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Gerrit Cole is a pitching savant. He dissects pitching, he devours pitching and he even dreams about pitching. When Cole is standing on the mound for the Yankees, he is an artist who is trying to paint the equivalent of the perfect pitch.
During a disappointing and deflating 2023 season for the Yankees, Cole was their constant and their security blanket. Brilliant start after brilliant start, it was obvious that Cole was also the best pitcher in the American League. That became official on Wednesday when Cole was named the winner of the AL’s Cy Young Award. Cole was so impressive that it was easy to predict he would win this award back in August.
When Cole finished his season with a complete-game, two-hit shutout over the playoff-bound Toronto Blue Jays, he put an exclamation point on a campaign that was consistent and memorable. After the win, a gracious Cole thanked his teammates as he spoke about the possibility of winning the Cy Young, but, in reality, they should have been thanking him over and over.
While going 15-4 with a 2.63 earned run average and 222 strikeouts in 209 innings, Cole was steady and strong. He had a 7.5 WAR to lead the league and he also led the AL in ERA, innings and batting average against. He allowed two runs or fewer in 26 of his 33 starts. Those are dominant numbers. Those are Cy Young numbers.
“I love watching him pitch because he’s always creating on the mound,” said David Cone, a fellow Cy Young Award winner. “And he’s durable. You could count on him to give you everything he had every fifth day. That’s become rare in baseball these days.”
In the spring of 2020, Cone and I interviewed Cole about the intricacies of pitching. It was a fascinating discussion as Cone and Cole, who is Cone 2.0 to me, exchanged thoughts about spinning the ball, outwitting hitters and being reliable on lackluster days. Both pitchers noted that there will always be starts where a pitcher simply doesn’t have his best stuff. On those days, Cole said, “You have to fly by the seat of your pants.”
Cole flew high all season. With 145 wins, a 3.17 ERA., 2,152 strikeouts and a 41.2 WAR in his career, Cole is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. And Cole now has the shiniest piece of hardware that a pitcher can earn. Cole finished second for the award with the Astros in 2019 and with the Yankees in 2021.
As an 11-year old, Cole attended the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks and held up a sign that read, “Yankee Fan. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.” Four years ago, Cole unveiled the fading sign at an introductory press conference after signing a nine-year deal with the Yankees. It was a cool moment. What’s even cooler is the new line that has been added to that Yankee fan’s resume: the 2023 American League Cy Young Award winner.