The Yankees could get surprising value from several pitchers in 2024

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have a strong track record with pitching, as Matt Blake and Sam Briend are two of the brightest minds in the industry, and they’ll have their work cut out for them this season. Injuries are a looming issue for the pitching staff, as only Gerrit Cole and Clarke Schmidt crossed the 30-start threshold last season among the projected starters in the team’s rotation.

Part of winning a World Series is getting more value out of the players on your roster, and we’re going to dive into the Yankees’ pitching depth to find arms who could overperform their median outcomes.

In the interest of avoiding a prospect-heavy list, we’re only using one pitcher who still has their rookie eligibility, and I restricted myself to a pitcher outside of their top 15 on Baseball America. With that being said, these three pitchers could surprise fans and media alike in 2024, and perhaps they take on bigger roles on the depth chart.

Getting a Former All-Star Back Into Form

mlb: houston astros at new york yankees, nestor cortes
Aug 5, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Nestor Cortes was underwhelming last season, and the media attention is all around what Carlos Rodón will do for the Yankees in 2024. The left-hander was an All-Star in 2022, posting a 2.44 ERA across 28 starts and displaying excellent strikeout rates as well. Something that people overlook is that, just like Rodon, nothing actually changed for Cortes in terms of his pitch shapes or velocity, and the underlying metrics would suggest he’s due for positive regression next season.

His xERA (3.71) suggests he was unlucky last season, as while his quality of contact allowed was certainly worse than his 2022 numbers, it was actually in line with what he did in 2021. When the Yankees brought Cortes back in 2021, they got 93 innings of excellence, as he pitched to a 2.90 ERA and 20.9% K-BB%, earning a spot in their rotation for the following season and endearing himself with the fanbase.

We saw him lose a tick of vertical ride on his four-seamer, but that decrease in vertical movement seemed to have more to do with the injuries that would plague him all year. Through his first five starts of the season, he posted a 3.49 ERA and 20% K-BB%, and his four-seamer averaged 20.2″ of Induced Vertical Break, with his cutter posting a .276 xwOBA and the profile looking like what we’re used to for Nestor Cortes.

Following that start, his four-seamer would lose an inch of vertical ride, and his cutter would lose two inches of ride as well, which caused it to allow a .408 xwOBA down the stretch. He posted an ugly 6.17 ERA and allowed eight home runs in seven starts, having two separate IL stints and looking like a shell of himself. If he’s healthy, there’s no reason to believe his pitch shapes can’t get back to where they need to be, and he’s been built up to take the ball every fifth day.

nestor cortes, yankees
May 13, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) exits the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Fix: If the Yankees want to get the version of Nestor Cortes that looks more like his 2021-2022 self, he’ll need to stay healthy. His release points were thrown off a bit by the injuries, increasing his release height a bit, which could explain the lack of ‘deception’ in his stuff. A steeper angle makes his four-seamer and cutter easier to hit for hitters, and so having comfort on the mound should give him more comfort with repeating his mechanics. It all comes down to health for Cortes, but I’m confident he’ll be back to form.

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The Yankees Find Their Next Jhony Brito

Minor League Baseball: Louisville Bats at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Jul 21, 2013; Scranton, PA, USA; A general view of PNC Field during a game between the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and the Louisville Bats at PNC Field. The Bats defeated the RailRiders 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Beeter is a weird pitcher, on one hand, he’s entering his age-25 season and can be viewed as a pitcher nearing the end of their development, but on another, he’s had little to no experience above the high school level. In college, Beeter tossed a total of 41.2 innings, and it wasn’t until his second season at Texas Tech that he began working as a starting pitcher. When drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, he worked as an opener, pitching 2-3 innings per start and looking like a future reliever.

When he was traded at the deadline for Joey Gallo, the Yankees finally began building him up as a starter, and 2023 would be the first season he’d have as a full-time starter. He had an above-average ERA (when adjusting for the level) at both Double-A and Triple-A, but the command wasn’t consistent enough, and the stuff was never really good enough to start at the Major League level and succeed, but he unlocked something in his mechanics that may have helped him add some velocity.

