Yankees are getting a strong bounce-back season from 2022 All-Star

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
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Nestor Cortes was on top of the baseball world in 2022, as he was one of the Yankees named to the All-Star team and led the Bronx Bombers in ERA as well. He was arguably their most reliable starter that season, even ahead of Gerrit Cole, and yet he was completely ineffective just one year later. After dealing with injuries throughout the 2023 season, Cortes would finish his year with a 4.97 ERA and 0.8 fWAR across 12 starts. This would be a pivotal season for the 29-year-old, if he couldn’t turn things around he could lose his rotation job and find himself cast off during the winter.

While many fans have complained about his production, Nestor Cortes has been a strong starter for the Yankees, and coming off of an excellent outing against the Baltimore Orioles, he’s had the rebound year we all hoped he could.

Nestor Cortes Is Changing Things Up in Rebound Campaign

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
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This season hasn’t been as good as his All-Star campaign in 2022, but that doesn’t mean Nestor Cortes hasn’t been excellent either. With the sixth-most innings pitched in baseball (93.2) and a strong 3.36 ERA, he has done a great job of providing length for the Yankees while remaining effective in the run-prevention department. The left-hander has the same fastball-cutter combination he’s been known for since his breakout, but there are some new weapons at his disposal.

Very quietly, Nestor Cortes has brought some new pitches to the party, with a changeup and gyro slider that are being used more and more as the season goes on. His sweeper has always been his tertiary pitch, but that gave Cortes little movement away from right-handed hitters, who would anticipate something inside and get out in front of the ball for pulled contact. Batters pulled 43.2% of batted balls against Cortes in 2023, and that number has dropped to 34.7% this season as he’s forcing hitters to respect his brand-new changeup.

When it comes to throwing a good changeup good velocity and vertical separation off of your fastball is key, and Nestor Cortes has a great changeup for his fastball.

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Having a lot of separation vertically between the two pitches helps both pitches play up, and the Yankees have gotten Nestor Cortes to throw this pitch more frequently. Another pitch that we’re starting to see more of is a gyro slider, which has more vertical drop and less horizontal movement than the sweeper, and this pitch could be a nice weapon for him in moderation.

It’s another pitch that helps Nestor Cortes establish the lower part of the zone, as it sets up his bread-and-butter with the cutter and fastball, which have combined for far more value than he generated last season. While the four-seamer is being hit a little harder this year, his cutter has returned to prominence, going from a +0.1 Run Value per 100 pitches in 2023 to a +1.3 in 2024.

Batters had six home runs through 12 starts off of the cutter, but that number has remained a goose egg in 2024 through 16 starts, a sign that hitters aren’t barreling it up anymore. He’s turned around his season after two ugly starts in Houston and Arizona, but this raises a question regarding whether the Yankees will keep Cortes in the rotation or not come August.

Should the Yankees Keep Nestor Cortes in the Rotation?

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles, nestor cortes
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A lot of people have suggested moving Nestor Cortes to the bullpen, but it doesn’t make much sense to do it in the regular season. As mentioned earlier, Cortes has the sixth-most innings pitched in baseball, leading the Yankees by a considerable margin and pacing himself for about 180 frames in 2024, which would be a huge boost to the rotation.

Last season only Gerrit Cole reached that plateau, and while there’s no chance Cole can do it in 2024, the Yankees need to have someone who can mop up innings for them. Furthermore, he’s second on the Yankees in Pitching+ (102), xERA (3.21), and fWAR (1.8), so doesn’t it feel as if the criticism that Nestor Cortes receives is mostly overblown? Barring injury, he will probably lead the Yankees in innings pitched, and there’s a ton of value in volume.

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The track record should matter a ton here as well, with Nestor Cortes having the 17th-lowest ERA in baseball (3.20) dating back to 2021, as it looks like 2023 was the outlier season in this sample size. It’s a privilege to have an arm that can give you 180-190 innings in a season with a strong ERA, especially in today’s game, and you shouldn’t look to move those guys out of your rotation.

Brian Cashman will try to find ways to improve the pitching staff where he can, but based on how the roster is constructed right now, Nestor Cortes has been one of the 20-30 best starters in baseball this season, and last night’s performance was an example of how much he’s improved from a terrible 2023 campaign.

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