After what appeared to be quite a second-half tailspin, the Yankees are getting themselves back on track. Outside of clinching their 30th consecutive winning season on Wednesday, New York’s American League East lead remains at five games. They’ve won four straight, including a doubleheader sweep of the Twins, which was punctuated by a classic Gerrit Cole performance.
In 6.2 innings, Cole allowed just one run on five hits, two walks, and a season-high 14 strikeouts. Here are all those punchies for your viewing pleasure:
A season-high 14 Ks for Gerrit Cole. ? pic.twitter.com/UWtzRdImxh
— MLB (@MLB) September 8, 2022
Cole is feeling pretty good right now, too. He’s secured double-digit strikeouts in two of his last three starts while pitching into the seventh inning each time. However, manager Aaron Boone has been getting plenty of length from his ace every five days throughout the entire year.
The right-hander has worked at least six innings in all but four of his 28 starts this season. Cole hasn’t tossed fewer than six innings since June 9th when he lasted just 2.1 frames against the Twins at Target Field. So, we’ve been penciling him in for at least six innings per start in each of his last 16 appearances. For a squad that’s dealt with its fair share of injuries on the mound and on the field, this is welcomed by the coaching staff.
It’s happened beyond just this year
It’s not just going out and pitching every five days, though. Cole is also putting up stats that justify the high salary he’s earning. His 10.1 fWAR since 2020 is the highest among all qualified American League starting pitchers. The next closest is Dylan Cease at 7.9, which isn’t actually that close.
Consistency is something we’ve seen quite a bit from Cole since he joined the Yankees in 2020. His most recent start led me to look at his FanGraphs page, and I couldn’t help but notice how similar some of his production was from year to year.
Here’s a look at how Cole’s ERA, expected ERA (xERA), WHIP, strikeout rate, and walk rate have settled in since joining the Yankees’ staff. I threw in his innings pitched from each season just for a little added context.
I didn’t even add his average fastball velocity to this table, although I could’ve. After that number settled in at 96.9 mph in 2020, it’s been 97.8 mph in 2021 and so far in 2022.
There’s a lot of value in an organization knowing what to expect from a player during a regular season. That’s especially the case when it’s top-tier production like what Cole has provided the Yankees during the past two-plus years.
Here’s what Cole has changed
There are some pretty clear similarities amongst various statistical categories for Cole. But that doesn’t mean nothing has changed since he started wearing Yankee pinstripes. The ability to rack up strikeouts at an above-average rate has always been there, and he’s paired that with increased effectiveness in the quality-of-contact department.
It may not be totally fair to compare anyone’s 2020 performance with others because the sample sizes are so lopsided. But still, we can see the progression from ’20 to ’21 and then again from ’21 to ’22.
While Cole’s soft-hit rate allowed has been a little up and down (14.3% in ’20, 18.6% in ’21, 16.6% so far in ’22), his hard-hit rate allowed has consistently improved. After posting a 37.1% rate in 2020, that number went down to 31.4% in 2021 and is currently sitting at 28.4%. If the season ended today, that’d be the second-lowest hard-hit rate allowed of his career. The only one lower was a 24.0% mark in 117.1 innings for the Pirates as a rookie in 2013.
This has also been paired with an improved launch angle. Between 2018 and 2020, that number never dipped below 14 degrees. Cole induced a 12.5-degree launch angle last season and is currently beating that number with a 12.0 mark so far this year.
Cole has 100% been worth the big bucks
It takes a lot of production each year to justify a contract that has an annual average value of $36 million. That’s exactly what Cole has done throughout the regular season, though.
Cole posted 5.2 fWAR last year in 181.1 innings of work. According to FanGraphs’ Dollars metric, that performance was worth $41.7 million. His fWAR is up at 3.5 so far in 2022 with at least a couple of rotation turns left to make. FanGraphs pegs this year’s performance value at $28 million right now.
The next thing Cole will want is to keep the train rolling in the postseason. He did that in 2020 by posting a 2.95 ERA in 18.1 innings. However, there’s likely a sour taste left in his mouth after lasting just two innings and allowing three runs in his lone start of the 2021 postseason.
Needless to say, he’s hoping this consistency carries into October this time around.
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