Mailbag: The Ideal Gerrit Cole, Best Pitcher in NY, Josh Hader, State of the Market

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Happy Friday, everyone. This was a great week for the Yankees, wouldn’t you say? To cap it all off, it’s Gleyber Torres’ birthday. While this means that the “Gleyber Torres is 22-years-old” meme is now dead, a very happy birthday to our collective son. Long live “Gleyber Torres is 23-years-old.

We got a bunch of great questions in the aftermath of the Gerrit Cole signing and other Winter Meetings-related excitement, but I found that this one was running long if I included more than four questions today. I didn’t have the space to get to all of them, but fear not–most aren’t time-sensitive, per se, and will probably pop up in the next few weeks. The dog days of the offseason are almost upon us.

Anyway, send your questions to viewsfrom314ft [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to be included in a future mailbag. We choose our favorites every week and it runs in this slot on Friday morning. Let’s get right to it.

Jonathan Asks: Let’s say you had a choice of 5 years of beast Cole (like 8 WAR Cole, top 3 in baseball Cole, Hall of Fame like Cole) but 4 years of him falling of a cliff and being a league average starter, like 1.5 WAR. Or you have 9 years of 5 WAR Cole,  where he is still really good but he’s not the top 5 pitcher in baseball.  What would you take? I’d personally take option 1 and take 5 years of Cy Young type no doubt beast Cole.

This is a fun one even if it seems like a more difficult question than it really is. I’m taking the first option–dominant Cole for five seasons–and living with a “rough” back-end of the deal every day of the week and twice on Sunday. No doubt about it. To be clear, I’m using Cole’s 2019 season as the baseline for “dominant” here, not the 8 WAR example cited above. Depending on your preferred calculation, Cole was about a 7-to-7.5 win pitcher by WAR last year. Let’s just keep him at that baseline for this, although an 8-win season is certainly possible.

Anyway, let’s game this out a bit. Using a 7-WAR as our baseline here, that means you get 35 WAR from Cole in his first five seasons in the Bronx, give or take. That pretty much guarantees he’s a top 5 pitcher in the game during that stretch. (It also probably guarantees that he opts out, but let’s assume he doesn’t for this exercise.) Add in the 1.5-to-2.0 WAR final four seasons of the deal, and Cole produces something like 43 WAR for the Yankees over the nine years.

Using a 4.5-to-5 win baseline for the other scenario over the nine years, you get about…you guessed it…43-45 WAR from Cole. That’s why this is fun! You get about the same value from him in either option here. I think the Yankees sign up for that right now. In fact, they probably think they did just sign up for that. Check out his Steamer projections:

So the real question here is not about total value, but when and where you extract that value. I choose the up-front option every single time and it’s not close. The Yankees’ current championship window is right now. It’s not in 2024 or 2028. It is right now.The window will (probably) not open any wider five years from now.

Think about it: Gleyber Torres, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sánchez, DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, etc. are all in their primes right now. They will eventually lose some of these players to free agency, injury, or age-related decline. Baseball’s tough, man. And it is important to realize that there is no projecting the roster five seasons from now, which will be 2024. Imagine projecting the 2020 roster even back in 2016. It’s unthinkable. No way you’d be even close.

So yeah, give me an otherworldly pitcher to complement the current roster, please. That maximizes the odds that the Yankees win a World Series with this core–it doesn’t guarantee it, obviously–and that’s all I care about. Besides, that’s the Cole the Yankees signed anyway, even if the “pretty good but never capital-G Great” Cole option is also a damn fine pitcher.

James Asks: Using whatever metric(s) you want – who has the best pitching season in New York next year – Cole, DeGrom or someone else?

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This is a cool question that had a lot of fun looking into. I’d be stunned if the answer here was anyone but Jacob DeGrom or Gerrit Cole, though. Those two guys are so, so good. Let’s be clear, though: none of this really matters. Both of them will provide ace-caliber production atop the rotation, assuming no injuries, and both New York teams are better for having them. The question of the better player is just makes for fun conversation.

But for the sake of this, I went ahead and compared the two pitchers over the last two seasons, when Gerrit Cole became Gerrit Cole™. Here’s how they shake up:

ERAIPK%BB%GB%BAAbWAR
DeGrom52421.032.0%5.5%45.4%.19916.9
Cole63412.237.5%6.9%38.1%.19112.1

Initial thoughts: LOL. These guys are preposterous. DeGrom has been better than Cole over the last two years but, at age 31, is also two years older. Cole gets more strikeouts; DeGrom walks fewer people. They’re both impossible to hit and have been durable. These guys are two of the very best in the league. There’s no reason to expect that to change next year, either. In fact, DeGrom and ex-teammate Justin Verlander are the only two pitchers who have been better than Cole in the last two years by WAR. The Yanks got a good one!

For what it’s worth, Steamer, FanGraphs’ projection system, has both DeGrom and Cole at 6.1 fWAR for 2020, meaning they’re basically identical at this point. Very good. So, now that I have waffled around choosing an answer this entire response, I now get have to just choose one, though I suspect you already know the answer. This is a Yankee blog. Do you really think I’m going to choose the Met? Gerrit Cole is going to be better in 2020.

