percentile or higher. And, he generates weaker contact than the average pitcher. The only area to improve here is his hard hit % which is only slightly above average. It’s insane…I spent over an hour trying to find a flaw with Cole and came up empty.
The only issue Cole had last season was a slow start. He had an ERA of 4.10 through May before hunkering down and straight up dominating with a 1.78 ERA the rest of the way. There’s a lot of noise in ERA so I took a look at xwOBA throughout the season:
You can see the slow start followed by an incredible finish to the season. In looking at what helped Cole dominate, the only thing I found was he allowed fewer line drives as the year went on. Fewer line drives = more success.
As you already know, Cole has incredible stuff. Enjoy the following videos of some Cole dominance and salivate over what he’s going to do for the Yankees:
Going from the Trashtros to the Yankees is about the only upgrade I can imagine for Cole. In all seriousness, the one thing Cole can improve on is giving up fly balls and homeruns. He had a 60% line drive and fly ball rate last year and gave up 29 homeruns. That 16.9% HR/FB was the highest of his career, and Yankee Stadium is a hitter’s ballpark. But despite all that, Cole had one of the best seasons we have ever seen from a pitcher. So the only improvement is to keep on keeping on and repeat that success.
Plan for this year
Be the Yankees ace. Kick ass. Win a World Series. ‘Das it. Cole said pressure is a privilege in his first Yankee press conference, and now we all get the privilege of watching him pitch in pinstripes after Cashman chased him for 11 years.