New York Yankees: The Gerrit Cole catching dilemma

William Parlee
New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole
Feb 16, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) and catcher Gary Sanchez (24) talk during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are just a week away from the beginning of the regular baseball season. They have announced that Gerrit Cole will be their starting pitcher on Opening Day, April 1st. Manager Aaron Boone has also announced that Gary Sanchez will be the opening catcher, catching Cole in his regular-season debut.

Before spring training, he suggested that Kyle Higashioka would not be Cole’s personal catcher in 2021. A decision I questioned at the time. On the one hand, I can understand that Boone wants Cole to be caught by all the catchers. But on the other hand, I wonder how wise that decision is. During 2020 Cole’s first season with the New York Yankees, he was caught by both Sanchez and Higashioka. The results were eye-popping.

During 2020 Cole had an ERA of 3.91 across 8 games with 12 home runs allowed and 12 walks, with Sanchez catching him. When being caught by Kyle Higashioka over 3 games, Cole’s ERA was a tiny 0.90 with only one home run.  He also won his postseason game caught by Higashioka. Coincidence? I think not. You could see that he struggled and appeared unsure when being caught by Sanchez and seemed to be more comfortable pitching to “Higgy,” seldom calling him off. It was obvious that they developed a relationship that didn’t exist with Sanchez.

Cole has been outspoken about pitching to all catchers and not suggesting any disconnect between him and Sanchez. How he feels away from the public media is anyone’s guess. If I were him, I would choose the catcher I am most successful with. When he was with the Houston Astros, he had a personal catcher for many games, Robinson Chirinos, who is now a Yankee but injured.

So far in spring training Boone has been true to his word having different catchers catch Cole. Cole so far in spring training has the highest ERA of any of the starters. Yesterday in Dunedin, Florida against the Blue Jays, Cole had his best outing of the season, going 5 innings with 4 hits, one earned run and 8 strikeouts. He also seemed to pitch with ease. The catcher—Kyle Higashioka.

Regardless of Aaron Boone’s desire to have Cole pitch to several pitchers, if in the regular season, Cole continues to pitch poorly while being caught by Gary Sanchez, he will relent install Cole’s personal catcher if it means winning more games. Also of concern for Boone is if Sanchez who looks good so far, can hit respectably in the lineup. Last season he has a .143 batting average while Higashioko had a .250 average with 4 homers, one in every four games.

Whether Gary Sanchez catches the majority of Cole’s games, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure if both catchers perform as they did last season you may see Boone resort to the change he made last season, and possibly earlier than last season. This is Boone’s last season of his contract. he won’t want to fall short again.