New York Yankees Analysis: Gerrit Cole’s problems continue, what lies ahead?

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone, Gerrit Cole
Dec 18, 2019; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, left, and pitcher Gerrit Cole pose for photos during a press conference at Legends Club at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Suppose the New York Yankees have any chance of advancing to the postseason; they must rely on ace Gerrit Cole to lead the way. With Cole’s performance in his last two outings, that future remains in question. What started out as a season with mostly excellent starting pitching and a baseball-leading bullpen. The season looked bright for the New York Yankees, with most industry insiders saying that the Yankees were the team to beat. Much has changed since then, the starting pitchers and even those in the bullpen have struggled at times, and the Yankee hitters that were supposed to represent one of the strongest lineups in baseball have dramatically faltered.

The Yankees now find themselves almost have way through the season in fourth place in the AL East, behind the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Toronto Blue Jays, teams they must beat to win the East prize. However, the Yankees are now six games off of the pace that would put them in the first place. The Yankees have been too inconsistent all season, sometimes taking a step forward then falling two steps back. Their one constant this season has been Yankee ace Gerrit Cole, but now even that is in question.

It has been an unsettling month for Gerrit Cole.  He allowed nine homers during June, the second-most he has ever allowed during a month. The most were in August of last season when he allowed 10 long balls. After Cole struck out 14.8 batters per nine innings during the March/April period, that figure dropped to 9.6 in May and 9.3 in June. Also, in June, Cole’s ERA has risen from 1.48 to 2.66. Although his record is 8-4, the New York Yankees have lost 8 of his 16 starts, and that is not the result the Yankees want to see from their ace.

Yesterday was just another example of Cole’s decline.  After Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez put the Yankees down 1-2-3 at the top of the first inning, Cole’s nightmare began. His first pitch to Red Sox leadoff hitter Kike Hernandez deposited a bomb into the green monster stands. But, unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. Cole allowed two more runners, then Rafael Devers came to the plate and hit a three-run blast into the right-center field bleachers. Just like that, the New York Yankees were behind by four runs in just minutes before the Yankees got their first hit.

After the game catcher, Kyle Higashioka stated that he thought Cole didn’t have good control of his secondary pitches. Cole, after the game, said he had trouble keeping his fastball down. The bottom line is that two misplaced down the middle of the zone pitches cost the Yankees big-time. Although Cole’s poor pitching yesterday was in the spotlight, his involvement in the “sticky ball” situation remained in the minds of Yankee fans. Cole has been the poster boy for the supposed use of sticky substances to improve grip and spin rate. Coles’s spin rate was down yesterday from what it was before MLB’s crackdown on the use of any sticky substance.

The Yankee ace ended up pitching only five innings, his shortest outing since a game against the Texas Rangers on May 17th. He gave up 6 runs, just one less than his five outings in April. It is the first time in his career he gave up a leadoff home run, the first time he allowed two home runs and allowed four runs in his first inning. Although his loss was a worry yesterday, what may be more concerning is that Yankee fans are now wondering what they can expect from Cole in the future. If the Yankees hope to catch the three teams ahead of them in the East. After the game, Cole commented on his pitching.

“Couldn’t get the breaking ball down,” Cole said after the game, speaking to his lack of command. “Couldn’t get the fastball where I wanted to. Tried to make a good pitch to Devers and absolutely pulled it into the wrong part of the zone. The first pitch of the game to Kiki Hernandez was poorly located as well.”

A pitcher with Cole’s resume could be excused for a bad month, but with the spotlight on Cole and his reduced spin rate during the crackdown for the use of any sticky substance by MLB, it only adds to the tension Cole faces to pitch well. The underlying metrics of his decline and spin rate will be a moot point if he consistently wins games, but he continues his June performance into July and beyond, it will be concerning. Additionally, to be completely fair to Cole, he has gotten less than three runs of support from the Yankee hitters in his losses, another area of concern for the team.

The bottom line in all of this is that Gerrit Cole is now in the hot seat, needing to perform. He is joined by manager Aaron Boone who, if his seat isn’t hot, will begin to feel the heat if he can’t turn this underperforming team around in time to run for the postseason. Unfortunately, his uninspiring after-game platitudes aren’t cutting it.