The New York Yankees’ most underrated player could have a big impact in 2022

New York Yankees, Nestor Cortes Jr.

The New York Yankees’ starting pitching rotation struggled considerably during the 2021 season, specifically as a result of injury. Corey Kluber sustained a shoulder injury early in the year, and both Luis Severino and Domingo German battled their own issues.

That is not even to mention Jameson Taillon tearing multiple ligaments in his ankle, forcing the relief pitchers to step up in a big way and supplement deficiencies. One of the Yankees’ more underrated players last year was Nestor Cortes Jr., who has spent two of the last three years with New York, making a short detour with the Seattle Mariners in 2020.

During Nestor’s first stint with the Yankees, he recorded a 5.67 ERA and 34.2% ground ball rate. However, this past season wearing pinstripes, Cortes pitched 93 innings, posting a 2.90 ERA with 9.97 strikeouts per nine and a 2.42 walk rate, the best of his career. In fact, Cortes also recorded a 1.35 home runs per nine rate, another best, logging a 1.7 WAR.

Heading into the 2022 campaign, the Yankees are concerned about their rotation but have confidence in their bullpen to help smooth over any issues. However, there is a possibility that management injects Cortes into a starting slot, especially after dominating last season, regularly utilizing different arm angles and a variety of pitches.

Cortes has worked hard to develop his arsenal, featuring a fastball, slider, curveball, and change-up. He threw his fastball 46.8% of the time last year, reaching a best of 90.7 mph, the highest of his four-year career in the majors. His slider usage dipped a bit from 40% in 2020, using it just 23.4% last year, but saw a 3 mph increase in velocity. Interestingly, he used curveball 20.1% of the time, the most of his career by a significant margin, even throwing in his changeup at nearly 10%.

With a healthy blend of four pitches, Cortes still predominantly relies on his fastball, which doesn’t have elite speed but keeps batters honest as he tantalizes them with different arm slots and breaking pitches.

It will be interesting to see how management utilizes Cortes moving forward, especially after experiencing success in the starting rotation last year. I imagine he will start 2022 in the bullpen, but if needed, he can make the transition rather smoothly.