Even after Sunday night’s blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Twins, there are still a ton of question marks surrounding the 2022 New York Yankees. Who will be the team’s first baseman? How will the Yankees keep Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks healthy? Will Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt serve as a platoon? Will Judge be extended? Are there other moves coming?
Thankfully, despite the best efforts of certain people on Twitter and unlike a lot of other teams out there, there is no question about who will be leading the Yankees’ pitching rotation. For the third straight year, Gerrit Cole enters the season as the team’s unquestioned staff ace.
2021 Stats: 181.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 1.06 WHIP, 12.06 K/9, 33.5% K%, 2.03 BB/9, 5.6% BB%, 1.19 HR/9, 5.3 fWAR, All-Star, Cy Young runner-up
2022 ZiPS Projections: 182 IP, 2.82 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, 12.26 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, 5.8 fWAR
In 2021, for the fourth straight year, Gerrit Cole finished top-five in Cy Young voting and even garnered some down-ballot MVP votes along the way. Yes, Cole faltered down the stretch and had a particularly bad Wild Card appearance while pitching on one leg, but he has been the exact type of stabilizing force this team desperately needed since he inked his massive contract with New York.
The biggest start of Gerrit Cole’s 2021 season was, by far, the complete game shutout he threw against the Houston Astros right before the All-Star break. With their backs up against the wall, Cole turned in a performance for the ages as he struck out 12, walked two, gave up three hits, and threw a season-high 129 pitches. We also got to see him pull a Mike Mussina and shout at Aaron Boone on the mound. It was awesome.
The cause for concern with Gerrit Cole’s 2021 season, even more so than the hamstring injury, was the so-called sticky stuff ban. After unjustly becoming the poster boy for the whole debacle, it became a running joke that Cole could no longer pitch—or, at least live up to his ace status—without his sticky substances. As the common adage goes, is there actually a grain of truth in there?
As it turns out, probably not. The sticky substance ban went into effect on June 21st. Cole injured his hamstring in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 7th. In 11 starts from ban to injury, Cole pitched to a 3.31 ERA, 2.68 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP while striking out 98 batters across 65.1 innings pitched. Did his performance waver a bit? Yes, absolutely. But instead of being earth-shatteringly good, like he was before the ban, he was pitching at a mere championship ace level. I’ll take that every day of the week.
I know this isn’t how baseball works, but if you remove Cole’s performance after his hamstring injury from the equation, he pitched to a 2.73 ERA and 2.54 FIP while striking out 215 batters across 155 innings pitched. So, yes, he wasn’t great down the stretch for New York, but just remember to contextualize that when talking about the 2021 stretch run and any projections for this season.
Since coming to New York, Gerrit Cole has been every bit as good as advertised. In 254.1 innings pitched, he’s pitched to a 3.11 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 33.2 percent strikeout rate, and 5.7 percent walk rate while posting 6.7 fWAR. According to Baseball Savant, almost all of his metrics rank in the elite category, and he’s finished in the top-five for Cy Young voting in both seasons. Cole has been the literal definition of an ace, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us this year.
Because of the lockout, we still haven’t gotten our first glimpse at 2022 Gerrit Cole, but by all accounts his hamstring is healed up, he’s itching to get back out on the field, and he’s ready to put the Wild Card game mess behind him. Much like 2021, Cole enters the season on Cy Young watch, and, if his performance in 2021 is any indication, he may even earn some MVP votes to boot. Buckle up for another season of otherworldly fastballs, intense stare-downs with batters, and a ton more strikeouts.