As well, Cole spotted just 49 of his 80 pitches for strikes, which comes to a strike percentage of 61.3. Coming into Sunday, his strike percentage for 2021 was 67.7. That makes for his shortest start since he signed a $324 million contract with the Yankees prior to the 2020 season, and it's just the third time in his career -- a span of 221 starts -- that he's failed to work at least four innings.
Needless to say, if you're a Yankee and you get less than vintage results against the Queenslanders in the Bronx, then you're probably going to hear about it:
Gerrit Cole exits to boos here at Yankee Stadium. The Mets knock him out after just 3.1 IP. Bases still loaded, Mets down 4-3 now.— Steve Gelbs (@SteveGelbs) July 4, 2021
Perhaps that's harsh stuff for a pitcher who still owns a sub-3.00 ERA for the season, but it's a reflection of Cole's very recent struggles:
Gerrit Cole has allowed as many earned runs in his last two starts as Jacob deGrom has allowed all season.— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) July 4, 2021
Against the Red Sox on June 27, Cole allowed six runs (five earned) in five innings. If you look at Game Score, a quick-and-dirty Bill James metric that measures a pitcher's dominance or lack thereof in a given start (50 is average and anything 90 or higher is an absolute gem), then Cole in his last two starts has put up figures of 35 and 33, respectively. Those are the two worst Game Scores he's authored as a Yankee.
Normally, this would constitute an overreaction. Pitchers, even very good ones, can struggle across a small sample of two starts. What's concerning in this instance, however, is that Cole's recent struggles that stretch back to early June roughly coincide with MLB's crackdown on the use of grip-enhancing substances by pitchers. Pitchers use sticky substances that go beyond rosin, which is allowed, to improve their grip on the baseball and by extension increase their spin rates. Increased spin rates tend to make pitches more effective, and Cole in recent years has put up some elite spin rates:
On June 16, Gerrit Cole’s average adjusted spin rate was 6 percent lower than his average for the season so far. MLB footage shows him going to the rosin bag at least eight times and not as often to his hat like in prior games when his spin rates had been higher pic.twitter.com/s9EpjFx8ST— Andrew Ba Tran (@abtran) July 2, 2021
None of this is definitive proof that Cole, who saw his spin rates jump not long after being traded to the Astros prior to the 2018 season, owes his mid-career dominance to the use of sticky substances, and none of this is proof that he can't be a Cy Young contender in the post-crackdown environment. The recent decline in performance, however, does mean that Cole's outputs moving forward are especially noteworthy. That's especially the case given how much the Yankees have invested in him and how much their success in 2021 depends upon him.
Of course, Cole's struggles don't end the list of Yankee concerns. In the first game against the Mets on Sunday, they went into the final frame -- i.e., the seventh inning -- with a 5-4 lead, and manager Aaron Boone called upon struggling closer Aroldis Chapman to attempt to secure the win.
Against Pete Alonso, the first batter of the frame for the Mets, Chapman was struggling to find his customary fastball velocity. Perhaps that's why he threw a 1-2 slider to Alonso:
That's Alonso's 14th home run of the season, and that's a tie game. Chapman then proceeded to plunk Michael Conforto and walk Jeff McNeil, who'd been trying to bunt. Boone then called upon Lucas Luetge to try to clean up his closer's mess, and that didn't work either. Luetege allowed a single before striking out James McCann, and then this happened:
The Mets would tack on another to double up the Yankees and take the first two games of the series. For Chapman he wound up allowing three earned runs without recording an out. Unfortunately for Boone and the Yanks, that's fully in keeping with recent trends.
When Chapman entered the game against the Twins on June 10, his ERA for the season stood at 0.39. Nine appearances later, it stands at 4.71 -- an unacceptable figure for a high-leverage reliever. Perhaps more concerning is in five of those nine appearances, Chapman has failed to strike out a single batter. Loss of velocity, loss of confidence in his legendary fastball, and a lack of command -- It's all playing a role in Chapman's struggles.
As for the Yankees as a whole, they've not lost seven of their last eight and slipped to .500 on the season. Both Cole and Chapman, however, were named to the 2021 American League All-Star team.