Yankees have actually made one big change to Gerrit Cole’s game

Gerrit Cole’s stellar results haven’t changed since joining the Yankees, but the star pitcher’s methodology has taken a significant shift. 

The Yankees gave Gerrit Cole a massive contract to become the ace of their starting rotation and he’s done just that. The interesting thing about Cole’s tenure in the Bronx is the way he’s changed his pitching mix to achieve those impressive results.

The 30-year-old right-hander still dominates opponents with his blazing fastball, but he doesn’t rely on the pitch nearly as much as he did during previous years. Instead, this season he’s throwing his changeup almost three times as often as he has in any previous year. The early returns have Cole enjoying the best statistical season of his distinguished career.

“There have been some times where the game presented itself, where it’s like, ‘Hey, dude, these three options are not really working today. Maybe surprising the guy with a changeup might be a good idea?’” Cole told The Athletic. “Then it was like: ‘Holy cow, we got away with a changeup right down the middle.’ From there it’s been a process of throwing it more to get more reads, and getting a better feel of it. The effectiveness comes from a combination of the two.”

It’s natural for a veteran pitcher to start to shift focus away from his fastball as he starts to age. That’s not what is happening to Cole. He’s still in his prime and he hasn’t lost any velocity. The shift to featuring the changeup is a collaborative choice by Cole and his Yankees’ coaching staff to stymy modern hitters who stride to the plate looking for home runs above all else.

The idea is to keep hitters off balance more often at the plate. Cole’s changeup is effective because it mimics the fastball’s flight path until hitters realize it isn’t arriving at home plate quite as quickly. The pitch’s late dipping action only makes it more difficult for quality hitters to square it up and make solid contact.

Is the new version of Gerrit Cole still dominant?

There’s no argument that the results haven’t been exemplary for Cole. His 1.78 ERA through 11 starts this season would be the best mark of his career if it extends throughout the full campaign. He’s only managed to win six games this year but that’s a product of the Yankees’ lack of run support rather than anything to do with Cole’s effectiveness as a pitcher.

Surprisingly, the increasing use of Cole’s changeup isn’t having a negative effect on his strikeout rate either. His current mark of 12.4 K’s per 9 innings would finish as the second-best mark of his career. Cole’s diversified pitching repertoire isn’t just helping him solicit soft contact. It’s also allowing him to produce swings and misses with more offspeed offerings.

Manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake deserve credit for making the bold choice to try to improve Cole after his arrival in New York. It would have been easy to simply let Cole continue to operate as he always had. Instead, the coaching staff used their insight to make a bona fide ace even better. That’s bad news for hitters looking to succeed against Cole this season.