It is time the New York Yankees start respecting and considering pitcher Nestor Cortes as a legitimate starter. Management has started Cortes at the back-end of the rotation this season after posting solid numbers in 2021. There were concerns he would regress this year after having an anomaly of a season in 2021, but after dominating the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, we may have to reconsider that assumption.
Cortes recorded a 2.90 ERA over 93 innings, picking up 9.97 strikeouts per 9, a 27.4% ground ball rate, and 85% left on base rate. This was by far Cortes’s top season as a professional over four years, having spent time with Baltimore and Seattle along with the Yankees.
During his most prevalent campaign, Cortes’s barrel percentage dropped to 7.4% from 10.7% in 2020 with Seattle. He posted a 3.78 SIERA and 4.18 xFIP, showcasing above-average numbers across the board.
Utilizing a fastball, slider, curveball, and change-up, Cortes has a nasty array of pitches he can utilize to keep batters on their toes. Last year, Cortes recorded a career-high 90.7 mph fastball average, up over 2 mph from the year prior. He used his fastball at nearly 47%, with his slider dropping to 23.4% and curveball increasing to 20.1%. The Yankees clearly found his best combination of pitchers and how often to use each one, which has boosted his statistics tremendously.
After general manager Brian Cashman avoided injecting any starting pitching talent into the rotation, the team featured Luis Severino as the No. 2 slot behind Gerrit Cole. However, there is a legitimate argument to make that Cortes should be the top gun behind Cole, starting the 2022 season on a high note on Tuesday.
Cortes lasted 4.1 innings, throwing 72 pitches. He posted 46 strikes, allowing three hits and striking out five batters. He didn’t allow a single walk, showcasing fantastic efficiency and location with his pitches.
At some point, the Bombers need to move him up the rotation instead of utilizing him as a de facto No. 4 option.