With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training now less than a month away prep for 2020 fantasy baseball is ramping up. With that in mind we’re kicking off New Faces in New Places with the Star Wars budget level contract of Gerrit Cole. Cole is leaving the comfy confines of Minute Maid Park for the bright lights of and pinstripes of the New York Yankees. Will he live up to the Broadway billing, or be overbought and overdrafted in 2020 fantasy leagues?
How He Got Here
Poor Stephen Strasburg. He had the highest AAV of any starting pitcher at $35 Million per year on December 10th. On December 11th Cole signed with the Yankees for nine years and $324 Million. For those counting that’s $36 Million per year.
For the past two years Cole has been obliterating the American League. He’s averaged a 2.69 ERA and a .964 WHIP. That was a good year for Mariano Rivera back in the day, to see it from a starter is as mind bending as the plot changes between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. And he did it in that band box in Houston. Last year he lead the league with 326 strikeouts, a 2.50 ERA and 13.8 K/9. Throw in 20 wins and he still finished second in the Cy Young voting to his teammate Justin Verlander. No wonder he got the highest AAV, he had to win at something right?
Some Chinks In The Armor Ted
There are reasons to pause. First, those 326 strikeouts were 50 more than his prior career high the year before. That’s more career year territory than new career norm. Will he be top 10 in strikeouts in 2020? Probably. But leading the league by 26 (Verlander had 300 last year) is far less certain. Before 2018 his career high in Ks was 202.
Second, against the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays he has a career 3.78 ERA with 11.3 K/9 in 66 plus innings. Would you draft a pitcher in the first round who has a 3.78 ERA? Yes, teams fluctuate from year to year, but pitching in the AL East is a horse of a different color than the AL West. Cole’s trading in ballparks like the cavernous Oakland’s RingCentral Coliseum and Seattle’s T-Mobile Park for offense boosting Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and Yankee Stadium. Even though Baltimore was terrible in 2019, their Camden Yards still boasted the fifth most runs scored of any park last year.
Third, pressure. Pitching in Yankee Stadium and for the Yankees is a lot more pressure than Houston or Pittsburgh, his prior homes. Where does this show up? In his biggest moments, when his team needed him the most, he blinked. In Game 2 of the 2018 ALCS against the Red Sox at home he went six innings with five runs allowed (four earned). In Game 1 of the 2019 World Series he went seven innings with five earned runs. That’s Rick Porcello, going six or seven but giving up four or five runs, not the highest bid starting pitcher.
Fourth, cheating. The Yankees and Red Sox have also been accused, but the Astros are the undisputed champions of cheating. Most of the accusations are about batters getting an edge, but both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander turned into world beaters after arriving in Houston, after fading with their prior teams. So not only will Cole face the second best cheating team in the Red Sox much more often, but also only get the benefits of the third best cheating team instead of the best.
And finally, swagger. Gerrit Cole has been a swashbuckling Pirate and a hair raising cowboy with the Astros. Now he’s a clean shaven pretty boy. Throw in the pressure and the pinstripes and it’s going to be a whole new world for this laid back Californian.
There’s too much here to ignore. Yes, Cole might win 20, but he will not be the undisputed Number 1 starter this year. Let others bust their budget or use their first round pick. We’ll be back next week with Anthony Rendon’s move to the Angels.