Since becoming a member of the Houston Astros in 2018, Gerrit Cole has cemented himself as a top five pitcher in the sport. His 2019 season with Houston was one of the best pitching seasons of all time. Robbed of CY Young by his teammate, Justin Verlander.
While always very good in his first stop with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he truly transformed into the pitcher he is today after the trade to Houston. This is the same organization that revitalized the career of Verlander. They were able to do the same with Cole. Consistency, availability, and dominance; ace of the staff.
Fast forward five years, Cole, 32 years old, is a New York Yankee. In his first five starts in 2023, he’s posted a 0.79 earned run average with 36 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched. Always a consistent innings eater, it’s coupled with the fact that he pitches at a high level. Gerrit Cole has graduated from top-five pitcher in the sport to the number-one guy.
There are three reasons why Gerrit Cole has transformed himself into the best pitcher in baseball.
Gerrit Cole is the Best Pitcher in Baseball
The old adage, “your best ability is your availability.” Well, this is the case for Cole. In his nine previous full seasons (excluding 2020), he has made over 30 starts in six of them. He has reached the 200-inning plateau in five of the nine as well.
The same does not ring true for current Texas Ranger ace and longtime Met great Jacob deGrom. While his peak years were more dominant than Cole, he has struggled to stay healthy over the last couple of years.
Over the last two seasons, deGrom has failed to reach just 100 innings. 92 in 2021 and just 64.1 last year.
The Yankees made an investment in Cole. They knew the risk in guaranteeing a pitcher nine years and 324 million prior to the 2020 season. Pitchers are a volatile investment; they get hurt often. A lot of minor injuries turn into major ones with more stress on the arm. Despite this reality, when it comes to Cole, it’s NEVER been an issue.
The Rangers inked deGrom to a five-year 185-million-dollar deal prior to the 2023 season. The 35-year-old has been injured often in recent history. How smart of an investment will that look for the team; locked up to an oft-injured pitcher until he’s almost 40?
The aforementioned 200-inning plateau has been reached in over half of his big-league seasons. There is an immense amount of relief that a manager faces when they realize they don’t have to burn their bullpen. It’s a very rare occurrence to see the bullpen be assigned to get more than nine outs when Cole’s on the bump.
Throughout the course of the 162-game regular season, it’s easy to assume this is negligible. However, every game in a regular season is interconnected due to the decisions a manager has to make. It forces the manager to adjust on the fly if he can’t consistently rely on his pitchers.
If a starter is laboring, you have to bring in a higher-leverage guy earlier than designed to bail the starter out. If your starter gets shelled, you have to wear it and hope your long relief guy can take one for the team. Conversely, if your starter goes deep into games and gives you length, it minimizes what could go wrong for a team. It’s easier to count on one or two guys having their best stuff as opposed to four or five.
While it’s an absolute advantage for an organization to have a 200-inning guy who makes it easy for his bullpen and manager, if the guy flat sucks, it’s just silver linings. You still need to be able to deliver every fifth day.
Gerrit Cole is able to combine the other two positives of a great starter with his ability to be the most productive pitcher in the league. His ability to throw fastballs in the 97-100 range is one thing, but his ability to maintain that same velocity throughout the game is the separator.
In what is widely considered a down year for Cole in 2022, he still managed to lead the league in strikeouts at 257. His best season, 2019, in the midst of the “juiced ball era” he managed to lead that year in strikeouts with 326!
What This Means for His Future
Age is another factor for Cole. He’s only 32. If he chooses to opt-in after the 2024 season, he’s going to be with the Yankees until the end of the 2028 season.
We’ve seen great hard-throwing pitchers such as C.C. Sabathia and Clayton Kershaw reshape themselves as pitchers as they begin to age and lose life on their heater.
Gerrit Cole is going to be that guy in the coming years. Everyone not named Nolan Ryan loses their velocity eventually. Cole will more than likely up his cutter usage and throw more changeups and curveballs in fastball counts.
This is not a pitcher who will fizzle out quickly. Between the ability to stay on the field, produce consistent numbers, and age well at the end of his contract, Gerrit Cole is the best pitcher in baseball. The league is going to start noticing too.
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