Gerrit Cole agrees to record $324 million deal with New York Yankees https://t.co/dCfHOQfNpz
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) December 11, 2019
The deal also included an opt-out after five years and a full no-trade clause.
Simple math tells us that the Yankees are on the hook to pay Cole roughly $36 million per season for the duration of their contract.
The number is certainly elevated, as only Trevor Bauer has a higher Average Annual Value (AAV) after the three-year pact he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That brings up the question: is Gerrit Cole overpaid?
The answer can be somewhat tricky.
Assessing Cole’s Past and Present Performance
In 1268 career innings, Cole has pitched remarkably well, with a 3.19 ERA and a 3.11 FIP, which means Fielding Independent Pitching.
Cole has struck out more than a batter per inning, at 10.15, while limiting walks, with a 2.36 BB/9.
Let’s also say that ever since joining the Houston Astros in 2018, Cole has been a different pitcher.
The Pirates mainly used a pitch-to-contact approach for pitchers that didn’t really benefit Cole.
The Astros made Cole take advantage of his high-spin fastball to use it more in the upper zone of the plate, creating a “rising” effect that batters just couldn’t handle.
That, and other adjustments he made, resulted in a jump in swinging strike rate (SwStr%) from 9.5 in his last campaign with the Pittsburgh Pirates to a whopping 14.1 in his first season in Houston.
Of course, the change in pitch mix and philosophy came with a huge jump in strikeouts.
Gerrit Cole fastball, knuckle-curve, slider overlay. 🔥⚾️🤢👑
Without a doubt, one of the most incredible pitching performances I have ever watched. #Astros
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) October 6, 2019
Cole’s highest strikeout percentage with the Bucs was 24.3, whereas he has surpassed the 32.6 mark in his last three seasons, including his first with the Yankees.
Is He Overpaid Or Not?
Now that we have some context about who Cole was and currently is as a pitcher, let’s try to determine whether he is overpaid or not.
The thing here is trying to determine if Cole’s current version, and who will likely be in the next few years, warrants a $36 million salary.
In short, he would need to be a 4.5-win player in order to be worth his salary, and the smart money is on him beating that mark at least in the next few years.
Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, helps us determine how much is a player worth, measured in wins, considering a replacement-level player.
And using a complex formula that includes on-field performance and other parameters (the folks at Baseball Trade Values help us with the explanation here) we can say that each win is worth around $8 million.
Fangraphs’ player pages have the dollar value attached to them.
As Dave Cameron explains, the purpose of assigning dollar values to players is trying to determine the following:
“How much would you expect to have to pay to replace this performance in free agency if you knew that you were going to get this level of value exactly?”
During his two seasons in Houston, Cole was so good that his dollar values were $47.2 million in 2018 and $58.8 million in 2019.
It’s difficult to assess his value in the COVID-shortened 2019 season, but given that Cole had a 5.9 WAR in 2018 and a 7.3 mark in 2019, 4.5 WAR are within reach for him since he is still in his prime, being 30 years old.
As a result, we can say that Gerrit Cole isn’t overpaid unless he can’t crack the 4.5 WAR threshold.