So far this season, New York Yankees No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole has looked nothing like a guy who should be earning $36 million a year. In three starts Cole has been all over the place and has only made it through 11.1 innings. He's been anything but an ace since June of last season. It's been a remarkable change.
Cole struggled on Tuesday again, lasting only 1.2 innings against the Detroit Tigers. He allowed two runs on one hit while walking five. He threw 68 pitches and only recorded five outs. So far on the season he's 0-0 with a 6.35 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP, with 12 strikeouts against seven walks in those aforementioned 11.1 innings. So what has happened to move him from a perennial Cy Young candidate to a liability on the on the mound? There may not be an easy answer.
We've heard Cole make excuses for his poor performance before. On Opening Day he blamed pregame festivities going four minutes too long for a terrible start. Last season, he whined about not being able to cheat by using "sticky stuff" anymore. He refused to answer when asked if he'd used Spider Tack before and was once again, really not happy about not being allowed to cheat.
MLB began its crackdown on sticky stuff in June of 2021. From Cole's first start on April 1, through June 2 he was absolutely dominant. In that time he pitched 70.2 innings over 11 starts and boasted a 1.78 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP, with 97 strikeouts against nine walks, and five home runs allowed. Over the rest of the season, He posted an ERA of 4.16, a 1.21 WHIP, and had 146 strikeouts, 32 walks and 101 hits against in 110.1 innings pitched. He also allowed a whopping 19 home runs in those 19 starts.
What's going on now might not be as simple as not having sticky stuff anymore. Cole's velocity has actually increased this year. So far in 2022, his average fastball velocity is in line with his career-bests. He's throwing his slider at near career-best levels, and everything else looks on par with his dominant seasons.
The problem seems to be as simple as Cole missing his spots. We know that because opposing hitters are barrelling the ball against him 13.3 percent of the time, which would be a career worst by a lot. Hitters' xBA against him is also a career-worst .256, and their xSLG is a whopping .527 which, again, is a career-worst by a lot. Furthermore, Cole is throwing first-pitch strikes only 42 percent of the time (a career-low), a drop of 24.8 percent from 2021. So he's falling behind and hitters are punishing his mistakes.
Now, maybe his lack of control is due to not having sticky stuff to fall back on anymore. His spin rates did drop considerably after the crackdown in 2021, but his spin rates this season appear to have actually gone up a little.
Cole's problem seems to be pretty basic. His pitches are either out of the zone or catching too much of the plate and he's getting hurt for it. Is a lack of foreign substances causing that? It's certainly possible but may not be the only answer.
As of now the Yankees aren't getting a great return on that nine-year, $324 million contract.