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We continue to look at the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays by looking at one of the Blue Jays’ most reliable relievers: A.J. Cole.
Cole, who happens to share a birthday with prospect Eric Pardinho (and me), is a big righty whom the Blue Jays signed as a minor league free agent with an invite to spring training in the offseason. The 28 year old got his start with the Washington Nationals, having been a fourth-round pick in 2010. He was traded to the Oakland A’s in 2011 in the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington but came back to the Nats in 2013 in a three-way trade that involved Blake Treinen, John Jaso and Mike Morse. He would go on to make his major league debut in 2015 with Washington. He spent most of 2016 and 2017 as a starter before moving to the bullpen full time in 2018 after being purchased by the Yankees.
With the Yankees in 2018, he had a 4.26 ERA and 1.45 WHIP but struck out 49 batters in 38 innings, giving him a stellar 29.2% strikeout rate as a Yankee. He was claimed off waivers by the Indians in January of 2019 and threw 26 innings for the Indians out of the bullpen (also throwing 17 innings in the minors), posting a 3.81 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, striking out 30 and walking eight. He was granted free agency and signed a minor league deal with Toronto.
Coming into spring training in 2020 looking to earn a spot in the Jays’ bullpen, Cole got into six games, giving up just three hits and one walk with five strikeouts in six innings. Once things got under way again, Cole had earned a spot on the 30-man roster and was one of Charlie Montoyo‘s most trusted relievers.
Montoyo called on Cole 24 times over just 60 games and the righty threw 23 1/3 innings with a 3.09 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, striking out 20 and walking nine batters along the way. Cole’s Statcast stats were pretty special in 2020 as he threw his slider more than his fastball by a significant margin (not too uncommon as the league tends to increase the percentage that pitchers throw offspeed pitches). His barrel rate of 3.0% was in the 95th percentile of the league, as was his hard-hit rate. He also was in the 79th percentile in opponents’ exit velocity (86.7%) and he was in the top 5% of the league for barrels, expected slugging percentage, expected wOBA, hard-hit percentage and expected ERA.
Cole did make one appearances in the playoffs, pitching just a third of an inning, giving up two runs on a home run and a walk with one strikeout.
The Blue Jays still have Cole under team control as he is arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason. He’ll probably still be a very affordable pitcher who exceeded expectations in 2020 and will probably benefit from having a more spread out schedule (we hope) in 2021.
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