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Data: FanGraphs; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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)

Go deeper

Jul 6, 2021 - Sports

Shohei Ohtani is breaking baseball

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Ronald Martinez, Sarah Stier/Getty Images

100 years after Babe Ruth bent the sport of baseball to his will, Shohei Ohtani — who takes the mound tonight against the Red Sox — has broken it entirely.

Driving the news: Next week in Denver, Ohtani will compete in the Home Run Derby, start at DH for the AL and take the mound after becoming the first player ever named an All-Star as both a pitcher and position player.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from Saturday night, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.