The New York Yankees may have signed Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract, but he hasn’t lived up to his potential to start the 2022 season. Over three games, Cole features a 6.35 ERA, 33.3% ground-ball rate and 9.53 strikeouts per 9. His walk rate has ballooned to 5.56 per 9, and is giving up 2.38 home runs in that same timeframe.
Despite his poor start, the Yankees are so confident that Gerrit will bounce back and recover his ace status, but the rotation has a climbing member who could be considered their top gun at this point in time.
Nestor Cortes is just 27 years old and enjoying his second stint with the Yankees after taking a quick detour to the Seattle Mariners in 2020. During his first leg with the Bombers in 2019, Cortes recorded a 5.67 ERA over 66.2 innings, but his 2.90 ERA, last year over 93 innings, showcased what he’s capable of accomplishing.
This season, Cortes hosts a team-best 1.15 ERA, 14.36 strikeouts per 9, 93% left on base rate, and is allowing less than one homer per 9 innings. Against the Cleaveland Guardians on Saturday, Cortes dominated until the 6th inning, giving up a two-run homer to Josh Naylor. Aside from that one wayward pitch, Cortes looks like the best starter on the roster, striking out eight batters and allowing just one hit over 91 pitches tossed. He also displayed unparalleled effort, making a diving effort to tag 1st base as Steven Kwan raced him down the base path.
WHAT A PLAY BY NESTOR CORTES!
— Alex Wilson (@AlexWilsonESM) April 23, 2022
Recording his highest pitch count of the year, Cortes is in great form. A few detailed metrics that stand out include his barrel percentage, which is at just 3.6%, and 86.5 exit velocity compared to 89 last year. Hosting a 1.29 SIERA and 1.46 xFIP, Nestor isn’t just playing great, he has taken his game to another level to open the year.
Looking at his specific pitch usage, he’s throwing his fastball 41.8% of the time at 90.6 mph. He’s increased his slider usage to 38.6% compared to 23.4% last year. Cortes has leaned more on his slider and fastball than change-up and curveball, which has proven to be an effective strategy.
The opening day starter normally indicates the team’s ace, but Cortes has been far and away the Yankees’ best pitcher and continues to impress. An interesting question to ask is, would you rather have Cortes featuring in a big game at this very moment or Gerrit Cole?