Last Updated on November 16, 2023 at 11:43 am by Michael Bennington
With the recent addition of the AL Cy Young Award to his list of achievements, there arises speculation about Gerrit Cole potentially becoming the greatest starting pitcher in Yankees history by the conclusion of his unprecedented nine-year contract.
Considering the exceptional level of pitching he has demonstrated since joining the Yankees for a staggering $324 million before the 2020 season, it prompts a debate on where Gerrit Cole should be ranked among iconic Yankees pitchers like Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Ron Guidry, and Andy Pettitte.
Gerrit Cole is among the best of the best
Gerrit Cole’s performance in 2023 was so exceptional that contemplating his potential as the greatest Yankees starting pitcher becomes tempting, especially considering he became only the sixth Yankee pitcher to secure a Cy Young Award, joining the esteemed company of Bob Turley, Whitey Ford, Sparky Lyle, Ron Guidry, and Roger Clemens.
In the 2023 season, Gerrit Cole stood out as the sole qualified pitcher across the major leagues with a WHIP below 1.00 (0.98). His 2.63 ERA not only led the American League but was also the second-lowest overall, surpassed only by Blake Snell (2.25). Remarkably, this marked the lowest ERA by a qualified Yankee since 1980 when Rudy May achieved a 2.46 ERA.
Adding to his impressive stats, Gerrit Cole had six starts in the season where he pitched at least seven innings, allowing three or fewer baserunners. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher has achieved as many such starts since 1893 when the mound was standardized at its current distance from the plate – 60 feet, 6 inches.
Utilizing ERA+, a metric designed to contextualize a pitcher’s season by considering the rest of the league and adjusting for the ballpark, Gerrit Cole’s 2023 mark of 165 stands as the ninth-best in Yankee history. His 2020 season holds the 23rd position. One can only imagine the impact if he continues to deliver performances akin to 2023, perhaps securing a second or third Cy Young.
In the realm of ERA+, Whitey Ford claims two of the top eight seasons in Yankee history, while Lefty Gomez possesses two of the top five. They remain the sole pitchers in Yankee lore with two seasons boasting an ERA+ at least as high as Gerrit Cole’s impressive 165 this year. Ron Guidry’s extraordinary 1978 season, with an ERA+ of 208, stands as the highest ever by a qualified Yankee pitcher and is widely regarded as one of the greatest individual pitching seasons in team history.
May end up becoming the best Yankees ace
With a record of 15-4 in 33 starts, including two shutouts, Gerrit Cole has already made significant contributions as a Yankee, particularly evident in his impressive strikeout statistics. He holds the distinction of being the only Yankee pitcher with a career strikeouts-per-nine rate in double digits, specifically 11.09. In the 2023 season, Gerrit Cole accumulated 222 strikeouts, ranking tied for the seventh-most in franchise history, although falling short of his own franchise record of 257 established in 2022.
He stands as the inaugural Yankee pitcher to amass at least 200 strikeouts in three distinct seasons. Admittedly, Gerrit Cole operates in an era characterized by a higher prevalence of strikeouts compared to Ford or Gomez, with only Ford achieving a single 200-strikeout season.
In 2021, the 33-year-old led the AL in wins with 16 and has secured the league’s lead in starts for consecutive years. Despite encountering challenges, such as his home run struggles in 2022, surrendering 33 to lead the AL, Gerrit Cole successfully reduced that number to 20 in the past season. While his performance faltered in the 2021 playoffs in Boston, where he struggled with a 3.49 ERA, he has proven to be a reliable postseason pitcher for the Yankees.
It remains improbable for Gerrit Cole to surpass the postseason achievements of Ford or Gomez. Ford retains the all-time record for World Series wins with 10, while Gomez boasts an undefeated 6-0 record in World Series play. Nevertheless, Gerrit Cole boasts a respectable 10-6 record with a 2.93 ERA in October throughout his career, with opportunities for more, contingent upon the Yankees making a return to the playoffs (note the sarcasm).
Given his presence on the team, this outcome seems increasingly likely. Gerrit Cole retains the option to opt out after the 2024 season, but the Yankees hold the ability to nullify it by ensuring a $36 million salary for 2029.
Should he remain with the Yankees for that duration, the statistical record on the back of his baseball card might ultimately establish Gerrit Cole as the premier figure in the history of Yankees pitching.
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