The Yankees may have a serious problem brewing with their ace pitcher

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees bullpen has been the strongest part of the roster up to this point. In fact, they currently host a collective 1.83 ERA, but their top guns are dominating. Michael King has earned a 1.17 ERA, Clay Holmes a 1.69 ERA, and Clarke Schmidt a 2.25 ERA, picking up the slack against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday after Gerrit Cole was knocked out in just the 2nd inning with 68 pitches.

The starters, however, host a 3.11 ERA, which isn’t bad but is being dragged down by Cole’s bloated 6.35 ERA. Cole has struggled considerably this season over his first three starts against the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and now Detroit Tigers.

On opening day, Cole lasted just 4.0 innings, giving up four hits, three earned runs and struck out three batters over 68 pitches. Against Toronto he lasted a bit longer at 5.2 innings with 85 pitches, giving up three runs and two homers to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

However, he was looking to take a big step forward against Detroit on Tuesday, which unfortunately did not occur. Cole lasted 1.2 innings before being knocked out at 68 pitches, giving up two earned runs and five walks.

It is very odd to see Cole starting a season this poorly, as he showcased frustration on the mound, but managed to bottle up his anger enough to walk off quietly. His strikeout rate has dropped considerably to 8.38 and his home runs per 9 have ballooned to 2.79 from a career average of 0.96.

Looking at his advanced stats, he currently hosts a 3.44 SIERA, which is the highest it’s been since 2017, and a 3.87 xFIP. Interestingly, he hasn’t necessarily lost any velocity on his pitches, throwing his fastball at 97.9 mph, but has thrown his curveball far less such as 4.6% compared to 15.7% last year. He’s added a lot more reliance on his slider, tossing it 37.3% this year at 88.9 mph, which shows an increase in velocity.

The problem with Cole is that his pitches simply aren’t doting the corners as they usually are. It’s not a problem of velocity, it’s a problem of location, which could be confidence-related. When Cole is on top of his game, he’s easily one of the best pitchers, if not the best in baseball. When he’s clearly not feeling his best, he struggles considerably to get pitches across the plate and can give up homers if not careful.

Gerrit recently mentioned the addition of a cutter to his pitch repertoire, trying to give batters something they’ve never seen from him. In theory, that could be a beneficial strategy, but it hasn’t done any good thus far.

Interestingly, his “fastball runs above average” sits at -3.82 on the season, having never reached negative territory throughout his first nine years in baseball (via Fangraphs). Of course, that number will likely turn around rather quickly, but he recorded 12.1 runs above average last season using his fastball.

Another advanced metric that stands out is his Z-Contact, which represents the percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when pitches are inside the strike zone. That number is currently at 87.2%, up nearly 10% from last season. Clearly, batters are making better contact with thrown strikes.

In addition, his first-pitch strike percentage has dropped to a measly 38.5% from 66.8% last year. That has been one of Cole’s catalysts for success the past few years, throwing strikes early and often to keep batters on their toes.

There’s plenty of reason to believe that cole will turn things around quickly, but there are a few concerning metrics that stand out. Throwing more first-pitch strikes and an increase in the usage of his curveball might be beneficial moving forward.