Gerrit Cole Dominated the Giants on Opening Day —Thanks to an Unheralded Weapon

Yankees starter Gerrit Cole had himself quite an Opening Day. The staff ace for the Yankees set a franchise record for most strikeouts on Opening Day, and much of that success was thanks to his power stuff and an unsung weapon in his arsenal.

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A Look at Cole

Opening Day proved to be quite fruitful for Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who struck out 11 Giants over six scoreless innings on March 30. Cole — one of our favorites to win the American League Cy Young award — recorded 17 swing-and-misses in his first start of 2023, tying him with new Twins RHP Pablo Lopez for second-most in the early goings of the season.

What stood out from Cole’s first start was not necessarily the strikeouts or the number of whiffs that the 32-year-old recorded. Rather, it was the amount of times the changeup made an appearance on March 30. Take a look at all 17 whiffs from that game:

Cole mixed in the slider (16.8%) and changeup (14.7%) — which ran at about 8-10 MPH less than his four-seamer — at roughly the same percentage on March 30, to along with his high-90s fastball. That is a change from his 2022 cumulative results, as the right-hander only used the change about 8% of the time in 2022.

It’s a very small sample size, and one point that has to be taken into account is the left-handed heavy lineup that he faced. San Francisco’s lineup on Opening Day included Joc Pederson, Blake Sabol, Michael Conforto, Brandon Crawford, and Mike Yastrzemski, all lefties. Every one of his whiffs on the change came against left-handed hitters.

What it Means

Gerrit Cole led all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts in 2022, and he’s off to a fine start to this season. The changeup proved to be a highly effective weapon for the Yankees ace, and it could be an even more important asset moving forward.

Now, the Yankees will need to rely on the rest of its pitching staff to get through this first month of the season. With Carlos Rodón, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas on the IL, New York will need the likes of Jhonny Brito, Clarke Schmidt, and Domingo German to perform well in their absence.

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