Yankees’ gambling on funky left-handed starter to run back his All-Star performance

mlb: houston astros at new york yankees, nestor cortes
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees‘ starting rotation is far from complete, having already missed out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto and scouring the market for potential additions. General manager Brian Cashman has a few options at his disposal: Acquiring a free agent like Jordan Montgomery or looking to trade for a proven starter like Shane Bieber.

The likelihood is that he’s not going to ravage his farm system any further to support a trade for Corbin Burnes or Dylan Cease. Bieber would be a more affordable acquisition, but the Yankees can simply spend money on Montgomery, who they know well and would fit into the rotation seamlessly.

Nonetheless, the team is relying on a few starters to bounce back down 2023 seasons. The obvious one is Carlos Rodon, but the other funky lefty pitcher is Nestor Cortes.

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The Yankees Need a Big Bounce-Back From Nestor

Cortes is now 29 years old, and his numbers took a catastrophic drop last year, but mainly due to a left rotator cuff that significantly hampered his production. Cortes recently began his throwing program earlier this month, and he is working his way back to full health.

The Yankees desperately need Cortes to run back his 2022 All-Star performance. He pitched a career-high 158.1 innings, hosting a 2.44 ERA and 3.13 FIP, including an 82.8% left-on-base rate and 33.5% ground ball rate. His HR/FB ratio dropped to 8.2%, and he only walked 2.16 batters per nine. Ultimately, Cortes has the stuff to be an important part of the rotation. He just needs to stay healthy and reverse course.

Some notable metrics that took a significant turn for the worse: His hard-hit rate on his fastball increased from 39% to 47.6% last year. His cutter’s hard-hit percentage sat at 43.8%, an 8% increase. He allowed a .213 batting average against his four-seam fastball, up from .157.

The biggest difference was with his cutter, which finished with a .260 batting average compared to .191 the year before. Clearly, he not only lost a little bit of velocity, but his pitches weren’t breaking the same due to the injury. In fact, he lost almost an inch of vertical movement on his cutter, an inch on his four-seam fastball, and 3 inches vertically off his sweeper.

Cortes relied heavily on his deception and funky style to get by. Still, without the necessary break and confidence, he became a liability in the rotation and was ultimately shut down late in the year.

However, he’s trending in the right direction and should be ready to go for the start of next season, which is certainly inspiring for a Yankees team that desperately needs rotation support. In the meantime, Cashman will continue navigating the market to help support a unit that could be the difference maker in a World Series run.