Sports | March 31, 2022 1:12 pm

MLB Oddsmakers Projecting Gerrit Cole as Baseball’s Best Pitcher Is a Mistake

Caesars Sportsbook has Cole down as the favorite to be the wins and strikeouts leader during the upcoming season

Gerrit Cole sitting in the dugout during a spring training game in Tampa. MLB oddsmakers have said Cole will be the best pitcher in 2022, but here's why that's a mistake.
Gerrit Cole sitting in the dugout during a spring training game in Tampa.
Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty

Despite a shaky second half of the 2021 season and a disastrous performance in a one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox, oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook project New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole to be MLB’s top ace in 2022.

Cole, who finished last season with a 3.23 ERA in 181.1 innings and was the runner-up to Robbie Ray in the AL Cy Young Award voting, is the favorite to be the wins (+650) and strikeouts (+450) leader during the upcoming season. The 31-year-old — who led the AL with 16 wins last season (a very low number for a league leader) and also led the AL in strikeouts with 326 in 2019 — should be good in 2022, but not that good.

“Cole is one of the best pitchers out there, but it’s not like he’s head and shoulders above some of the other top guys as far as the odds go,” said Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading at Caesars. “Jacob DeGrom has had health issues lately, and I think most people would say a healthy deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball. Cole is more durable, and he’s on one of the projected best teams in baseball, so it was a pretty easy decision to make him the favorite in these.”

There are a couple of reasons for that, with the first being that Cole is (theoretically) not going to be able to use the sticky stuff — that it certainly seems he utilized to help establish himself as an ace — as MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances will be even harsher this season.

Cole — who had a 1.78 ERA in 70 ²/₃ innings spread across 11 starts prior to MLB having umpires start checking pitchers for having sticky substances on their hats, gloves and belts — had a 4.68 ERA in 59 ²/₃ innings in his first 10 starts following the implementation of the crackdown last June. Though he did pitch better down the stretch after scuffling initially, Cole dealt with a hamstring injury toward the end of last year and posted a 6.15 ERA in 26.1 innings while allowing six homers in his final five starts of the regular season. Then there was the final game of the Yankees’ season when Cole gave up three runs and couldn’t get out of the third inning at Fenway Park.

That Red Sox game looms large as that will be the team Cole, who has a 13.50 ERA this spring with five strikeouts, will face on Opening Day in the Bronx when the Yankees begin their season on April 7. Projected to have one of the better offenses in the AL, the Red Sox could be a constant source of irritation for Cole as he will have to face them multiple times this season. The same thing goes for the Blue Jays and Rays, both of whom are in the AL East with the Yanks and BoSox. Given that Cole, as New York’s ace, will have to face all three of those teams almost every time they play the Yankees, his strikeout numbers and win total should take a hit.

For what it’s worth, here’s how Baseball Reference projects Cole’s 2022 statistics:

Baseball Reference

Fourteen wins and 217 strikeouts would likely put Cole in the top 10 in both categories and possibly even top five, but it would be a really bad year for pitching in baseball if either of those figures led the American League.