MLB’s crackdown on sticky stuff has decimated Yankees star’s effectiveness
Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees in 2019 — the largest ever by average annual value.
Why it matters: If the first month of MLB's sticky-stuff crackdown is any indication, Cole and the Yanks may be in for a bumpy marriage — and that mammoth contract could end up being historically bad.
By the numbers: On June 3, the day of Cole's 12th start of the season, word got out that MLB would soon begin enforcing its rule against foreign substances. Since then, he's been a completely different pitcher.
- His ERA and WHIP through his first 11 starts were a sterling 1.78 and 0.83, respectively. In six starts since, they're 5.24 and 1.22.
- He's striking out 20% fewer batters per nine innings and walking more than twice as many, while his WAR (wins above replacement player) has actually gone down.
- Wild stat: Cole has allowed as many home runs in his last three starts (five) as he did in his first 11.
The backdrop: In 2015, baseball changed forever with the dawning of the Statcast era. Teams suddenly had troves of new data at their fingertips, including the importance of spin rate on pitchers' efficacy.
- Sticky stuff was originally intended as a gripping agent. But when pitch tracking data showed that more grip meant more spin, strikeouts and success, teams began weaponizing it.
- No team was more aggressive than the Astros, who acquired Cole from the Pirates in 2018 and helped turn him into a superstar.
- The smoking gun: Cole's fastball spin rate his last year in Pittsburgh, when he had a career-worst 4.26 ERA, was well under league average. By 2019, when he struck out more batters than anyone since Randy Johnson, it was the fourth-highest among all starting pitchers.
The state of play: Cole isn't the only pitcher struggling to adjust to baseball's new reality.
- Teammate Aroldis Chapman's ERA before June 3 was 0.41. Since then? 18.9.
- Veteran Garrett Richards, playing his first season in Boston, says the crackdown "has changed pretty much everything for me ... I feel like I need to be a different pitcher."
What's next: Cole's next start comes Friday against, who else, the Astros. If he records double-digit strikeouts or allows fewer than two earned runs, it'll be the first time he's done so since May.
Go deeper: How baseball's war on sticky stuff is already changing the game (WashPost)