Should the San Diego Padres take a look at A.J. Cole?
The San Diego Padres bullpen was fantastic in 2018. Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates emerged as productive, veteran pieces to lead the way, rookies like Robert Stock brought over-powering heat to the mound, and general manager AJ Preller was even able to capitalize on the bullpen’s success by flipping Brad Hand and a rookie reliever in Adam Cimber for the top catching prospect in baseball, Francisco Mejia.
The bullpen should remain reliable, however, we still need to wait and see how the league adjusts to the now second-year bullpen arms and who can prove they can be stable pieces in a major league bullpen. The Padres have plenty of names that are more than likely to be major league regulars for a very long time, but bullpen arms are extremely volatile, as we all know.
The two veteran pieces, Stammen and Yates, were in high demand at last year’s deadline and contending teams are sure to come calling again, especially if these guys repeat or come close to repeating their numbers from 2018. Will the Padres be able to say no again or will the offer that Preller wants come along, as it did for Brad Hand after years of teams calling.
Currently, the relief market is being held up by Craig Kimbrel and his big demands, as agents wait to see what Kimbrel garners in free agency before accepting deals for their client. Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino are also in high demand and will command big contracts, but there are other veteran, cost-effective options on the market. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Padres to bring in at least one before spring training. Update- Britton reached an agreement with the Yankees late Saturday night, paying him $13 million/per year for the next three years, with options and bonuses.
I had a short list of intriguing relief names, but then the New York Yankees designated A.J. Cole for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for SS Troy Tulowitzki. Teams may now place a claim on Cole or work out a trade with the Yankees for him, otherwise, he’s sent to the minors and remains in the Yankees’ organization. Is there something there that warrants the Padres taking a very low-cost flyer on Cole to see what he has in spring training? There are a few. I’m not saying that the Padres need to go out today, pick him up, and declare him as someone who will make an impact. But there are numbers that show Cole is worthy of a look.
After 10 disastrous innings with the Washington Nationals to begin the 2018 season, Cole went 3-1 with a 4.26 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 38 innings as a member of the Yankees bullpen. Yes, his home run rate doubled, from 1.4/9 IP to 2.8/9 IP between 2017 and 2018, but Cole did make positive strides in increasing his strikeout rate and decreasing his walk rate.
Take a look at his two most successful months last season.
- May: 9 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP
- July: 10 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 15 K, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP.
Now his splits, comparing his performance at Yankee Stadium to his performance on the road. These numbers do not include his time with the Nationals.
Yankee Statdium: 19.1 IP, 7.45 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8 HR
Road contests: 18.2 IP, 0.96 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 1 HR
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Cole used his slider more than ever before, throwing it 44% of the time per Baseball Savant (more than double his usage from 2017), and found tremendous success with the pitch. Opponents hit .173, slugged .337, struck out 35% of the time when thrown with two strikes, and swung and missed 19% of the time when thrown for a strike, all fantastic numbers.
You know who else had great success with the slider in 2018? Much of the San Diego Padres bullpen, as we looked at in this article a few weeks ago.
Cole allowed less contact on pitches in the strike zone (6% below league average), was able to force hitters into chasing pitches more often and making contact on those chased pitches less often (15% below league average), and produced an overall whiff rate of 33%, nearly 10% above league average, all per Baseball Savant.
If a team can help fix his fastball (.519 avg/.707 SLG, 10% BB/3% K), they have themselves a 6’5″ reliever to work with who will make less than $1 million in 2019.
What do you think, Padres fans? Are you interested in taking a flyer on Cole to see if he can contribute as a bullpen piece? Or are you fine with letting another team take a risk on him?