Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole has been under a microscope since joining the Yankees on a nine-year, $324 million deal ahead of the 2020 season. When looking at his season-long statistics, he’s been consistently productive for the Bronx Bombers.
But this is the Yankees we’re talking about. They don’t measure effectiveness with regular season statistics. What matters most is the postseason. Cole has a chance to change the narrative about his Yankees tenure this October. It starts Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Guardians.
It almost didn’t start in Game 1, though. The fact that Cole is opening the series isn’t shocking, but New York was at least contemplating a rotation that didn’t have the right-hander leading the way. Part of that has to do with how good Nestor Cortes was in 2022, and probably another part of it had to do with the way Cole performed in September.
Over his final 36 innings, Cole posted a 37.6% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate, but it was accompanied by a 4.50 ERA and 2.50 home runs allowed per nine innings. His second-half performance was certainly a tier below what he did prior to the All-Star Game, too. Cole produced a 3.02 first-half ERA, which was followed by a 4.12 mark after the midsummer classic.
With the ALDS about to start, it’s all those home runs allowed that’s likely a concern for the Yankees’ coaching staff. Cole surrendered 33 long balls in 2022, which was a career-high mark, and led all of baseball. We’ve said a bunch of times already that runs are at a premium during the playoffs, so giving up home runs has more significance in October.
And while the right-hander was spectacular for the Yankees in the 2020 playoffs (2.95 ERA, 40.5% strikeout rate, 5.4% walk rate in 18.1 innings), he didn’t do his job in the 2021 AL Wild Card Game against the Boston Red Sox. In New York’s biggest game of the season, Cole lasted just two innings while allowing three runs on four hits (two homers), two walks, and three strikeouts.
Baseball in New York is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of deal. Yes, Cole was excellent in the 2020 postseason. But he also wasn’t good in the 2021 playoffs and didn’t exactly end his 2022 regular season with a flourish. Getting on the mound and taking control of Game 1 against Cleveland is a way for him to start changing the narrative around him and his overall performance in the Bronx.