Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Yankees’ Gerrit Cole: The great New York baseball comparison of our time

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Andy Martino
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
313210128 040320 LM degrom cole 16x9
313210128 040320 LM degrom cole 16x9

Of the many pleasures of watching New York baseball in 2021, one that we will especially enjoy is the exposure to a pair of top-shelf aces in their primes.

Jacob deGrom is probably the best pitcher in baseball, and Gerrit Cole is close. Preparing for Thursday’s Baseball Night in New York was particularly delightful because we were tasked with comparing the two in several different categories.

Here’s the result of my research:

Better fastball: deGrom

The overarching comment for all of these questions on specific pitches is that they both have otherworldly stuff. DeGrom’s four-seam fastball was a bit faster than Cole’s in 2020, averaging 98.6 miles per hour to Cole’s 96.7.

Cole’s heater does have more spin, and is among the most overpowering in the league. We’ll give the edge to deGrom due to his recent spike in velocity and higher rate getting hitters to whiff on it.

Better slider: deGrom

Cole has negligibly better spin, but deGrom’s slider averages about four miles per hour faster. Hitters and evaluators also note that deGrom uses the slider -- and all his pitches -- less predictably, reading swings and springing the pitch on hitters when they might not expect it.

Better changeup: Even

The advanced metrics are fairly even here. Hitters have a lower expected wOBA (weighted on-base average) against deGrom’s, but Cole induces weaker contact with his. And so on. It’s really close.

Said one evaluator: “DeGrom throws his less, but he pitches in to lefties more than Cole, making the change-up more effective when he does throw it [a change-up from a righthanded pitcher breaks away from lefties].”

Cole dazzled with his changeup in Thursday’s exhibition outing against the Phillies, and said afterward that he felt the pitch was still improving after last year. It’s a weapon in which he has increased confidence.

Curveball: Cole

One of the main advantages that Cole has over deGrom is that he’s a true four-pitch pitcher, while deGrom is more fastball/slider, then change-up, then a curveball that he has but doesn’t use much. Cole’s has much better spin, and he mixes it in as a legit pitch far more frequently than deGrom does.

Better mound presence: deGrom

Again, both are elite in this regard. The reason we’re choosing deGrom comes down to the fundamental difference between the two: Cole, a devotee of advanced information, is a bit more rote with his game plan and pitch selection. DeGrom is less curious about analytics but ahead of Cole in spontaneity.

They both read swings and improvise, but deGrom does it more. There is a basic template for his starts -- pound fastballs for the first few innings while mixing in sliders, introduce the change-up around the third, go from there. But within that structure is significant variation depending on how deGrom feels and how the hitters are responding to him.

Because of his unpredictability, hitters tend to see the deGrom as even less comfortable than an evening with Cole.

Who you would rather have in 2021: deGrom

It’s as simple as the conclusion above. He’s a bit better.

As one recently retired hitter put it: “Cole has sharp stuff and possibly better stuff, but Jake’s command is off the charts and it’s not just with his fastball -- it’s with everything.”

Who you would want in a winner-take-all game: deGrom

Can’t pick against him after Game 5 of the 2015 NLDS, when he had nothing and reached deep down to dig a season-saving performance from somewhere inside himself.

Better Hall of Fame chances: Cole or deGrom?

Neither would be on track for Cooperstown based on the old metric that voters valued, wins. Sandy Koufax could be a model for deGrom as a pitcher with an all-time peak but a lack of counting stats, and he won 165 games. DeGrom is 32 years old and has 70 wins.

The good news for both is that voters are now savvy enough to value deeper dive statistics in voting. DeGrom already has a Cy Young in a 10-win season. Perhaps that sort of open-mindedness will be his ticket to the Hall of Fame, too.