Let’s get this out of the way right now. Gerrit Cole is a great pitcher. David Cone is an awesome person and wildly knowledgeable broadcaster. Though New York Yankees fans have grown frustrated with Cole, they still support him, and they obviously love Cone, who’s a legend in his own right.
And look, we understand. The Yankees’ broadcast doesn’t exist to flame the team’s players when the going gets tough. But to defend the team’s highest-paid player when he’s failing spectacularly? It just feels wrong.
Though the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 6-5 on Thursday, fans were left with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths because Cole was once again knocked around by Boston (well, pretty much just Rafael Devers) after being given a five-run cushion and a prime opportunity to make the stink from the AL Wild Card Game go away.
Instead, he allowed five earned runs — all earned runs off the bat of Devers, who cranked two homers — and made the contest much tighter than it needed to be.
This is the Yankees’ ace we’re talking about. This isn’t Jameson Taillon. This isn’t Jordan Montgomery. It shouldn’t constantly be this hard against tougher competition when Cole is on the mound. But it is.
And Cone defending the right-hander while the entire fanbase watches him get punked by Boston’s best player just makes this more of a tiresome exercise. Again, we don’t want to do this. But it’s here, and it needs to be addressed.
This was right before Devers’ first home run:
"“I don’t think he was totally healthy last year in the postseason as well. His hamstring was bothering him more than he led on, and, you know, I appreciate that. He’s a gamer.”“If you look around the league at the premier starting pitchers — everybody looks at [Jacob] deGrom or [Max] Scherzer, you can throw out any name you want … Kershaw — the most durable starting pitcher in his prime right now is Gerrit Cole, and it’s not even close. He’s worth every penny of that contract so far in his tenure as a Yankee. You want to nitpick and say, ‘well, you need to pitch better at Fenway’ or ‘you need to pitch better in the postseason’ … well, those opportunities are going to come. Who would you rather have, right now, in his prime, that you know every five days he’s going to take the ball? You’re not worried about injuries. You’re not worried about pitch counts.”"
Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Cole faced a 1-2 count against No. 9 hitter Kevin Plawecki. He ended up walking him before striking out Jarren Duran, which would’ve been the third out of the inning had Cole simply taken care of business against an inferior hitter. Instead, that walk allowed Devers to come to the plate again with two on.
"“A changeup, well-executed down and away, that Devers just lays on … maybe a little too much of the plate, but it was down.“Sometimes as a pitcher, when you know you’re having a hard time getting a hitter out, as with Gerrit Cole and Rafael Devers, you get into ‘search mode’ as a pitcher; you’re not really sure how you’re going to go about it. And when you get into search mode as a pitcher out there, you’re not sure where you’re going to go. ‘Let me try this pitch or let me try that.’ And two off-speed pitches have left the park, on a night where you have your A-game fastball. It’s almost like he got tentative and defensive a little bit. I understand it, I did it myself. You’re trying to find a way to get this guy out.”"
Let’s unpack this a bit. Cone did say Cole should be utilizing his premier fastball instead of essentially trying to get cute with his other offerings. But why isn’t that the first thing out of his mouth? Why are we making excuses for the highest-paid pitcher in baseball and claiming that his durability is his claim to fame? The Yankees didn’t have durability at the forefront of their mind when they paid an extra $80 million to sign Cole — they wanted a shutdown ace! Who didn’t constantly get embarrassing by their chief rival!
Also, Cone should know just as well as anybody that injuries can happen at any time. Cole also proved not to be durable last year when the Yankees needed him most! His body broke down with an injury in September and seemingly lagged into the postseason. Many believed Cole pitched the AL Wild Card Game injured — including Cone — which is why he performed so poorly … but is that what you want? You want your hobbled, underperforming ace who has had trouble against this specific team to pitch in a do-or-die game when he’s not 100% healthy? Kudos to Cole for attempting to gut it out, but the result was pretty much exactly what was to be expected. You don’t get points for trying.
Out of Cole’s 17 starts this year, 11 have been quality outings. Two of them — against Houston and Tampa — featured losses because of a lack of run support. Then again, vs the Astros, he allowed a go-ahead homer to JJ Matijevic (yup, exactly) and vs the Rays he unraveled in the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead because he didn’t get a borderline strike call.
Additionally, most of his best outings came against bad offenses — Detroit, Kansas City, Texas, Baltimore, Chicago (White Sox), Cleveland and Tampa. We’ll exclude Tampa from this exercise, though, because they’re a division rival and the Yankees need to beat them as often as possible. Boston has now roughed him up twice. Toronto and Baltimore each did once, too. Detroit managed to force him into the worst start of his career back in April. Minnesota then one-upped that and made his June 9 start the worst of his career. This is all in the same season, folks!
So, no, Cole’s “durability” — while admirable and extremely helpful — doesn’t pay the bills here. It doesn’t get wins. It helps, but his performance is what matters. If he’s healthy and pitching like a No. 2 starter, it sadly just isn’t enough. And what’s “durable” to you? Cole’s 14th in MLB in innings pitched and has gone into the seventh inning just five times this year.
The veteran is halfway through the year and has plenty of time to rewrite the narrative, but attempting to shield him from more criticism is disingenuous and an attempt to deflect from reality.
There are 29 other pitchers with a better ERA than Cole after his start against the Red Sox. OK, fine, ERA “doesn’t matter” as much anymore? There are 33 other pitchers with a better FIP than Cole (3.70). WAR? Also 33 others.
Yankees fans don’t want to be frustrated about this, but they have the right to be. And seemingly attempting to tell them that, well, there are other aspects of Cole’s game to appreciate doesn’t move the needle.
Cole needs to win. He needs to rewrite the depressing narrative against the Yankees’ rivals. His salary doesn’t need to be justified on the Yankees’ broadcast shortly before he surrenders five earned runs and nearly blows a five-run lead.