The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Gerrit Cole has a chance to be the best Yankees starting pitcher ever

I am pumped about getting the 2020 season started, even with an abbreviated schedule.  Some baseball is better than no baseball.

 

One of the things I am most looking forward to is Gerrit Cole pitching in Yankees pinstripes.  With all due respect to Verlander, deGrom, Scherzer, Kershaw, and Strasburg, Cole is currently the best pitcher in baseball.  And now he has a chance to make his mark in the annals of the Yankees franchise.  In fact, Cole could well become the best starting pitcher the Yankees ever had, even better than Hall of Fame greats like Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, and Red Ruffing.  As my Dad used to say, “That’s some pretty tall cotton.”

 

Table 1 is a recap of the top Yankees starters of all time. The WAR for Pitchers stat of 30 or greater was used as the baseline criteria to identify this group. WAR isn’t the absolute best indicator, but at least it provides a common denominator to assess pitchers across eras. It has a cumulative element to it (the longer one plays, the higher the WAR can become), but it’s better than traditional stats like career wins and strikeouts. In any case, the table also includes other relevant pitching stats not based on stats accumulations.

 

Table 2 shows the same information for Gerrit Cole in two time periods: his career to date with the Pirates and Astros (2013-2019) and only his last two seasons with the Astros (2018-2019).

 

Table 1


 

Yankees Pitcher

Years with Yankees

 

WAR for Pitchers

 

ERA

 

FIP

 

ERA+

 

WHIP

Whitey Ford (HOF)

16

53.6

2.75

3.26

133

1.215

Andy Pettitte

15

51.3

3.94

3.77

115

1.373

Ron Guidry

14

47.8

3.29

3.27

119

1.184

Red Ruffing (HOF)

15

46.5

3.47

3.86

119

1.282

Lefty Gomez (HOF)

13

43.3

3.34

3.87

125

1.351

Mel Stottlemyre

11

40.7

2.97

3.37

112

1.219

Bob Shawkey

13

42.9

3.12

3.44

117

1.269

Waite Hoyt (HOF)

10

36.3

3.48

3.81

115

1.336

Mike Mussina (HOF)

8

35.1

3.88

3.50

114

1.212

Herb Pennock (HOF)

11

33.9

3.54

3.61

114

1.335

CC Sabathia

11

29.6

3.81

3.92

112

1.272

 


Table 2


Gerrit Cole (2013-2019)

7

23.3

3.22

3.06

127

1.129

Gerrit Cole

(2018-2019)

2

12.3

2.68

2.67

164

.0962

 

 

Table 1 shows is that Ford was the best among the group of all-time Yankee greats. He is not only the leader in WAR, but also ERA (Earned Runs Average), ERA+ (ERA adjusted for player’s ballpark), and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). He trails only Ron Guidry in WHIP (Walks and Hits Per Nine Innings Pitched).

 

Cole really stepped up his performance after his trade to the Astros following the 2018 season. He finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award in 2018 and was runner-up to teammate Justin Verlander last season, when he led the league in ERA, strikeouts, FIP, and ERA+. He was already good with the Pirates, but his team’s poor performance probably overshadowed his true value. At 29 years of age, he is in the prime of his career. With the amount of money the Yankees will pay Cole (contract is worth $36M per year for the next nine seasons), they certainly expect him to be productive for a long time. If he can maintain performances like his two seasons with the Astros, he could ascend to the top of the list.

 

It’s a tall order to project Cole in this auspicious company. In addition to the great Bronx Bombers that included Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Maris, Berra, and Jackson, most of these pitchers were also huge contributors to the Yankees having won 27 World Championships.

 

At a minimum though, it’s not far-fetched to project Cole becoming the best starter the Yankees have had since Ford last pitched in 1967. I think Pettitte is an anomaly on the all-time list. He represents a case where WAR isn’t always the best indicator. He was never a top-of-the rotation starter. Same with Mussina, although he did manage to get into the Hall, partially based on his Orioles career, too. CC Sabathia only had four superior years out of his 11 with the Yankees. Guidry is somewhat underrated when considering the all-time Yankee greats.

 

Cole ended the 2019 regular season with 16 consecutive winning decisions. In a 60-game schedule, he just might go undefeated this year.

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