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Data: FanGraphs; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees in 2019 — the largest ever by average annual value.

Why it matters: If the first month of MLB’s sticky-stuff crackdown is any indication, Cole and the Yanks may be in for a bumpy marriage — and that mammoth contract could end up being historically bad.

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By the numbers: On June 3, the day of Cole’s 12th start of the season, word got out that MLB would soon begin enforcing its rule against foreign substances. Since then, he’s been a completely different pitcher.

  • His ERA and WHIP through his first 11 starts were a sterling 1.78 and 0.83, respectively. In six starts since, they’re 5.24 and 1.22.

  • He’s striking out 20% fewer batters per nine innings and walking more than twice as many, while his WAR (wins above replacement player) has actually gone down.

  • Wild stat: Cole has allowed as many home runs in his last three starts (five) as he did in his first 11.

The backdrop: In 2015, baseball changed forever with the dawning of the Statcast era. Teams suddenly had troves of new data at their fingertips, including the importance of spin rate on pitchers’ efficacy.

  • Sticky stuff was originally intended as a gripping agent. But when pitch tracking data showed that more grip meant more spin, strikeouts and success, teams began weaponizing it.

  • No team was more aggressive than the Astros, who acquired Cole from the Pirates in 2018 and helped turn him into a superstar.

  • The smoking gun: Cole’s fastball spin rate his last year in Pittsburgh, when he had a career-worst 4.26 ERA, was well under league average. By 2019, when he struck out more batters than anyone since Randy Johnson, it was the fourth-highest among all starting pitchers.

The state of play: Cole isn’t the only pitcher struggling to adjust to baseball’s new reality.

  • Teammate Aroldis Chapman’s ERA before June 3 was 0.41. Since then? 18.9.

  • Veteran Garrett Richards, playing his first season in Boston, says the crackdown “has changed pretty much everything for me … I feel like I need to be a different pitcher.”

What’s next: Cole’s next start comes Friday against, who else, the Astros. If he records double-digit strikeouts or allows fewer than two earned runs, it’ll be the first time he’s done so since May.

Go deeper: How baseball’s war on sticky stuff is already changing the game (WashPost)

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