The Toronto Blue Jays reportedly added another arm to their pitching staff on Monday, bringing right-hander A.J. Cole into the mix.
Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi is reporting the 27-year-old has signed a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. While Cole will be no lock to crack the team’s bullpen, he joins a club with no shortage of jobs to be won in the relief corps.
Last season, Cole pitched 26 innings of 3.81 ERA ball with the Cleveland Indians backed by a 3.83 FIP and an impressive 10.38 K/9. The five-year veteran features a four-seam fastball that clocks in at 94.4 mph with a 82nd percentile spin rate and a slider that has generated a whiff rate over 40 per cent in three consecutive years.
Put in those terms, Cole looks like a smart add for the Blue Jays and the type of pitcher the Indians probably shouldn’t have let go. However, the former Washington Nationals draft pick comes with his warts. As recently as 2018 he was dreadful, posting a 6.14 ERA and 6.12 FIP in 48.1 innings. His career ERA is 4.86 with a FIP over five, and even though he’s been slightly better as a pure reliever (4.15 ERA), he’s always performed significantly worse than he did in 2019.
To believe in Cole you need to put a fair amount of faith in a 26-inning sample. To be fair, he did gain a full 1 mph on his fastball, but assuming he can replicate his 2019 numbers would be a leap of faith. There’s a reason Steamer projects him for a 4.87 ERA in 2020.
Another issue with Cole is his inability to handle left-handed hitters. In his career they’ve hit a massive .317/.386/.578 against him and that line was still an ugly .317/.326/.561 last year, albeit in a tiny sample. With a poor history against lefties and a strong focus on fastballs and sliders (he threw one of those two pitches 91.8 per cent of the time in 2019) it’d be hard to trust Cole against opposite-handed hitting.
What Cole represents is a little bit of depth for the Blue Jays and a bullpen dart throw by a team that’ll be taking plenty as the off-season wears on.
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