The New York Yankees were counting on Gerrit Cole to be their ace in the American League Wildcard Playoff game against their arch-rivals in the Boston Red Sox. But I was worried about the second-half decline of the star right-handed starting pitcher. He was looking to rebound from a subpar effort where he allows five runs in six innings at Toronto in his final regular-season start. For the regular season, the right-hander had a 16-8 record with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP — but he had been saddled with a 5.13 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and an opponent’s batting average of .282 in five starts.
That continues a disturbing trend for the Yankees’ ace who, after a great start to the season, has a 4.14 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and an opponent’s batting average of .255 since the All-Star Break. Were his 181 1/3 innings this season after a pandemic-shortened campaign last year produced fatigue late in the season? Were the after-effects from his bout with COVID impacting his performances? Did his recent hamstring injury hold him back? Perhaps the league’s crackdown on foreign substances has thrown off his elite stuff despite his spin rates creeping back up to his early-season levels? I don’t know, but I was skeptical that he could simply flip the switch in the playoffs after posting a 7.64 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in his last three starts despite the Yankees playing for their playoff lives the last few weeks.
Cole only recorded outs with six of the twelve batters he faced in what was a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox that ended their season. He gave up four hits and walked two batters in his two innings of work. He gave up two gopher balls. The home run he threw to Xander Bogaerts was just the third home run he had even allowed to a right-handed batter on change up — and for the first time in four years.
Cole did not make any excuses after the setback in taking responsibility for the disappointing outing. If he did have lingering issues from COVID and/or his hamstring, he should be good to go for spring training.
But the crackdown on foreign substances is worthy of continued scrutiny. When comparing the 150 four-seam fastballs he through before June 3rd with the 300 he through after that date, he experienced the 16th largest drop in spin rate of all major league pitchers last season. While Cole was still a very good starting pitcher, the loss of that final edge may preclude from the elite status he enjoyed in the previous two seasons — the very reason the Yankees signed him to a long-term contract.
Best of luck — Frank.