In the weeks since Gerrit Cole’s disastrous start in the AL Wild Card Game, more and more rumors and speculation hav surfaced regarding the New York Yankees‘ ace. From a testy exchange between Cole and Gardner regarding a prank over the new crackdown on sticky substances, to the wild take that Cole’s confidence is shattered after MLB’s new policy, it seems the only thing to write about during this post-World Series lull are hit pieces on the best pitcher the Bombers have employed since prime CC Sabathia.
Unfortunately for some members of the Yankees media, there is no actual statistical evidence that Cole was significantly impacted by ditching the sticky stuff.
From June 22, Cole’s first start post crackdown, to Sept. 1, Cole compiled a 3.31 ERA with a more impressive 2.68 FIP, which was is the result of holding opponent hitters to a .218/.273/.351 slash line. If that’s what Cole has become without the sticky stuff, then I sure am excited to watch him going forward.
Have we forgotten Cole’s pre-All-Star-break 1-0 shutout against the Houston Astros?
How quickly have we conveniently ignored his next start, which was an 11-strikeout performance against Boston? BOTH came after the league had begun inspecting pitchers as they left the mound each inning.
While it does not create the sensationalistic headlines that rile up Yankee fans, the most likely explanation for Cole’s poor performance down the stretch, culminating with the playoff ouster, was a hamstring injury suffered against Toronto on Sept. 7.
If the Yankees had performed to the level they were capable of earlier in the season, they most likely would not have had to rush back the ailing ace and could have afforded to give him a couple weeks of rest before the postseason. Instead, they were in a three-team dogfight for the right to play in the Wild Card game which forced the Yankees to pitch Cole despite him clearly not being healthy.
In hindsight, the Yankees probably should have let Cole rest and rehab the injured hamstring anyway despite their precarious position in the standings at the time. That way, the right-hander would have either been closer to 100% for the Wild Card game or they could have simply deployed their excellent bullpen to get through nine innings in Boston.
If Cole had not gotten injured, he was going to be a front runner for the AL Cy Young award. This is from the start preceding the hamstring injury during which he fanned 15 Angels.
Another factor that likely exacerbated Cole’s poor performance down the stretch was the increasing fatigue that comes from pitching a full season. Remember, in 2020, Cole amassed only 73 innings due to the shortened campaign. For context, in the three seasons previously, Cole surpassed the 200-inning mark each time, accumulating 615.2 innings. Around the league it was clear that even top pitchers were hitting a wall late in the 2021 season most likely due to the massive increase in workload compared to 2020.
Combine increased fatigue with a hamstring injury (which could’ve been the result of said fatigue) and you have a much more realistic explanation for Cole’s September struggles than a half-baked theory based on spider tack. Let’s be better, ok?
In 2022, Cole will once again be among the league’s elite starting pitchers. There’s no reason to think otherwise as long as he’s healthy. Gerrit Cole has unfairly become the face of spider tack use in MLB despite disproving the theory he needs the substance to dominate.
Do not bet against him. It will be a losing wager.