Yankees' Gerrit Cole a contender for top fantasy pitcher in 2020

Last time Gerrit Cole pitched in Yankee Stadium, he was pitching 7 shutout innings on his way to winning Game 3 of the ALCS. His next start at Yankee Stadium will be in Yankee pinstripes. Elsa/Getty Images

After missing out twice previously on landing Gerrit Cole -- once when he failed to sign with them as the No. 28 overall pick of the 2008 amateur draft, and another when they didn't meet the Pirates' asking price in a trade following the 2017 season -- the Yankees finally landed the ace, signing Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract late at almost precisely the stroke of midnight Wednesday.

Two thoughts instinctually come to fantasy managers' minds whenever the Yankees ink a pitcher, and they can be somewhat contradictory: First is the effect of the boost in run support inflating the pitcher's wins, and second -- and much more important -- is the adverse impact of their homer-happy ballpark on the pitcher's numbers.

To the first point, Cole probably stands little to gain in New York: He won 20 games last year and 15 the season before it, and the Yankees averaged only about a quarter-run more than the Astros in 2018-19 combined (5.54 versus 5.30). Besides, fantasy managers have been getting smarter about not chasing wins (we'd hope).

To the second, there's no greater example of the folly of one-year park factors than this: Yankee Stadium was actually the game's sixth-least homer friendly park in baseball, with a 0.865 factor that made it look like a pitchers' park, while Houston's Minute Maid Park had a sixth-ranked 1.195 factor.

No one believes this is a ballpark upgrade for Cole, nor should they: Yankee Stadium had been the more homer-friendly environment in nine of the previous 10 seasons in which it has been in existence, as well as the better run-scoring environment in nine of 10 years. A key difference is that Minute Maid Park favors right-handed pull power, thanks to the shorter-distanced Crawford Boxes in left field, while Yankee Stadium is generally friendly to power hitters to all fields, but especially so to left-handed hitters thanks to its short porch in right- and right center-fields. If you thought Cole's 12.6% home run/fly ball rate or 29 home runs were bound to decline in 2020, think again, though neither seemed to be a big issue for the right-hander as he paced all American League pitchers in ERA (2.50) and FIP (2.64).

The more important -- and beneath-the-radar -- effect of Cole's donning pinstripes is his remaining with a heavily analytical team, one that only furthered those efforts by recently hiring Matt Blake as its pitching coach, after in June hiring Sam Briend, formerly of Driveline Baseball, as its director of pitching (albeit primarily at the minor league level). The Astros unlocked the code to transform Cole into an ace, some of that having to do with allowing him to throw his breaking pitches 10% more often than he did during his days with the Pirates. His 268 strikeouts on breaking pitches in his two Astros seasons were sixth-most in baseball. There's little doubt that the Yankees will continue allowing him to do what he does best.

In short, things shouldn't change dramatically for Cole in New York, other than a somewhat heightened challenge to win another ERA crown due to his new home ballpark. Considering he was the No. 8 (2018) and 2 (2019) starting pitcher on the Player Rater in his two Astros seasons, joining Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander as the only members of the top 10 both years, there is every reason to believe he's a top-three-minimum starter, shuffled in order among those two. Since he's a 29-year-old who had 12 more strikeouts than anyone in baseball in those Astros seasons, I'm still making Cole my building block and first starter off my board.

I'll just be more likely to take a hitter in Round 1 now -- that'll be my way to hedge against a possible ERA jump.