Gerrit Cole has yet to throw a pitch that counts for the New York Yankees while we wait on the regular season to resume. A lost season would delay a moment he’s been dreaming of since childhood, but it could also hurt his chances longterm at reaching baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Of course, there’s a chance we’re jumping the gun here. Gerrit Cole is just 29, after all, and there could be a lot of career left in him.
CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder initiated the conversation, including Cole in his list of 10 players who could see their Hall of Fame chances hurt by a lost 2020 season. Snyder acknowledges Cole’s age is a factor, but here is what he had to say about the right-hander:
"“OK, so Gerrit Cole is still in his 20s. He’s 29, though, and there’s a reason he’s here. To this point, Cole has only had three great seasons. He’s never been better than he is right now and he’s going to arguably the best team in baseball. If he is going to jumpstart a Hall of Fame case, now is the time, as he’s a bit behind the pace for someone at his age. Losing a whole season right now after signing the big deal with the Yankees would be a huge detriment to building a case.”"
Snyder is bit more bullish on Cole’s track towards Cooperstown. Cole has only spent seven seasons in the bigs so far. He’s been durable and dominant but it might be too soon to talk about the Hall of Fame with any real certainty.
That’s not to say Cole couldn’t get there.
If you put any weight into Baseball Reference’s Similarity Scores (a formula developed by Bill James which is explained in more detail here), Cole is likely on a track that will leave him just short of enshrinement. That’s Hall of Very Good status, not quite Hall of Fame. Through their age 28 seasons Cole matches up with the following nine pitchers: Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Johan Santana, Jered Weaver, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Tim Hudson.
None of them are clear Hall of Famers. Strasburg and Price (who could be hurt more than Cole by losing the 2020 season) still have time to change the debate. An argument could be made that Santana deserves more consideration. The rest are likely not bound for Cooperstown immortality.
Tenth on the list is Cole’s former teammate, Justin Verlander, which is where the conversation opens back up some.
Verlander won his first Cy Young Award (and the MVP Award) in his age 28 season, winning a league-best 24 games for Detroit in 2011. Verlander would follow that with another strong season before things started to take a downward turn. The dominance was no longer there. After some time the guy who once seemed destined to wear a Tigers uniform for his whole career was on the move out of town in a trade with Houston.
Verlander had a resurgence. He’s made 73 starts in his two+ seasons with the Astros, winning 42 games. His two full seasons with the team resulted in a second-place finish for the Cy Young and then another win (edging out Cole in 2019). Verlander may not be a lock for enshrinement but he seems likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.
Cole is coming off the best stretch of his career. Pitching in front of the Yankees lineup was only going to help his case moving forward. There’s no way to tell if he’s going to have a second half of his career that can match Verlander. There’s nothing to suggest he’ll need to. There is no set formula that dictates what makes a player a Hall of Famer. Losing a season in the middle of one’s career though is going to have an impact, on any player.