What’s wrong with Yankees’ Gerrit Cole? Here’s what MLB scouts, YES analysts told us – NJ.com

Something’s not right.

Nobody expected Yankees ace Gerrit Cole to avoid bad starts here and there, even though he just went almost 15 months without losing. But he’s been so great for so long that his struggles over his last two outings have been, well, shocking.

Cole’s 20-game win streak ended last week in Atlanta when he gave up five runs on four homers over five innings in a loss to the Braves. Then, five days later, he was tattooed in a five-inning, four-run, two-homer defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Most of season numbers still are pretty good – he’s 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA in eight starts – but his 12 homers allowed are tied for the most in the majors. The Yankees expect more from a guy who widely is considered one of the best pitchers in baseball — and an ace with a $324 million contract.

Everyone does.

Maybe this is just a mini slump that will lead into a long streak of domination like last year. Cole started 2019 going 4-5 with a 4.09 ERA in his first 11 starts for the Astros, then was 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his next 25 before losing to the Nationals in Game 1 of the World Series.

What’s going on?

We asked experts — analyst John Flaherty and broadcaster Ken Singleton of YES Network, and four MLB scouts and a league executive, whom we granted anonymity so they wouldn’t hold back.

Here’s what they said:

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JOHN FLAHERTY, YES ANALYST

“If you go back to 2009 when CC Sabathia came to the Yankees, Cole’s numbers at this point are similar to how CC started out. So there’s a long way to go here. That transition to becoming a Yankee and a big-time free agent takes a little time. But with all of that being said, and I’m guilty of this, we all expect Cole to be perfect every day, and that’s just not going to be a reality.

“I actually was happy that Cole mentioned Monday that maybe tipping was an issue, because when I watched the Atlanta game last week I felt like some of their hitters were way too comfortable with his breaking ball. I was thinking, ’Man, I wonder if he’s doing something.’ Then I saw Nick Markakis and Dansby Swanson talking about it in the dugout. You’d see them looking out to Cole and kind of talking and I was just like, ’Wow, that just seems like a conversation that maybe he’s doing something to tip.’

“I kind of felt the same way Monday. As hard as the Rays were squaring him up, I thought maybe they had something. But you’ve still got to make better pitches. He’s throwing 98 mph. He’s going to be fine. He just hasn’t found that groove yet.”

KEN SINGLETON, YES ANALYST

“I just think that this is kind of going along the ways that Cole’s last season went even though he had a great season. He got off to a relatively slow start. I think more than anything else, it’s just been a case of missed location. He’s not making as good pitches with his fastball and they’re getting hit. And maybe occasionally he’s gotten into predictable counts where hitters can look fastball.

“When a hitter can sit on a heater instead of being behind in counts and not knowing what’s coming and being more on the defensive, it’s a little tougher to hit. When Cole falls behind 3-1 or 2-0, he has Hall of Fame fastball that he’s going to use, but Hall of Famers make mistakes with their fastballs, too. Cole’s a fly-ball pitcher, so he’s going to give up some long home runs. They’ll go. It’s just as simple as that.

“Not being able to command his fastball, sometimes you miss the target and throw a pitch where you don’t want to and a hitter fouls it back. that. Well, at this stage of the season they’re not fouling it back. They’re hitting home runs.

“I think this will change over time. He’ll make better pitches. It’ll straighten out. He’s too good. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. Those guys eventually figure it out. He’ll get on track and everybody will start to calm down again. That’s what I think happens.”

* * *

NATIONAL LEAGUE SCOUT

“Cole’s delivery has been crap since they restarted the season. Watching some of his starts from last year, he was very firm and on line with his front side. He was able to throw the ball down with more finish, then go up in the zone.

“I don’t know if Cole’s trying to attack up because the Yankees’ one-trick pony over there is the throw four-seamers up and hope everybody swings through them. But his delivery has not been good for me from Day One this year.

“There are simple fixes. He just has to stay on line, have better balance and be on time better with his hands. His hands are late. I think that’s why his command is off. His body’s out of control.”

* * *

AMERICAN LEAGUE SCOUT 1

“There’s nothing wrong with Cole. It’s still elite stuff. It’s just a few mistakes out over the plate. You can throw 98 or 99, but it’s over the middle of the plate belt high, it’s going to get hit. Ask Aroldis Chapman about that.

“You’ve got to get to Cole early in the count and you’ve got to get to him early in games. His two outings, hitters have been really aggressive early in counts and early in games.

“Also, these hitters now have a month’s worth of at-bats. This is usually when hitters get their timing down and they’re on the top of their game. Gerrit Cole was way ahead of the hitters when the games started. Now hitters are catching up.

“I’m just speculating, but I also wonder if some of these struggles are related to the Yankees having a lot of guys hurt. Cole could be putting undue pressure on himself because he’s trying to live up to that big contract, he’s in New York and he figures he has to take this team to the promised land by himself. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

“Regardless, I’m not worried about Cole. He still might be the best pitcher in baseball. People act like there’s something wrong when a guy like Cole gets hit. Nothing’s wrong. Cole had a long stretch where he was untouchable, and now he’s going through a patch where he’s not getting guys out like he was. It’s life. All pitchers get beat. Max Scherzer. Justin Verlander. It’s just his time right now.

* * *

NATIONAL LEAGUE SPECIAL GM ASSISTANT

“The velocity is fine. The stuff is fine. He competes his ass off. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him. What appears to be off a little bit is command in the strike zone. And by that — there’s control and then there’s command.

“Command is hard. It’s being able to throw quality strikes inside of the strike zone. So he’s just missing his spots and he’s facing some good lineups. He’s abused some lesser teams, but this Rays team is good.

“If you look at the home runs that Cole gave up the other night to Ji-Man Choi and Kevin Kiermaier, they were poorly located pitches. Both of them. When your stuff is that good – he’s got elite stuff – it usually comes down to command. If you ask him, I guarantee you he’s not going to make excuses. He’s accountable. He’s not going to blame it on anything else.”

AMERICAN LEAGUE SCOUT 2

“Cole’s velocity is still good, but he’s not commanding his pitches. If you can’t command your fastball or you’re not locating it, you’re going to get hit, especially when you face Tampa Bay. Everybody knows the Rays are a feisty team.

“When I look at this radar gun readings and he’s 96-to-98, the thing that comes to my mind is whether he’s trying to overthrow trying to make the perfect pitch. He’s not making the perfect pitch, hitters are getting into fastball counts and then teeing off.

“Gerrit Cole needs to perform better. You get all that money, you’re supposed to be the dude. When you’ve got No. 1 stuff, you’re supposed to pitch your seven innings, pound the strike zone and strike out 10-to-12. That’s what a No. 1 starter is. That’s what Cole is supposed to be. That’s why they paid him the $324 million.

“If I go back to my old reports on Cole, he always had great stuff, even when he was with Pittsburgh. We saw him in Houston. We know what he is. Cole isn’t that guy now.”

* * *

AMERICAN LEAGUE SCOUT 3

“This is such a bizarre year. I wonder if the new team, the new hitting coach, the new catcher, the new house, the new baby, no fans in the stands. … So many guys are not themselves.

“I know personally I’m off my game. I can only imagine what he’s dealing with.”

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Randy Miller may be reached at rmiller@njadvancemedia.com. Brendan Kuty may be reached at bkuty@njadvancemedia.com. Find NJ.com on Facebook. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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