Typically, it makes more sense for a team’s most valuable player to be a position player. They spend more time on the field and contribute to every game. But when a team doesn’t have a pure standout player on the field all year, it makes sense to look towards the pitching staff. If it wasn’t for Aaron Judge missing a significant chunk of the year, then he would have unquestionably been the most valuable player. But unfortunately he did, and the team got a sensational performance from the likely Cy Young winner, Gerrit Cole, the more than deserving winner of the Yankees’ 2023 MVP.
Cole’s strikeout numbers took a significant step backwards this year, but if you were watching him day in day out, then you know this change was intentional. He clearly had a game plan in mind to sacrifice the strikeout and instead try to have more control of the home run ball. As a pitcher playing in Yankee Stadium, it makes sense to do exactly this, and it paid off. With a 2.63 ERA in 209 innings, Cole was a run prevention horse for the team, capping it off with a season-ending shutout in Toronto:
It’s very easy to argue no pitcher was better in the American League at preventing runners from crossing the plate. And since his days in Pittsburgh, he hadn’t prevented home runs at a better rate. From every perspective except strikeouts, Cole was the best pitcher he had been during his Yankees stint. All year, he was extremely reliable. It may have not been one of the most impressive seasons of all-time, but the level of excellent consistency is not something most players are capable of matching. In this day and age when most pitchers can’t deliver volume at a high level, Cole is deserving of much appreciation.
If you check out fWAR for pitchers, then Cole is only in the conversation as one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2023. That’s largely due to him not being as overwhelming of a strikeout pitcher as in years past. But when looking at rWAR, which values the combination of run prevention and volume more, no pitcher in all of baseball – not just the American League – comes close to Cole’s season (7.5 WAR). When citing WAR as a statistic, it’s extremely important that it’s used as a conversation starter, rather than a conclusion. fWAR tells us that Cole is in the conversation as the league’s best starter, and rWAR says he’s the standout best. When we add the context of volume, consistency, competition, and performance, it becomes clearer that Cole was the very best pitcher in baseball. Context, as always, is incredibly important in telling the story of a fantastic season.
When bringing in the other historic seasons in Yankees history, it’s a viable argument that Cole’s is among one of the best. Whether you go to Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, or Andy Pettitte, it’s clear Cole belongs in the conversation as having one of the best pitching seasons in the organization’s history — no small feat considering the prestige of those names.
We’re in an era of witnessing one of, if not the very best pitcher that this organization has ever seen, and if all goes according to expectations, he will take home the first Cy Young for the Yankees since Roger Clemens in 2001. It’s taken over two decades, but a Yankees pitcher has taken the throne as the unquestionable best pitcher in the game.