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Yankees 2024 Season Preview: Gerrit Cole

Coming off a Cy Young victory, Cole will look to reassert his position as the league’s best pitcher.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After finally notching his first Cy Young in 2023, Gerrit Cole will look to continue his brilliance as the team tries to follow suit. As has been the case since he joined the club, the Yankees rotation will rely on him heavily to raise both their floor, and their ceiling.

2023 Statistics: 33 starts, 209 innings, 2.63 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 5.2 fWAR, 7.4 rWAR, 27.0 K%, 5.8 BB%, 222 strikeouts, 15-4 W-L

2024 ZiPS Projections: 186.3 innings, 3.53 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.5 fWAR, 26.6 K%, 6.6 BB%

Projection systems are a bit down on Gerrit Cole heading into 2024, just as they were in 2023. After losing a little velocity last year and relying more on his fielders and contact quality suppression, the projections don’t fully buy his floor as that of a top-five pitcher in the game. However, there are legitimate reasons to believe that his command improvements last year were sticky and that the 2024 version can sustain elite performance.

After more consistently throwing his heater up in the zone, and less in the heart, Cole saw more overall success with the pitch despite getting fewer whiffs. As he enters his mid-30s, redefining how he uses the unique properties of his four-seamer will be crucial for him to sustain long-term health. Since 2021, only Sandy Alcántara has thrown more innings than Cole, and Sandy’s fate wasn’t too great while doing that and throwing his fastball at 98 mph on average. Taking off a little juice may have hurt the whiff and strikeout profile of the pitch, but the gains on command and health sustainability will prove to be a good decision for Cole. He’ll look to repeat the pitch’s performance in 2024. After all, it was literally the most valuable in all of Major League Baseball:

The story is similar for Cole and his elite slider. In 2022, he consistently located the pitch just off the plate and ran an elite 44.2 percent whiff rate. He changed the tune by offering the pitch in the zone more often last year. Once again, that hurt the pitch’s whiff profile, but it wasn’t any less productive in terms of run value (+10 in both 2022 and 2023). Using the slider as an in-zone weapon more often made the fastball more deceptive. And at 89 mph, it’s not as if Cole was offering up some flat, hittable breaking ball. It was still an out pitch!

If you read between the lines to better understand why Cole made the changes he did and why they were effective, then it’s completely reasonable to think that expectations for his 2024 are closer to what we saw in 2023 than it is to his 50th-percentile projections. The computer is going to love strikeouts, whiffs, etc. When a pitcher loses some of that, it’s going to be viewed as detrimental. This is a perfect example of needing to add the proper context to a projection.

On top of what has already been mentioned, Cole is now better equipped to mix in his changeup, knuckle-curve, and cutter than he was in previous years. The curve is without-a-doubt the best pitch of the three, but that doesn’t mean the other two aren’t valuable from time to time depending on the matchup. He sometimes loses command of the cutter and changeup and can leave them in the heart of the plate, but these are the areas where he will need to make improvements if he hopes to continue being an ace into his mid-30s.

All the greatest pitchers make tweaks as they age. For Cole, it looks to have started with using his fastball and slider differently from the five years prior. As long as he stays healthy, this two-pitch mix will propel him to being one of the best starters in the game once again. But if one thing is for sure, it’s that Cole will be looking for a new way to get even better than he was in 2023.