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Yankees 2020 Roster Report Cards: Gerrit Cole

Worth every damn penny.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It should go without saying, but if you’re investing $324 million in one player, it’s a risk, no matter how talented he might be. Fresh off a near-Cy Young season in 2019, expectations were sky-high when Gerrit Cole inked that deal with the Yankees last December. It was the end of a decade-plus journey for GM Brian Cashman to finally get the talented righty in the organization after both failing to sign him in the 2008 MLB Draft and seeing his offers rejected by the Pirates when Cole was on the trade market.

The season might have been abbreviated by extenuating circumstances, but if Cole’s 2020 is any indication of what the Yankees can expect going forward, Cashman shouldn’t be sweating the large contract. Cole was simply terrific.

Grade: A

2020 Statistics: 12 starts, 73 IP, 2.84 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 11.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 2.2 WAR

2021 Contract Status: Signed through 2028, 9 yrs/$324M (2020-28)

Cole made pitching look easy, earning a fourth-place finish for the AL Cy Young Award in the process, and it was a breeze to watch his strikeout mastery in motion.

How does anyone hit that combination? J.D. Martinez struggled in 2020, but I wouldn’t envy any hitter trying to do anything with that.

Cole’s numbers weren’t quite as eye-popping as they were during his last season in Houston, but that shouldn’t have been expected. That was one of the best pitching seasons of the past 20 years. Instead, rate stats from Cole’s first season with Houston, 2018, line up better with his 2020 marks, and that’s just fine.

Cole 2018 vs 2020

Stat 2018 2020
Stat 2018 2020
IP/S 6.25 6.08
ERA 2.88 2.84
FIP 2.70 3.89
WHIP 1.033 0.959
H/9 6.4 5.4
HR/9 0.9 1.7
BB/9 2.9 2.1
K/9 12.4 11.6
WAR/S 0.178 0.183

Although Cole’s FIP and HR/9 were up, they didn’t hurt him too much. If it felt like almost all the homers he allowed were solo shots, it’s because that was almost exactly the case. Just four of the 14 dingers came with runners on base, and he didn’t surrender any three-run bombs or grand slams. Yes, you could occasionally take Cole deep, but that’s how baseball is played in 2020, where all pitchers combined for a 1.3 HR/9. Cole ensured that the damage was limited.

The closest that Cole came to a slump was a three-start stretch from August 26th through September 5th, when the Braves, Rays, and Orioles touched him up for 14 runs in 16 innings. They weren’t pretty, but again — Cole’s not a machine (he just plays one on TV). Even in his exceptional 2019, he had a similarly shaky three-start run from April 14th through April 25th that saw him surrender 13 runs in 17 innings. Longer seasons will generally dilute the overall numbers from slumps like that, and Cole is talented enough that there’s no real cause for concern.

Perhaps the most encouraging fact about Cole’s 2020 was that he was absolutely nails in the playoffs. During his three starts against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, he combined to strike out 30 batters in 18 13 innings while walking just four, notching a 2.95 ERA, and allowing a mere .635 OPS against. He gave everything he had and was just electric to watch.

It’s almost remarkable how quickly some began to take Cole for granted. Few teams have such a reliable force at the front of their rotation; a clear No. 1 to take the ball and shove in Game 1 of a playoff series. I love Masahiro Tanaka as much as anyone and Luis Severino’s 2017 was a blast, but the Yankees haven’t had an ace quite like this since the days of prime CC Sabathia. (The closest Tanaka came was his pre-UCL injury first half in 2014.) It’s so comforting to know that every five days, your favorite team’s best pitcher will alleviate any bullpen concerns and strike out a ton of batters. He hasn’t even hit the injured list since 2016. Players take great pride in the simple ability to “post,” and Cole’s as reliable as anyone.

The Yankees’ goal of a World Series return in 2020 fell short, but it was not the fault of their ace. He delivered and kept his team in that tight ALDS with the Rays as long as he could. If Mike Brosseau’s drive to left off Aroldis Chapman falls just a little bit short, who knows how much longer the Gerrit Cole Show would have continued?

As an added bonus, don’t think for a second that Cole was going to mope all offseason about the ALDS loss. He’s already working on bringing his pal Tanaka back for 2021:

Love this. Love Tanaka. Love Cole.