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Yankees' Gerrit Cole loves analytics, but he respects the human element too

Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole warms up his arm

Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole warms up his arm before throwing in the bullpen on the first day of spring training in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 11. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is well aware of his reputation as being analytically obsessed, a no-stone-unturned stickler for any detail that might provide even the slightest edge on the mound.

It’s a characteristic that quickly stood out to his new teammates and manager. “His attention to detail is special,” Aaron Boone said early in spring training.

That’s something Cole doesn’t hide from and is proud of.

“I’ve gotten a reputation for the analytics,” he said in March. “I think I can understand them and I can translate them.”

Both for himself and his teammates, with whom Cole often could be seen holding impromptu discussions about what he calls “the craft.”

There is a “but,” however, a caveat that Cole expanded upon shortly before MLB shut down in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He has without question benefited from analytics and his understanding of how to integrate them into his game, but he indicated they’re not the reason for his level of success.

“For me, they’re not an absolute,” said Cole, coming off a 2019 season in which he went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and struck out 326 batters in 212 1⁄3 innings.“I certainly learned how to pitch in this game without them. My belief is while you’re out on the mound, you’re not going to reference the iPad or the analytics or have your pitching coach tell you what your spin axis or your spin rate is while you’re out there.”

The Yankees have spent recent years transitioning into an organization that is close to, if not at, the forefront of the usage of analytics and data science as it relates to all aspects of the game.

Besides the obvious — the record-setting nine-year, $324 million free-agent contract was quite an incentive to join the Yankees — that commitment to garnering and using all forms of information was a significant part of what Cole found appealing in his new team.

Cole, after all, had just flourished with a franchise with a similar commitment. The Astros have experienced their share of success stories with their pitchers, and the use of analytics was a contributing factor, according to those pitchers.

Cole went 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA in 2018 and 2019 after being traded to the Astros by the Pirates. He finished second to teammate Justin Verlander in the 2019 American League Cy Young Award voting.

“The analytics are information. They’re there to help you better understand yourself, better understand the league, maybe sometimes correlate a good pitch analytically to a good feel,” Cole said. “But in the end, we’re craftsmen and there’s a massive amount of human element to this game, especially in the most crucial of games.

“What’s unique is we have 162 of these games, so in a sense, you can’t ignore the sample size of the analytics and what is deemed to be true. But then you have to play somebody seven times and beat them four out of seven.

“ . . . When it’s all on the line, people can deviate whenever they want in order to get an edge, in order to counteract or maybe they feel like they’re getting an advantage. It comes down to basic baseball, really, kind of down at the end. So I always try to keep that in mind.”

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