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Gerrit Cole Brings Yankees a Much Needed Change in Philosophy

With the signing of Gerrit Cole, the New York Yankees not only get one of the top ace pitchers in all of baseball, but a much needed adjustment to their pitching philosophy.

Nearly two months ago, Bronx Bomber nation at the lowest point it’s been in a while. The Yankees lost the 2019 American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros in six games. This was following a walk off home run by Jose Altuve that shattered the hearts of Yankees fans nationwide. Once again, the Bronx Bombers watched the World Series at home as the Astros and Washington Nationals battled it out for the Commissioner’s Trophy. This ALCS loss officially marks the 2010s as the first decade that the Yankees did not win the American League pennant since the 1910s.

If you told the other 122 major sports teams in America that they would go a decade without making it to the championship, most would probably say “Been there, done that.” After all, there’s only 80 spots in each sports respective championship game or series every decade. But for the New York Yankees, a franchise that has won 40 AL pennants and 27 World Series championships, it’s foreign territory. Sure winning 103 games and the division for the first time since 2012 in a season where the Yankees faced severe adversity in terms of injuries is nice. But at the end of the day, the only thing on Yankees fans minds is winning a World Series championship. Anything less than that is a failure.

However, with the 2019 MLB offseason in full swing, Yankees fans spirits are now at an all time high. This is following the news out of the 2019 Winter Meetings that New York had made not only the biggest splash of the entire offseason, but one of their biggest in franchise history. The Yankees have signed right-handed ace pitcher Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract. This contract shatters all previous records for starting pitchers, including the seven-year, $245 million deal Stephen Strasberg signed with the Washington Nationals a day prior.

Gerrit Cole’s resume speaks for itself; he’s arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball. He’s coming off a season where he finished first in the American League in ERA (2.50), second in WHIP (0.89), and first in total strikeouts (326). He put up a very strong case to take home the 2019 AL Cy Young award, but just finished second to his Houston teammate, Justin Verlander.

However, above all, the Yankees signing of Cole singles a much needed change in philosophy when it comes to the Yankees and pitching. That is more reliance on their starting pitching and less reliance on their bullpen. Getting more innings out of their starters and not needed as many from their relievers. It’s no secret that the Yankees biggest weakness, at least in the regular season, was their starting pitching rotation. With their top starter, Luis Severino, missing the majority of the season due to injury and therefore, not being 100 percent down the stretch and into the playoffs, as well as inconsistent seasons for Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton, the Yankees starters was easily their biggest concern heading into October.

In October, the consensus opinion seems to be that the starting pitching wasn’t the problem. That the offense failing to come up big in multiple scoring opportunities was what ultimately cost the Yankees in the playoffs. There is some validity to this argument, as the Yankees hit an abysmal .172 with runners in scoring position in the ALCS. Meanwhile the Yankees starters had an ERA of 2.66. Meanwhile the Astros starters, which were believed to be superior to the Yankees starters, had an ERA of 2.90. From this angle, you can easily make the argument that the Yankees hitting was the problem and not the pitching.

However, there was another problem that haunted the Yankees just as much as their lack of offense. That was the lack of length the Yankees got from their starters. Excluding Chad Green’s opener start in game 6 of the ALCS, the Yankees starters averaged just over four innings pitched per start. No team in MLB history has ever won the World Series without their starters averaging at least five innings pitched per game. Part of the reason for this was clearly manager Aaron Boone’s and the Yankees’ plan. With their rotation being a question mark, they wanted to pull their starters early and hand the game over to arguably their biggest strength, the bullpen.

There’s a couple of key flaws with the Yankees pitching philosophy however. Relief pitchers are placed in that role for a reason. They don’t have as much stamina as starting pitchers. When you constantly have to go to your bullpen early, it’s going to take a toll on your relievers. Furthermore, when you’re relying on so many pitchers to get outs, there’s a chance one of them won’t be on their A game.

A perfect example of both was game 2 of the ALCS. The Yankees only got two 1/3 innings from James Paxton and had to go to the bullpen early. When the struggling Adam Ottavino came in in the bottom of the fifth, he surrendered the game-tying home run and only managed to get one out. The rest of the Yankees bullpen couldn’t last the six innings the rest of the way. Boone had no choice but to bring in J.A. Happ in the bottom of the 11th, who would go on to surrender the walk off home run.

Now with Gerrit Cole as the new engine of the Yankees starting pitching train, we can now expect the Yankees to make the necessary adjustments to their philosophy. Obviously the Yankees are going to have a longer leash with Gerrit Cole. It makes no sense not too with his talent level and how much they’re paying him. However, with the accusation of Cole, it also takes a lot of pressure off guys like Severino, Tanaka, and Paxton. Before Cole, those three were expected to go toe to toe with the likes of Justin Verlander and Cole in the playoffs. Now the Yankees have Cole to be their number one ace, with the rest providing very scary depth.

A big x factor in all of this is the Yankees new pitching coach, Matt Blake. A big factor in Cole’s development into a top three pitcher in baseball was the Astros. Through their advanced pitching analytics, Houston is able to get the most out of all their pitchers talent. Looking at what Houston did, New York decided to move on from long time pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who was more of an old school coach.

Matt Blake, on the other hand, is known throughout baseball for being very advanced in the pitching analytics. Back during his time as a pitching coordinator with the Indians, he advanced pitching development program helped develop the likes of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. But he’s not just all about spitting numbers out like a robot. Blake knows how to explain the analytics to his pitchers, which is more important than the analytics themselves. Furthermore, he also previously worked as a scout for the Yankees, so he brings both familiarity and a perfect blend of old and new school to the table. This was a big draw for Cole to come to New York and work with another advanced pitching program. Through Matt Blake and Gerrit Cole, the Yankees will be ushering in a new, more advanced pitching development program to get the most high quality innings out of their pitchers as they can.

This is all very good news for Luis Severino, who before the Cole signing, was the Yankees number one pitcher and a borderline ace already, posting a 3.13 ERA in his past three seasons. Two things, however have held Severino back from establishing himself as a top tier pitcher in baseball. One is consistency, as he was lights out in the first half of 2018, but struggled in the second half. The second is health, as he pitched only 12 innings in the 2019 regular season. Now with the Yankees getting more advanced in developing pitchers, they’ll be able to get the most out of their homegrown ace and make him the perfect two punch to Cole’s one punch.

It’s obvious that signing Gerrit Cole is a monumental moment for the New York Yankees. They acquired arguably the greatest free agent pitcher ever in a deal that could go down as the best in franchise history. They’ve undeniably made themselves the favorites to win the World Series in 2020. However, they’ve also made the necessary adjustments to their pitching philosophy. Through a more advanced approach to pitching development, they will now put more emphasis on getting as many quality innings from their starters as possible and not be so reliant on their bullpen.

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New York & New Jersey Sports Staff Writer, New Jersey Jackals Beat Writer
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