Yankees getting All-Star or No-Star performances from lefty starter

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees‘ starting rotation has faced challenges at the outset of the 2024 season, and Gerrit Cole’s absence has only intensified expectations of continued volatility in the coming months.

Cole’s eventual return is anticipated to stabilize the rotation, providing a much-needed cornerstone. In the meantime, the Yankees are relying on Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon to recover from injuries and deliver strong performances.

In a recent matchup against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, Cortes showcased his capabilities by pitching seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits, and striking out nine batters across 102 pitches.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees
Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees Have Seen Nestor Cortes at His Best at Times

This season, Cortes has been inconsistent, alternating between All-Star quality starts and less impressive outings. His ERA remains solid despite being roughed up on occasion. His strikeout rate has dropped to 8.69 per nine innings, but his home runs per nine have also decreased to 1.55. He maintains a 75.5% left-on-base rate and a 35% ground ball rate, which are within his successful range. His 7.7% HR/FB ratio is notably lower, indicating a reduction in home runs allowed.

Cortes’s expected ERA (xERA) stands at 2.78, suggesting he’s performing slightly better than his traditional stats would imply, thanks to effective deception in his pitches. His average fastball velocity is 91.7 mph, consistent with his performance over the past two seasons.

While his fastball has seen variable success, with opposing teams batting .268 against his four-seamer and .250 against his cutter, his sweeper and changeup have been particularly effective, holding batters to averages of .111 and .143, respectively.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees
Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Despite fluctuations in performance, Cortes has delivered two All-Star caliber starts, indicating positive momentum. On April 8 against the Miami Marlins, he struck out six and allowed only two hits over eight innings. However, he followed that with a less stellar four-inning stint where he surrendered four earned runs against Cleveland on April 14. In his last three appearances, he has allowed just four runs over 13 innings, showing an upward trend in both performance and strikeouts.

When Cortes is visibly enjoying himself on the mound, the Yankees have reasons to be optimistic about his trajectory. After overcoming a shoulder injury that required significant off-season rehabilitation, it’s encouraging to see the 29-year-old pitcher recapturing his form from 2022.

The Yankees retain control over Cortes for one more season after 2024. He will be eligible for free agency in 2026, offering the Yankees his services at a competitive price point until then.

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