What’s the more astonishing number? That the Yankees only have five Cy Young Award winners despite racking up 27 championships? Or Gerrit Cole could soon become the sixth -- for a club with a losing record?
Probably the first one. Just look at the Mets, a team with two World Series titles, but four Cy Young winners, including a pair of multiple-time recipients: Tom Seaver (three times) and Jacob deGrom (twice).
Cole’s accomplishment is remarkable, but more flat-out disappointing for the Yankees, who are flushing another season of brilliance. We’re already wrapping up Year Four of Cole’s nine-year, $324 million deal, meaning he’s now almost halfway through a contract that was supposed to help deliver multiple championships to the Bronx -- or at least that’s what Hal Steinbrenner pledged that fateful December day during the winter of 2019.
It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. In the past, when the Yankees had a Cy Young-caliber pitcher in their stable, they made sure to capitalize on the extraordinary efforts of Roger Clemens (2001), Ron Guidry (1978), Sparky Lyle (’77), White Ford (’61) and Bob Turley (’58). During those seasons, the Yankees won 100 or more games three times, never dipping below 92, and finished first each of those years.
Clemens was the lone pitcher of those Fab Five to not be part of a championship, as Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single beat Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series loss to the Diamondbacks. Otherwise, having the best pitcher in the American League typically meant the Yankees were the best team, too.
Not so this season with Cole. Far from it, in fact. If Cole is able to finish the job, and the Yankees (76-75) aren’t able to stay above .500 the rest of the way, he may end up being the first AL pitcher to win the Cy Young Award for a losing team since Felix Hernandez did it with the 61-101 Mariners in 2010.
What a waste. While that shouldn’t take anything away from Cole’s individual excellence, it can only be viewed as a massive opportunity lost for the Yankees, because these seasons can’t be taken for granted. Heading into Thursday’s start against the Blue Jays, Cole’s 2.81 ERA was the lowest in the AL and second in the majors, trailing only the Padres’ Blake Snell (2.33). He’s also allowed two runs or fewer in 24 of his 31 starts, yet Cole (13-4) earned no-decisions in 11 of those outings.
And it’s not just the dominance. Cole’s relentless consistency, his ability to take the ball every fifth day, has made him an outlier in a sport that considers building a pitching staff akin to a war of attrition. Since signing that Yankees’ deal, Cole has made 106 starts, second only to the White Sox's Dylan Cease (107) in that department.
Cole would have plenty more if not for the COVID-shortened 60-game season in 2020 (he had 12 starts then) and with one more scheduled for after Thursday, that bumps him up to back-to-back years of 33 starts. Compare that with many of his injured rotation mates tumbling like dominoes this season, and especially Carlos Rodon, who has only 12 starts in the first year of his $162 million deal, and Cole comes off as underpaid -- despite still owning the biggest overall contract for a pitcher.
“He’s got a great routine that he’s obsessed with,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s 365 (days) too, thinking about his routine, and posting, and being the leader of the New York Yankees staff is really important to him. He takes a lot of pride in it.”
Cole turned out to be the lone Yankees representative at this year’s All-Star Game in Seattle -- Aaron Judge was home rehabbing his injured toe -- and appropriately got the start for the AL, the 12th Yankee to do so. Judge may be the captain, but with the reigning MVP missing seven weeks, it’s Cole who’s been centerstage on those fifth days, and really the tip of the spear for whatever intimidation the Yankees can muster during this humbling season.
Not surprisingly, Cole also leads the AL with 192 innings, his .215 opponent’s batting average ranks second and his 1.05 WHIP is tied for second with the Mariners’ Luis Castillo. When you look at the total package, the AL Cy Young is Cole’s to lose with two starts remaining. It’s just hard to believe he’s finally going to get his first for a team that was in last place a week ago.
“I think with every great player, you’ve got to make adjustments along the way in your career,” Boone said “He’s done that. Pitching in the AL East with a target on you all the time. I feel like he’s done a great job evolving, whether that be in his repertoire or in his game planning and how he attacks. And then I think he’s just got really good at managing difficult situations.”
That’s for sure. Because you can certainly count the 2023 Yankees among them, with the Bronx stage definitely giving a way-off Broadway feel for Cole’s star performance this season.
Gerrit Cole (13-4, 2.81 ERA) has a great shot to become the sixth Yankees pitcher — and the first in 22 years — to win the Cy Young Award. The previous winners who wore pinstripes and their credentials that season:
Roger Clemens, 2001 — 20-3, 3.51 ERA
Ron Guidry, 1978 — 25-3, 1.74
*Sparky Lyle, 1977 — 13-5, 2.17
Whitey Ford, 1961 — 25-4, 3.21
Bob Turley, 1958 — 21-7, 2.97
* Lyle also had 26 saves.