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Gerrit Cole Signs with New York Yankees: Fantasy Baseball Impact

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Dec 14, 2019

The Yankees recently signed Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking deal.

The biggest pitching domino has fallen. The Yankees recently inked Gerrit Cole to the largest deal a pitcher’s ever received. Cole pitched well in five seasons for the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he’s turned into one of the game’s best pitchers (if not the best) in back-to-back dominant seasons for the Astros. He’s unquestionably a fantasy stud, but I’ll discuss the impact of changing teams on his 2020 outlook below.

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Park Factor Changes

The elephant in the room is Cole going from pitching home starts at Minute Maid Park to doing so at Yankee Stadium. Below, I’ve included a table illustrating our park factors and how the two ballparks compare. The rank in parentheses for each park is from higher park factor to lower.

Ballpark Runs (Rank) HR (Rank)
Minute Maid Park (HOU) 0.866 (28) 0.945 (19)
Yankee Stadium (NYY) 1.060 (7) 1.265 (2)

Cole trades pitching his home starts in one of MLB’s most pitcher-friendly parks that suppresses homers to doing so in one of the top-10 offensive environments that also boosts taters at the second-highest clip. It’s far from an ideal move for his fantasy outlook this season, but, for Cole’s part, he’s pitched well away from Minute Maid Park in his two years with the Astros. The following table illustrates his home and road splits and features stats from FanGraphs.

Home/Road Innings BB% K% HR/9 WHIP ERA FIP xFIP
Away 203.1 8.0 35.2 0.97 1.06 2.57 2.80 3.14
Home 209.1 5.9 39.4 1.12 0.87 2.79 2.54 2.37

Interestingly, Cole’s road ERA was better. However, as his ERA estimators indicate, his component numbers were much better at home. Having said all of that, Cole’s road dominance means he wasn’t merely posting silly numbers as a result of pitching in one of the game’s better pitching environments in Houston. Baking his new home digs into expectations for this year is wise. Going overboard dinging Cole for his new digs is unwise, however.

Team Defense, Bullpen, and Offensive Support

The park factor change is the biggest knock against Cole for 2020, but he does see a slight drop in quality of defense, bullpen, and offensive support — albeit only a slight drop in each, hence all being grouped together. FanGraphs ranked the 2019 Astros 10th in defense and the Yankees 16th in defense. It’s a modest change that doesn’t move the needle much for Cole’s projection this season. It’s also the largest gap in the trio of factors headlining this section.

Cole will once again be backed by an elite bullpen. The 2019 Astros’ bullpen ranked second in ERA (3.75), 11th in FIP (4.24), and first in xFIP (4.06), according to FanGraphs. The Yankees’ bullpen was outstanding last year, too, ranking ninth in ERA (4.08) and FIP (4.15), and fourth in xFIP (4.15). When Cole exits starts this year with a lead, he’ll be backed by a bullpen fully capable of protecting it.

He should see tons of run support this year with the Bronx Bombers bludgeoning the opposition. Last year, the Astros ranked first in wOBA (.355) and wRC+ (125). Despite dealing with a plethora of injuries last year, the Yankees checked in third in wOBA (.346) and second in wRC+ (117).

Pitch Framing

Until the robot ump overlords take over calling balls and strikes in MLB games, pitch framing will have a role in the value of hurlers throwing to their battery mates. StatCorner tracks pitch framing, though, if a catcher caught for multiple teams, they break the pitch-framing into how the catcher performed with each team as opposed to providing an overall ranking for all of their pitch framing. I bring that information up because Max Stassi caught five of Cole’s games last year, and he was graded as a pitch framer for the Astros as well as for the Angels. The forthcoming table shows a breakdown of catchers who caught Cole while also including Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka, the only two catchers currently on New York’s 40-man roster, for comparison’s sake. The ranks in parentheses next to per game pitch framing value are out of the 71 catchers who caught a minimum of 1,000 pitches for a team last year.

Player Games Catching Cole Per Game Pitch Framing Value
Robinson Chirinos 16 0.14 (T-26)
Martin Maldonado (HOU) 10 -0.89 (56)
Max Stassi (HOU) 5 2.83 (1)
Garrett Stubbs 2 Unqualified
Gary Sanchez 0 0.02 (T-35)
Kyle Higashioka 0 Unqualified

The pitch framing qualities of the catchers who caught Cole last year were a mixed bag. Stubbs didn’t qualify due to catching only 597 pitches, but among catchers who caught a minimum of 500 pitches in 2019, he had the second-worst per game pitch framing mark (-2.63). Higashioka also didn’t qualify, but he barely missed the cut having caught 1,208 pitches. He’s an elite framer and had the third-best per game pitch framing mark (1.52) among catcher who caught a minimum of 500 pitches.

No one’s going to call Sanchez a defensive wizard behind the dish. He’s not a disaster framing, though. In fact, he ranked just a few places lower than Chirinos and was substantially better than Maldonado. Add it all up, and I wouldn’t ding Cole’s fantasy value this year as a result of who he’ll be throwing to. In fact, if Sanchez misses time or Higashioka catches a healthy number of Cole’s games for one reason or another, it would provide Cole’s fantasy value a lift.

2019 Review and 2020 Outlook

Cole was superb last year. Among qualified pitchers, he ranked third in ERA (2.50), second in WHIP (0.89), first in xFIP (2.48), SIERA (2.62), and strikeout percentage (39.9%). Cole has been the first pitcher off the board in Fantrax leagues with an ADP of 7.37, former teammate Justin Verlander is just a few picks behind at 10.61, and Jacob deGrom is the only other pitcher with an ADP in the top 15 at 12.23. Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler round out the pitchers with an ADP in the top 20 at picks 15.29 and 19, respectively. I’m splitting hairs picking between Cole, Verlander, and deGrom as the top three starting pitchers this season, but, as of this moment, I’d prefer deGrom followed by Verlander and then Cole. Ask me in a week and my answer might be different, but all three are in the top tier. For gamers who are willing to spend a first-round pick or high-second round pick (if his value drops a bit with gamers reacting to his landing place in free agency) on a hurler, Cole’s a great target.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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