The New York Yankees signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki earlier today. In order to create a spot for him on the 40-man roster they designated reliever A.J. Cole for assignment. In the constant pursuit of “getting the pitching”, it begs the question: Should the Cincinnati Reds take a look at picking up A.J. Cole?
At one point in his career, A.J. Cole was one of the better prospects in all of baseball. He peaked as #30 on the Baseball Prospectus list before 2015. But he’s had his share of struggles over the last three seasons in the Major Leagues. In 2015 he only threw 9.1 innings, but the next year he saw action for eight starts and posted a 5.17 ERA. The good news was he missed a lot of bats, and his walk rate wasn’t bad. But he gave up tons of home runs, too.
The 2017 season was better, at least on the surface. He made eight starts and three more relief appearances, and posted a 3.81 ERA in 52.0 innings for Washington. But his walk rate exploded into the “very bad” territory, and his strikeouts dropped off big time. His home run rate dropped, but was still quite high. He got pretty lucky to post a low ERA that year based on his peripherals.
And then 2018 happened. With the Nationals in April he posted an ERA of 13.06 in 10.1 innings with SIX home runs allowed, six walks, and 10 strikeouts. He was sold to the Yankees before the month was over. He was much better with the Yankees. His walk rate dropped, though it was still a tad higher than you would like it to be at 9.5%. But his strikeout rate went through the roof. In his 38.0 innings with New York he struck out 49 batters – good for a strikeout rate of 29.2%. That would have easily been the best on the Cincinnati Reds. Only Raisel Iglesias topped the 27% mark, coming in at 27.5%. The lowered walks and rise in strikeouts helped him post a 4.26 ERA with New York.
But, he still gave up a bunch of home runs. He allowed nine of them with the Yankees in just 38.0 innings. That is not ideal. There, however, could be a silver lining there, too. From the time that A.J. Cole joined the Yankees, until the time he didn’t pitch for three weeks in September before returning and getting absolutely shelled in two of his first three games back. In his 36.0 innings from April through September 3rd with the Yankees he posted an ERA of 3.00 with 14 walks, 47 strikeouts, and six home runs allowed. The home run rate was still high in that stretch, but not as high as the overall numbers were at seasons end, either.
There are plenty of things to like with A.J. Cole. He misses bats at an elite rate. He’s shown stretches where he’s been really good, even recently (see the above paragraph). His contract is under team control through the 2023 season. He’s not arbitration eligible until after the 2019 season – meaning he’s going to make less than $600,000 next year.
But, there are some concerns there, too. Overall last season he got lit up – posting a 6.14 ERA and giving up 15 homers in 48.1 innings. The home runs have always been a problem for him. And it’s not like Great American Ballpark helps suppress home runs, either. He’s also a pretty extreme fly ball pitcher, which probably doesn’t help the home runs (though Yankee Stadium is pretty home run friendly, too). His walk rate isn’t great, or even good.
Does it make sense to try and pick up A.J. Cole? The price to acquire him would be minimal given his performance. But there does seem to be a little bit of upside in there, too. Could it make sense to see how he does in spring training under new pitching coach Derek Johnson?