Gerrit Cole became one of the most sought-after free-agent starting pitchers in history last offseason after a dominant year with Houston.
But though his first half of 2019 was excellent, it was what Cole did in the second half of the year that cemented the right-hander as the game’s top target on the market.
After going 9-5 with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.020 WHIP in 19 starts before the All-Star Game, Cole was lights out in the second half, finishing on an 11-0 run with a 1.70 ERA and 0.723 WHIP over his final 14 outings in the regular season.
The 2020 season isn’t going to look like anyone anticipated, if it’s even played, and players won’t have the normal six months of a regular season to prove their worth. Instead, it will be a 60-game, nine-week sprint in which a slow start won’t be easily brushed off.
The Yankees and Mets enter this abbreviated season, shortened first by the COVID-19 pandemic then a labor dispute, with high expectations and have players who seem well-suited to having quick starts and others who typically build momentum over the course of a full season — a luxury they won’t have this year.
Though the difference in Cole’s stats last year were stark, it’s no surprise the Yankees’ new ace is typically excellent for most of the year, but he now will be tasked with having the weight of a huge contract and new surroundings to deal with.
On the other side of town, Robinson Cano is usually consistent from beginning to end, but that was not the case in his difficult first season with the Mets, when he had just a .646 OPS in the first half before rebounding with an OPS of .880 in the second half.
Those ugly first few months may be chalked up to new surroundings, but Cano and the Mets won’t be able to afford a similar shaky start out of the gate in 2020 from the second baseman.
Even Jacob deGrom, winner of back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards, needed about a month to find his form a year ago before becoming nearly unhittable during the latter part of the season. In his first Cy Young season, deGrom had no such issues, but the right-hander finished last April with a 4.85 ERA following three straight subpar outings.
Marcus Stroman, solid throughout 2019 when he was traded from Toronto to the Mets, owns a 4.14 ERA over his career in the first half, a number that drops to 3.33 in the second half.
Steven Matz got off to a rough start last year, as did Jeurys Familia in the bullpen. Matz was significantly better later in the year and Familia showed signs of improvement in the second half, as well.
In The Bronx, Aaron Judge is traditionally stronger in the early going, often because of injuries later in the year. How he recovers from the fractured rib he was dealing with in spring training will affect his production.
In the Yankees rotation, J.A. Happ has a career 4.35 ERA before the All-Star break. It drops to 3.60 in the second half — and it’s a trend he’s shown each of the previous two seasons. Happ has plenty of reasons to try to change that narrative, as he could be a free agent this offseason.
With all the other factors that will impact this wild year, it’s impossible to predict if prior trends will stand up. Players were about two weeks away from Opening Day when spring training was shut down, and they’ll now get about three weeks to get ready again — and that’s only if everything goes well.