It would not be a stretch to say that Gerrit Cole’s last two starts, against the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively, were not what Yankees fans envisioned when the team signed the star right-hander to a mega-deal this past offseason. In 10 innings between the two starts, he has given up nine runs on 13 hits, including five home runs, while walking six— performances more akin to rotation-filler on a mediocre team than the ace of a staff with World Series aspirations.
So what seems to be the problem? Cole himself suggests what may be a very fixable problem: pitch tipping. After his start Monday night, he said in his postgame press conference that lately, “whenever I’m over the plate, the hitter’s very certain of what’s coming” and noted that “I think (pitchers) all pretty much tip every game, one way or another.”
Is the Yankees ace on to something? Or was he simply, as he often likes to do, discussing the art of pitching?
Utilizing the Statcast search feature, I was able to pull up footage of every single pitch that Cole threw in his start against the Rays, broken down by pitch type. I proceeded to watch every single one, carefully looking for anything that could indicate to the batter what pitch was coming.
I did not find anything glaring, although that does not mean that there is nothing there; after all, we see the pitcher’s back most of the time, and it’s entirely possible that something noticeable from home plate is simply not able to be picked up in the relatively few shots we have from that angle. While there was nothing obvious that suggested pitch tipping, I did notice a very clear inconsistency in Cole’s delivery with runners on base:
In the top picture, from Manuel Margot’s at-bat in the fifth inning, Cole has his hands right around belt-high when he gets into the stretch position. In the bottom, from Yandy Diaz’s at-bat the inning prior, he starts his hands up towards the top of his chest before dropping them to his belt right before he starts his delivery. Both pitches were sliders, and this trend crosses through all four pitch types that Statcast recorded the other night — fastball, slider, knuckle curve, and changeup.
It’s a subtle difference, with what appears to be minimal, if any, effect on the consistency of Cole’s delivery, but it is there. With this in mind, I checked back on his delivery out of the stretch last season, to see if anything changed from one year to the next.
Again, it’s a slight adjustment, but you can see Cole starting his hands up above his belt, and he does not drop them down before beginning his delivery; in fact, this one, which I selected only due to the similar camera angle as the other two images, is arguably closer to his belt than many of his other pitches in 2019, which saw his hands a little further away out. That said, I’m not certain this small change has had any difference in his mechanics as a whole. It’s possible that his arm angle, and thus, release point differ slightly, but the motion blur of the paused videos on Statcast, combined with the slightly different camera angles, seed enough doubt that I would consider it academically dishonest to state it as a fact with 100% certainty.
Ultimately, when I began this line of inquiry, I hoped to come away with some concrete evidence that might help explain why Gerrit Cole has looked a bit off this season, particularly in the last two weeks. Unfortunately, although I can state with certainty that some form of adjustment has been made between last season and this season, I could not determine what effect that change may or may not have had.