Gerrit Cole has been something of a lightning rod in the 2021 MLB season.
Cole’s first season in the Bronx was certainly satisfactory — he posted a 2.84 ERA with an 11.59 K/9 clip — but he came out guns ablazin’ here in the 2021 season, turning in a 2.32 ERA across the first 14 starts and 89.2 innings of his season.
And then came Major League Baseball’s crackdown on foreign substances — or “sticky stuff” — that has seen offense rise and spin rates decline league wide. For his part, Cole has become the poster boy for the enforcement of the new foreign substance policy, largely thanks to the boisterous Josh Donaldson who was kind enough to shine the light on Cole upon the commencement of the league’s crackdown.
Since June 21 — the day baseball’s foreign substance policy was enforced — Cole has made three starts. His first was fine enough as he hurled seven innings of two-run ball against the Royals, but has since been hammered for nine earned runs in 8.1 innings in two starts since, enduring his shortest outing in a Yankees uniform of 3.1 innings of four-run ball against the Mets his last time out.
While all the spin rate data can be found over at Baseball Savant, that’s not what we’re debating here. What the real question when it comes to betting is: does Cole still carry value as the AL Cy Young favorite at -110 odds? The odds have lengthened since his last start, but he’s still the clear betting favorite at the moment.
Well, let’s try and answer that question.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
The Case for Cole
At the end of the day, Cole still sports some of the best numbers in the American League. Only two pitchers owns a superior fWAR to Cole’s 2.8 at the moment while he also ranks fifth with a 2.91 ERA, fourth with a 3.06 FIP, fourth with an 11.57 K/9 clip and first in the junior circuit with a 6.75 K/BB ratio. His 1.71 BB/9 is the third-best mark in the AL as well. Oh, and for you old-schoolers, he’s also tied for third with seven wins, something that — for some reason — still matters in Cy Young balloting.
While we’re not discussing the MVP award here, he’s also invaluable to a Yankees team that’s struggling to keep their head above water in the difficult AL East. Jordan Montgomery had had a nice year as was Corey Kluber, but with Kluber hurt and likely not available to the team until the final month of the season, Cole’s starts are pretty much must-win once every fifth game as the Yankees’ starting pitching just has not been that good behind Cole and Montgomery (4.17 ERA/3.51 FIP).
His reputation is also working in his favor. I’m not going to debate the spin rate data and its correlation to his subpar work over his last two starts, but the bottom line is Cole is still one of the very best in the game, and has been for several years now. His trade from the Pirates to the Astros prior to the 2018 season trigged a four-year run of sub-3.00 ERAs and K-rates ranging from this year’s 11.57 K/9 clip to his career-best 13.82 mark in 2019. He’s firmly entrenched in the minds of voters as one of the best in the business and had to pitch his way out of the No. 1 spot given how good he was early on.
The spin rates are down, and while he’s been roughed up in each of his last two starts, one of which came against a Red Sox offense that’s made plenty of good pitchers look bad as they sit atop the division. It’s also worth noting that Cole surrendered five earned runs twice in a four-start stretch from mid-May until early June, or prior to the crackdown.
The Case Against Cole
Well, I’ve already mentioned it numerous times. The fact that he’s the face of the sticky stuff crackdown doesn’t work in his favor. It really will depend on a voter-to-voter basis and their opinion on foreign substances and whether they agree with a mid-season policy implementation on an issue the league has willingly ignored for decades. There will certainly be some skeptics given the optics of his last two outings.
Rough first inning for Gerrit Cole. He gave up 4 runs to the Red Sox. 😳
— theScore (@theScore) June 27, 2021
Also, given the rankings noted above, there are other pitchers that have been better, and most everyone enjoys a good underdog story. While his standing as one of the league’s very best for the last three-plus seasons bodes well for him, the season some of the underdogs are having is the most dangerous threat in his bid for his first career Cy Young Award.
In fact, let’s check in on the two pitchers that pose the biggest threat to Cole’s march to the top.
Carlos Rodon (+175)
If there was ever a major underdog that will catch the eye of baseball writers, it’s Rodon. Usually productive when healthy — he owns a career 3.88/3.99 FIP — Rodon’s career has been laced with arm and shoulder issues and he pitched just 42.1 innings between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. In 2019, he worked to a 5.19 ERA in seven starts spanning 34.2 innings. Last season, he was blasted for an 8.22 ERA across two starts, two relief appearances and just 7.2 frames.
A free agent following last season, Rodon looked to be a guy in need of a fresh start somewhere else. After watching him deal with a myriad of injuries and poor results over the last couple of seasons, he looked like a sure bet to pitch elsewhere in 2021.
