Coming into 2022, Gerrit Cole was one of the easiest roster decisions for New York. Slot him in as your ace, give him the ball every fifth day, and assuming good health, pencil in 200 innings and even more strikeouts. And ultimately, that’s what Cole gave the Yankees. There were a couple of unpleasant plot twists that we’ll get to, but all in all, it’s tough to be super disappointed with Cole’s season. A little underwhelmed and frustrated perhaps, hence his grade.
2022 Statistics: 34 games started, 200.2 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 11.53 K/9, 2.24 BB/9, 3.3 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: $36 million, year four of nine
It was an inauspicious start for Cole in 2022, and his issues on Opening Day against Boston were a spoiler alert for what would plague him all season. Upset after a four-minute delay to the game’s start time, Cole surrendered a two-run home run to Rafael Devers, part of a three-run inning for the Yankees ace. The home run and the crooked inning would bedevil Cole throughout the season.
Cole ultimately ended up allowing 33 home runs, the most in the American League, and second-most in baseball. Twice on the campaign he managed to go three straight starts without surrendering the gopher ball, but for the most part they were a consistent thorn in his side.
There were a myriad of big innings against Cole in 2022, but back-to-back starts against the Royals and Mariners best illustrate the problem. First, on July 29th against Kansas City, the wheels fell off for Cole after 4.2 sparkling innings. Needing one out to escape the frame, Cole surrendered four consecutive singles. Two runs crossed the plate. Admittedly not great. But Cole was still one out from escaping without massive damage. Alas, a three-run home run by Salvador Pérez made put paid to that idea. Five runs to the lowly Royals, after looking dominant right up until everything went sideways.
Then, in Cole’s next start, the wheels came off immediately. After a single and a walk to the first two Mariners batters, Cole served up back-to-back jacks. Before the Yankee Stadium faithful had found their seats, it was 4-0 Seattle. And it didn’t stop there. Another long ball, this time of the two-run variety, extended the M’s lead to six.
Here’s the crazy thing about both those starts. In each, Cole ended up pitching six innings, giving the Yankees needed length. He just seemed incapable of avoiding the big inning and keeping the ball in the yard.
But enough talking about Cole’s bugaboos. He still did a lot right, after all. It’s worth mentioning that his 33 starts led the American League, and that he crossed the 200-inning threshold. Availability is an important ability, and the Yankees knew they could hand their ace the ball every five days and expect six-plus innings from him.
His regular season was capped by breaking the Yankees’ all-time single season strikeouts record, formerly held by Ron Guidry. Against the Texas Rangers on October 4th ( in the same game that another Yankee set an important record), Cole punched out his 249th hitter of the season. When the regular season ended, the new franchise mark sat at 257.
As Cole marched toward that strikeout record, his slider was his most potent weapon. For the season, opponents hit a paltry .160 on the offering, with a .206 wOBA. Just making contact with it when they swung was a challenge, as Cole generated a 44.2 Whiff% with the offering. Without its effectiveness, passing Guidry would have been a bit more difficult.
When the playoffs arrived, Cole shoved against Cleveland before the Yankees fell to Houston. Cole’s start versus the Guardians in Game One was everything you want from your ace to start the playoffs. 6.1 IP of one-run ball with eight whiffs? That’ll play almost every time.
But it was Game Four when Cole really put the team on his back. Facing elimination, Cole threw 110 pitches over seven innings of two-run ball, in the very definition of a must-win game. Without Cole, the club would not even have made it to be swept by Houston in the ALCS, a series where he took Game Three loss.
All told, Cole put together a very solid season. If you could strip a couple of awful innings away (for example, the two mentioned above), the back of his baseball card would look even better. Priority one for the ace heading into 2023 has got to be keeping the ball in the ballpark, with priority one-A being avoiding the big inning. When things go sideways on Cole, he’s got to figure out a way to limit the damage.
It should be a formidable top of the Yankees rotation next season, with Nasty Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino slotting in after Cole. Hopefully, twelve months or so from now, Cole’s 2023 report card looks similar... but just a bit better in a couple of areas.