Before every Yankees game Aaron Boone conducts a Q-and-A with reporters that inevitably centers on one topic – injuries. No team is as sutured and wounded as the Bombers. With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton out, as well as three-fifths of the starting rotation, it’s impossible not to wonder whose luck will run out next.
Remarkably, the one Yankee never mentioned in these sessions is Gerrit Cole, the club’s most irreplaceable pitcher, not to mention the most indestructible.
Cole is in his fourth year in the Bronx without so much as a scratch. Except for a brief bout of COVID in 2021, the ace has been injury-free, even though his fastball velocity is still close to triple digits.
Just how devastating would it be for the Yankees to lose Cole? The scenario is too dark to contemplate. The ace himself says, “that’s something I don’t let myself think about.”
Cole instead concentrates on his run of good luck: no major surgeries in his career, and no physical setbacks with the Bombers.
So what’s his secret?
Boone attributes Cole’s continuing health to “how he trains year-round, his preparation, nutrition….all of it.”
Cole is 32 but looks younger. He says it’s a combination of “good lifestyle habits” – sleeping 8-10 hours a night, continuously hydrating, including electrolytes – as well as a fanatical commitment to his craft.
Other Yankees pitchers marvel at Cole’s delivery, which they say belongs in an instructional video.
“If there’s one word I’d use about Gerrit’s mechanics, it’s “perfect,”” said Michael King. “I wish I could I throw like him. Very clean. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Every five days YES viewers can admire Cole’s artistry. Each pitch is a four-step assembly he executes flawlessly.
It starts with a 90-degree leg kick, rotating the hips externally as he pushes off the rubber, striding nearly five feet (approximately 77 percent of his height), and keeping the elbow at shoulder height at the moment of front-foot contact.
It sounds complicated, but it’s second nature to Cole. He modestly says his windup is “pretty boring, kind of vanilla” compared to the exaggerated deliveries of past generation stars like Juan Marichal, Luis Tiant and Sandy Koufax.
The Yankees are grateful for Cole’s efficiency: he’s been the American League’s best pitcher this year and has represented a 100 percent return on the club’s investment. Cole is earning every penny of his nine-year, $324 million contract.
That’s no small statement, considering major league baseball spends approximately $1.5 billion on pitchers’ salaries, which is five times more than the combined cost of every starting quarterback in the NFL.
Yet, more than 50 percent of pitchers end up on the Injured List at some point during the season. And a quarter of them have had reconstructive surgery on their arms. Nearly a third of that $1.5 billion is lost to injury every year.
I asked Cole, who’ll be 37 at the end of his current contract, how much longer he could pitch at this level without breaking down. Or, even if he’s blessed with uninterrupted health, whether playing into his 40s would a temptation.
It’s a particularly relevant question now that a number of older aces like Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander are either hurt or getting long in the tooth.
The longevity of Cole’s career, “probably depends on my kids (two sons, ages two and three months) and my family,” he said. “As they get older their opinions are going to matter more. For now, I’m trying to keep my feet where they are.”
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While Cole resists thinking about the future, he admits to a fascination with baseball’s past – specifically the great pitchers who preceded him.
He and I talked about the era of exaggerated wind-ups in the 60s and 70s, when deception was more important than clean mechanics.
Koufax, for instance, personified the “rear back and throw” genre – his throwing hand was literally scraping the dirt as he began moving forward.
The same went for the Marichal, who had the ability to raise his leg higher than his head, possibly the freakiest delivery in the game’s history.
I mentioned those two to Cole, who was well aware of his predecessors’ respective styles.
“The main component of Koufax and Marichal is that even though they were really high with leg or the shoulder, they wound up pulling their arm down and through, which is what you want.”
Cole also recalled Jim Palmer.
“He had a big funky delivery,” he said. “But he ended up pitching 4000 innings, so even though he had a unique way of throwing the ball, it was very efficient.”
How about Tom Seaver, I asked.
“His release wasn’t as high, but when the arm is in sync the body like that, you know,” Cole said. “It’s hard to describe, but Seaver did it right.”
“Super powerful delivery, kind of breaking-ball oriented but he dominated with a high fastball,” Cole said. “Kind of like Koufax and Bert Blyleven.”
“I really liked his change-up when I was a kid. When I was young I had more arm-side run and threw a lot of change-ups like Pedro,” Cole said. “I thought his hip-shoulder separation was elite, which is why he was able to maximize velocity. But his genetics were great. He was so rubber-bandy.”
I asked Cole which pitchers he most wanted to copy as a kid.
“(Roger) Clemens and (Greg) Maddux,” he said. “Clemens had a solid base, he used his legs really well. And Maddux’ delivery was just so repeatable.”
Cole will be taking all that knowledge to the mound on Sunday at Tropicana Field, in the finale of a three-game showdown with the Rays.
Whether the Yankees recover in the East depends on how quickly their pillars – Judge, Stanton and Carlos Rodon – return to action.
And, of course, whether Cole stays right where he is – studying his opponents, getting his sleep, eating right, staying hydrated, doing whatever it is that’s made the Yankees’ super-ace unbreakable so far.
Boone was right when he said, “Gerrit takes a lot of pride in being out there every five days.”
The manager didn’t finish the thought, because it’s actually a question no one dares to ask out loud.
Where would the Yankees be without Cole, the half-man, half-machine who’s keeping them alive?