As a result, it was a little surprising to see the White Sox bring him back on a one-year, $3M contract for the 2021 season, a clear bargain given how he’s pitched.
Rodon sits with a 2.31 ERA/2.36 FIP on the season while also sporting a 2.56 xERA, 2.95 xFIP, 2.82 SIERA and monstrous 13.05 K/9 clip. Rodon leads all AL starters with a 3.6 fWAR while sitting third in ERA, first in xERA, first in FIP, fourth in xFIP and first again with that 13.05 K/9 rate. More so than anything, he’s bested Cole in all of those metrics save for the xFIP which he loses by a narrow margin. He’s also gone 7-3 in 15 starts.
Oh, and Rodon has a no-hitter on his 2021 bounce-back resume, blanking the Indians in his second start of the season way back on Apr. 14. He’s also had two starts that included just one hit again, most recently losing a no-hit bind to the Tigers in the seventh inning on June 13.
🚨 NO-HITTER 🚨
Carlos Rodon becomes the second White Sox pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the last two years!
— ESPN (@espn) April 15, 2021
Lance Lynn (+500)
If Cole doesn’t win the Cy Young, odds are it will be a White Sox pitcher as Lynn is having himself a campaign as well.
In fact, he’s the AL ERA leader with a stout 1.99 mark on the season while also turning in a 3.21 FIP, 2.81 xERA, 3.91 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA and 10.42 K/9 clip. He did endure an IL stint, but has still made 16 starts while his nine wins (T-2nd in the AL) always look good on a Cy Young resume, although hopefully not for much longer.
Of course, the offseason trade with the Rangers that brought Lynn to the south side is looking awfully prudent right now. It wasn’t exactly a risky move as Lynn hurled a 3.32 ERA last season atop that Rangers rotation while he’s the owner of a career 3.48 ERA/3.59 FIP. He lost his way as a Twin to start the 2018 season, but found his game with the Yankees after a deadline deal that season before the Rangers pounced and received two great seasons out of the right-hander.
He and Rodon could end up going toe-to-toe if Cole continues to falter moving forward, but there’s no doubt Lynn has been everything the White Sox could have hoped for so far this season.
Remainder of the board: Shane Bieber (+1800), Chris Bassitt (+2500), Kyle Gibson (+3300), Aaron Civale (+5000), John Means (+5000), Lucas Giolito (+5000), Sean Manaea (+5000)
Is There Value in Gerrit Cole?
I’m going to need to see longer odds before I hop on the Cole train.
For instance, I suggested buying Cole’s Cy Young odds at +175 when I checked in on some MLB player futures a month into the season. I also picked him to win the Cy Young prior to the season at +425. I don’t expect his odds to get close to the latter mark as the season moves along — barring a complete meltdown — but I’d at least like to see some plus-money odds given how things have gone of late. He was -175 prior to his most recent showing against the Mets.
Not only does he have the sticky stuff issue hanging over his head, but Rodon’s numbers are pretty much superior across the board while Lynn owns the AL’s best ERA, nearly a run better than Cole’s current rate.
That’s not even to mention the likes of Bassitt, Gibson and Manaea, the non-injured pitchers on the board after Cole, Rodon and Lynn.
Along with the drama surrounding his recent results and the fact he hasn’t even been the best pitcher in the AL given his season-long numbers, there doesn’t appear to be much value in betting Cole to win the AL Cy Young Award at this juncture.
Who’s the Best Bet?
To me, I’m either going Lynn at +500 or Bassitt all the way to +2500.
Without going into too much detail, I don’t like the value on Cole, but I’m curious to see how Rodon fares in the season’s second half. I mean, he pitched just 7.2 innings last season and a little more than 40 since 2018. In other words, I’m pessimistic in his chances of A) continuing to perform at his first-half rate and/or B) his durability from here on out. A 32-start, 180-plus inning season for a guy that essentially didn’t pitch last season and not much at all in 2019 is an awfully difficult task to complete, and I wonder if the White Sox want to even risk it. As a lock to make the playoffs, they’re going to need Rodon after September, so an easing of his workload is likely down the stretch.
Compared to Lynn who has been a proven workhorse in his career and Bassitt who has 18 starts and 111 innings of 3.41 ERA/3.42 FIP baseball while tying Lynn for second with nine wins, Rodon’s value isn’t there to me, either.
If I’m going to pick right now, give me Lynn and his AL-leading 1.99 ERA, even if the peripherals suggest at least some regression moving forward.