As a fastball-slider pitcher, improving the quality of either of the two pitches can prove to be vital to his success on the mound. He’ll likely also need to find command or feel for a third pitch, and while he’s featured a curveball and changeup at times, I don’t think either offering is a proper tertiary option. He’ll need to find something he can consistently go to, as it’ll allow his fastball-slider combination to play up more, and it keeps hitters guessing. The penalty for two-pitch pitchers as they go through the order for a second or third time is much worse, and he’ll need to add to his pitch mix.

Jhony Brito, who debuted for the Yankees in their third game last year, came up to the Major Leagues without a breaking ball and figured it out in the Majors. They taught him a sweeper, and he took off, eventually being packaged in the deal that brought Juan Soto to the Bronx. Perhaps the Yankees can help him develop a new pitch, but he doesn’t profile as a sweeper guy, and he already has an excellent gyro slider. Instead, we could see the Yankees go in a different direction for a third pitch.

The Fix: Last season, the Yankees led all of Minor League Baseball in cutter usage, and I’m almost shocked that Clayton Beeter still doesn’t have one. This is the year he adds one, it’s a perfect fit considering how cutters are often easy to command and land in-zone and Beeter struggles to consistently throw strikes. He’s a natural supinator who can generate glove-side movement naturally, and I’d expect this to be an easy addition to his arsenal. It should also be noted that the changeup was still an emphasis for Beeter this year; could we see a new offspeed grip for him next year? (Splitter!)

Proving that Last Year Wasn’t a F-Luke

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Yankees
Sep 22, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Luke Weaver (30) delivers a pitch during the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees picked up Luke Weaver off of waivers last September, I was actually unhappy with the decision, given that I believed Will Warren could have pitched well in those innings. How could the Yankees learn anything from what a journeyman starter with little MLB success provides in a few starts? Fast-forward to now, and he’s one of the team’s new experimental pitchers, as they’ll see if Weaver has more to provide on the mound. The 30-year-old was impressive in his three starts with the Yankees.

Luke Weaver began using the cutter more with the Yankees (please just teach Clayton Beeter one), and as a result, he was able to mask a four-seamer that’s mediocre at best due to how well the two pitches mesh together. They share extremely similar movement profiles with just enough deviation at the end to make batters uncomfortable at the plate. His changeup has always been a weird pitch for him since he clearly has a better feel of it than most pitchers, but it doesn’t perform particularly well.

He doesn’t have consistent MLB success, and the stuff isn’t elite, but perhaps the Yankees see something that public metrics currently don’t. There’s a reason they gave him a guaranteed roster spot despite the myriad of MiLB swingman options they have, and it’s because they clearly like what they can make him. Something that Luke Weaver will have to do is generate softer contact, especially in the American League East, where there are multiple ballparks with high HR/FB rates.

Across his 574.1 innings of MLB action, Luke Weaver has a 1.41 HR/9, and cutters are usually damage-prevention pitches, but so are breaking balls. In fact, the Yankees have a strong track record with developing breaking balls, and they could help Luke Weaver find a pitch that generates horizontal movement that could generate swings and misses or chases out of the zone, and they might have identified a way to improve him for 2024.

mlb: arizona diamondbacks at new york yankees, luke weaver
Sep 22, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Luke Weaver (30) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Fix: Luke Weaver dabbled in throwing a sweeper this past season, but it wasn’t an effective strikeout pitch for him and the shape of the pitch was inconsistent at best. If there’s any organization that can develop sweepers well, it’s the Yankees, and this seems like a natural fit for Weaver, given his ability to get around the baseball. Despite the effectiveness of sweepers worsening in 2023, they still had a .344 xwOBACON allowed compared to last year’s league average (.375). I’d be shocked if he didn’t tinker with at least one of his breaking balls this winter.