Yankees hoping for bounce-back season from Nestor Cortes in 2024

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Apr 25, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) throws a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

One word best describes the New York Yankees’ 2023 season and that’s injuries. Whether on the mound or at the plate, the Yankees’ best players seemingly all faced some sort of ailment within their 162-game schedule. Nestor Cortes Jr. did not get to evade the plague.

Will Nestor Cortes Jr.’s health hold up in 2024?

A shoulder injury limited Cortes Jr. to only 12 starts. It also bothered him and hindered his performance, causing his ERA to skyrocket from 2.44 in 2022 (and 2.90 a year prior) to 4.97 last season. Clearly, the work Cortes Jr. put in to become one of the more efficient pitchers in baseball was not exhibited on full display.

The Yankees have much to look forward to in 2024 and Cortes Jr. is a major part of that. According to Andrès Chavez of Pinstripe Alley, Cortes Jr. switched up the usage of his arsenal of pitches this past season to compensate for his infirmity. While his numbers dipped, his power suggests that he can come back and exceed his output from 2022:

“In 2023, perhaps because Cortes knew his shoulder wasn’t quite right, he sacrificed some sweepers and threw more fastballs. In 2022, his usage of the heater was 43.8 percent, and went up to 52.1 percent last year. In turn, his sweeper went from 18.6 percent to 13.9 percent. The fastball was as good as ever, with a .246 xwOBA, but the cutter and the sweeper were much worse in 2023 than 2022,” Chavez said.

It’s one thing to harp on Cortes Jr.’s impending return. On the other hand, seeing how he will directly impact the lineup gives a much better picture of how he’ll produce behind Gerrit Cole and next to Carlos Rodon Jr. The Yankees’ starting rotation mainly employs either a four-seam fastball or a cutter, the former of which Cole and Rodon Jr. threw at least 53 percent of the time last year and the latter of which Clarke Schmidt fancied most.

Yankees’ championship hopes rely heavily on Cortes Jr. and the pitching staff

The Yankees could use an arm that can deliver on pitches that are used with less frequency. Full health could translate to Cortes Jr. being able to improve his accuracy along with his volume of sweepers and cutters once more.

There’s no doubt that Cortes Jr. has the stuff to push for an All-Star nod. Rather, it’s whether he can regain steam and translate that to wins for the Yankees that is needed. If so, the Yankees will have as good a shot to win the 2024 World Series as they’ve had since 2009.

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