Paul Asks: Can we talk about the Josh Hader rumor? What would a Hader trade look like, in Yankee terms?

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Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees are talking with Milwaukee re: Josh Hader, which is what this question is about. I’d take that with a grain of of salt, though. It basically screams “backup plan if we missed out on Gerrit Cole” to me.

For the sake of argument, though, it would take a lot. Hader, gross tweets aside, has been lights-out for the Brew Crew in the last two seasons. He’s been really, really good. He’s also under team control, and therefore relatively cheap, for the next four seasons. You could worry about burnout with Hader, as he’s been used a lot, but that’s really the only red flag.

With an obsession with relievers all the latest craze, Hader would not be a player it would be easy to acquire. I’m not sure what it would take, and I won’t even hazard a guess, honestly, but I’m sure it would sting a bit. Given the fact that he wouldn’t close and that the Yankees have a bunch of other relief options, I don’t think they should even really entertain the idea of surrendering a valuable piece, even if it is a prospect, for him. If they want another elite back-end bullpen arm, they could always simply re-sign Dellin Betances, but what the hell do I know?

Rich Asks: We’re seeing prominent and not-so-prominent FAs sign quickly – or at least sooner than the previous two off seasons. Simply put… what changed? It can’t just be that “big market teams are willing to spend again”…. right?

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We got a few questions to this effect, which shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s the dominant narrative of the week. I can see why: Scott Boras clients alone signed for almost $1 billion over the course of three days. That’s a lot of money! It seems to be a counterweight to the players’ recent gripes with the market. Unfortunately, I am here to say…not so fast!

The top of the market–meaning for guys like Gerrit Cole, Manny Machado, and Anthony Rendon–was always going to be just fine. Those players were always going to get paid. I think the Harper/Machado saga went on for so long was a combination of the fact that the teams they wanted to play for weren’t that serious about them and a dose of Boras’ trademark patience. He has no problem waiting. It was excruciating as a fan, though. No doubt about that.

For guys in the middle, though, it’s a bit different. Sure, some guys are signing earlier, and I will take the 2020 offseason–even independent of Cole–ten times out of ten over the 2019 version. But some context is also important.

Let’s take Yasmani Grandal’s four-year, $73 million deal with Chicago as an example. That’s an $18.25 million AAV, which is just under $2 million more than Russell Martin got five years ago when he inked a five-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays. They are similar players. Grandal hit .240/.348/.456 with 12.1 bWAR in the five seasons before 2019; Martin hit .243/.343/.379 for 17 bWAR–his defense was valued better, but defensive metrics are shakier–in the five seasons before his deal. That’s appreciation, sure, but definitely not rising to the same degree as league revenue, and this doesn’t even get into the exploitative arbitration/team control system.

But hey, things are much, much better right now at least. We should just watch where things end up with the non-superstars–and now things go when obvious studs like Rendon and Cole aren’t on future markets–before drawing any real conclusions. We have a long way to go yet.

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5 Comments

  1. DanGer

    Re: Cole

    On one hand, we’ve seen how important a dominant ace can be and how the Yankees can usually outhit their own mediocre pitching. In that sense I agree with Bobby’s assessment.

    On the other hand, is there a point of diminishing returns?
    Here’s a couple pitchers in the 5.0 bWAR* range –
    o Gioloto, Gray, Greinke (5.6)
    o Ryu, Morton (5.1)
    o Bieber (5.0)
    o Castillo (4.7)
    o Means, Gray (4.5)

    Is 5 years of Shane Bieber (5.0 WAR in 2019) more valuable than 5 years of Beast Cole (6.9 WAR) + 4 years of Robbie Ray (1.5 WAR)?

    *Note – I strongly dislike fWAR for pitchers since it’s heavily based on FIP, which is biased toward true outcome pitchers.

    • Bobby

      Agreed about bWAR vs. fWAR generally and I agree that it is possibly tougher than I made it seem. For what it’s worth, Cole’s 7-WAR season was a bWAR figure. I think it was 6.9 last year.

      But I do think that the truly dominant ace is what the team needs right now so that’s why I chose it. I wouldn’t complain if the other scenario came true at all.

      • RetroRob

        I remain perplexed that Mike Minor has a 7.6 rWAR (sorry, I’m old school when it comes to the use of r and b for WAR) to Gerrit Cole’s 6.9 rWAR. I also generally agree with favoring B-R’s WAR for pitchers when assessing what was actually done, compared to Fangraphs, although in this case it’s 4.2 fWAR to 7.4 in Cole’s favor). I’ve read James Smythe’s breakdown of Minor’s WAR several times and my only reaction is it’s an outlier. It doesn’t mean WAR is broken, but should only be used as a guideline. Minor was not better in any sense compared to Cole.

  2. Extend DJLM

    DeGrom higher BAA facing pitcher every 9 batters?

  3. From what I see on Twitter, this Hader trade has some real legs. I supposed he’s coming in at the expense of Betances? Which, I gotta say, I want Dellin back pretty bad. Even if Hader is an upgrade, after the lost season last year, his triumphant return cut short by a freak injury, I really wanted to see Betances regain his value in pinstripes. That dude is forever a Yankee in my heart. The last of the Killer Bs!!!!

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