After a scoreless inning Monday night against the Rays, A.J. Cole has now allowed just two runs in 20.2 innings across 12 games as a Yankee. That’s good for a 0.87 ERA in that time, and more astoundingly a 500 ERA+.
Odds are, Cole will not keep this up. Who knows, the Yankees may very well have stumbled their way into a useful pitcher. However, a 500 ERA+ is a bit better than just a useful pitcher. He is just probably not this good. There’s a reason the Nationals had him and ditched him this season, after all.
If he does do as expected and regress over the rest of the season, this spell will be forgotten. As good as Cole has been, it’s mostly been in mop up innings. This season will likely not go down in Yankees’ history, just like the other most inexplicable run in Yankees’ history.
The record for best ERA+ from a Yankee, irrespective of innings minimums, is Joba Chamberlain’s 2007. In his 24 innings that season, he became a bit of a sensation. As wild as a 1221 ERA+ is, it’s not completely inexplicable that a highly rated prospect could go off in a small sample size. Also, as disappointing as his career ended up being, he did have some success in other seasons.
While it’s possible Cliff Markle was a highly thought of young player on the level of Chamberlain when he made his debut in 1915, we’re never really going to know. That makes his run that season the most inexplicable run in Yankees’ history.
Markle had three seasons with various minor league teams when he was acquired by the Yankees in 1915. The Yankees were well under .500 and not really going anywhere when they gave Markle his debut in September of that year.
After fellow recent acquisition Dazzy Vance got hit around for six runs in two plus innings, the Yankees were already well behind in a September 18th game against the White Sox. Markle was sent in to pitch in the fifth inning with the Yankees down 6-3. The 21-year old allowed one run, but otherwise did his job pretty well. The run came on a home run that was just one of two hits he allowed. Markle went five innings to finish off the game, but the Yankees offense didn’t give him any help. They lost 7-3.
Five days later, the Yankees gave Markle the start against the St. Louis Browns. He threw a complete game, allowing just one unearned run in a 7-1 win. His third and final appearance of that first season came on October 4th, and the story was similar. Markle allowed one unearned run, but threw a complete game as the Yankees beat Boston 5-1.
In 23 innings in 1915, Markle finished with a 0.39 ERA and a 0.913 WHIP. Oh, and also a 766 ERA+. Other than Chamberlain, that is the highest for any Yankee pitcher ever for a season. Shockingly, he did not come close to following it up.
Markle actually started off 1916 with two more complete games, allowing only one run between them. He followed that up with a eight-inning, three-run effort, but everything went downhill from there. He had a 1.38 ERA after those first three starts, but ended the season with a 4.50 ERA. He pitched 20 innings from his fourth game on, allowing 22 runs (19 earned) in that time.
He did not appear in a major league game with the team after July of that season, and didn’t play at all for the Yankees in 1917. Three years after his last major league game, Markle was purchased by the minor league in Salt Lake City.
After a couple seasons in the minors, the Reds took a chance on him and brought him to Cincinnati. He was mostly average there from 1921-22, and was picked up by the St. Paul Saints. In the 1924, the Yankees acquired him again, but he struggled more, to the tune of a 48 ERA+. After 23.1 innings, his major league career would be over, nine years after his incredible debut.
The Yankees sold him back to St. Paul, where at least according to some stories, he did not want to return. Purportedly, Yankees’ business manager Ed Barrow was so concerned with Markle reporting to St. Paul so they could get the money, that he steered scouts away from watching Jimmie Foxx. By the time the Markle stuff was sorted, Foxx had signed with the Athletics, and went on to a Hall of Fame career.
Of course mediocre players can put up otherworldly results in small samples. However, Markle turned from otherworldly to hot garbage incredibly quickly.
Heinz, W. C., and Bill Littlefield. The Top of His Game: the Best Sportswriting of W.C. Heinz. Library of America, 2015.
Data courtesy of Baseball Reference