The New York Yankees have had a tremendous amount of success with their starting rotation this season. Luis Severino currently hosts the highest ERA of the bunch at 3.38. Heading into the campaign, nobody expected them to be this efficient, but the elevation of Nestor Cortes has been even more mysterious.
This year, Cortes has been the team’s Ace, despite being vastly underpaid compared to Gerrit Cole. Cortes is earning just $728K, posting a 1.70 ERA over 53 innings. He’s earning a career-best 10.36 strikeouts per nine and generating a 35.2% ground ball rate. In addition, he hosts a 1.6 WAR and 3.02 xFIP.
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The Yankees have a secret sauce, and it has turned Nestor Cortes into a star:
What’s changed Cortes into an elite pitcher is still covered by a layer of secrecy. However, there are a few variables we can break down — notably how he’s adjusted his pitch sequence.
Nestor has decreased his fastball usage by about 5%, incorporating a cutter at 39.2%. His slider has decreased to 15.5% from 23.4% in 2021. Overall, he’s added a lethal cutter to his arsenal and decreased his slider velocity by nearly 10 mph to keep the depth perception of batters at bay.
“There are a lot of components that go into it. We’ve talked a lot about controlling your heartbeat,” Cortes Jr. said, per Lindsey Adler of The Athletic. “Until I faced the Rays, I had never pitched in the ninth inning. Your adrenaline starts kicking in and you’re anxious to try to finish the game. Then everything starts speeding up on you. I think it’s pretty cool that there’s more to it than just your talent or experience earlier in the game.”
Cortes specifically mentions controlling his heartbeat in high-leverage situations and staying calm. Baseball is a mental game, and those that blink first often end up with the short end of the stick.
Adler reported that Jameson Taillon suggested a huge mental component going deep into games.
“The mental side is a big part of it. I think if you’re going out there for the third time, if I’m aware of my third-time through numbers, it’s going to hurt me,” Taillon said. “I’m already defeated if I’m like, well, shit. The guy’s hitting .500 off me the third-time through. You need to flip that mindset and say, I have a chance right here to help the team and go deep.”
Cortes has been the Yankees’ most reliable pitcher, and his ability to travel deep into games is valuable. In fact, he’s pitched over 7.0 innings in three of his last four appearances.
Reflecting back on the Yankees’ Wild Card loss to the Boston Red Sox in 2021, we saw the worst version of Gerrit Cole.
Cole was flustered and clearly, in his own head, an issue that has impacted him this season at times as well. The question to ask is if the Yankees were in a Do-or-Die situation, would you rather have Cortes or Cole on the mound?
Surprisingly, most would answer Nestor at this point in time, which is a mesmerizing reality.