The New York Yankees‘ starting rotation has struggled to find consistency this season. Aside from Gerrit Cole, the team has not been able to rely on steady performances.
Nestor Cortés has notably regressed, Clarke Schmidt is grappling to solidify his role as a starter, and Jhony Brito has already been reassigned to Triple-A after a challenging start to his Major League career.
Although Luis Severino’s recent return provides a significant lift, the team is still awaiting Carlos Rodon’s comeback from an ongoing back issue. Additionally, Domingo German was performing well before receiving a ten-game suspension for excessively sticky hands.
In this piece, I would like to focus on Cortes and his pronounced downturn in performance this season.
Breaking down Nestor Cortes’s struggles with the Yankees this year:
Cortes, at 28 years old, is coming off a 2022 season in which he had a 2.44 ERA, 3.63 xFIP, and an average of 9.27 strikeouts per nine innings over 158.1 innings.
However, his 2023 statistics reflect a downturn. Cortes currently holds a 5.21 ERA, 4.99 xFIP, 8.94 K/9, and is averaging 2.61 BB/9 over 48.1 innings. Notable areas of regression for him include his left-on-base rate, ground ball rate, and an over 50% increase in home runs allowed compared to his 2022 season.
Most of his individual ‘swing’ metrics align with his stats from last season, except for a 6% decrease in opposing hitters swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone.
Examining his pitch selection, Nestor is utilizing his four-seam fastball 51.4% of the time, his cutter 30.3% of the time, and his sweeper 12.4% of the time. He has increased his four-seam fastball use by 7% this year while reducing his sweeper use by 6%. His fastball is performing decently, with a batting average against of .231, but hitters are punishing his sweeper with a batting average of .316 and a slugging percentage of .684.
A loss of cutter movement:
Interestingly, Cortes isn’t experiencing significant shifts in the movement of his pitches. His sweeper is still producing average horizontal and vertical movement, similar to his 2022 stats. His velocity has somewhat decreased, but his cutter has proven to be the most volatile pitch.
Last year, it generated 120% more horizontal movement than the average pitcher’s cutter, whereas this year, it is producing only 76% more horizontal break. This significant difference might enable hitters to better differentiate between his cutter and four-seam fastball.
In conclusion, no particular factor stands out to explain Cortes’s dramatic fluctuations in performance. It might simply be a matter of confidence, location issues, or batters adapting to his unique style after experiencing it in 2022.
Cortes has been more of a liability than an asset lately, having conceded 17 earned runs over his last four appearances, walked nine batters, and allowed five home runs.
However, it’s worth noting that he started the season with three consecutive strong appearances, indicating that he is fully capable of delivering dominant performances.