Yankees’ volatile starting pitcher rebounds with a gem

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees, nestor cortes
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees eventually welcome Gerrit Cole back from injury, they will face a pivotal decision regarding their starting rotation. Currently, Nestor Cortes might seem like the likely candidate to make way, yet his remarkable outing on Friday night highlighted his considerable worth and experienced presence within the team.

On that evening, Cortes delivered an outstanding performance against the Chicago White Sox, pitching seven innings with only five hits and one run allowed, alongside six strikeouts. This display not only underscored his skill but also provided the Yankees ample offensive freedom.

Cortes is Picking Up the Pace

Cortes, who is under team control until 2026 and earns a modest $3.95 million this season, represents significant value to the Yankees’ strategic approach. Over 60.2 innings pitched this season, he boasts a 3.56 ERA, complemented by a 2.80 expected ERA (xERA), a 3.39 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) rate, and 8.46 strikeouts per nine innings. His impressive stats include a 72.5% left-on-base rate and a 29.5% ground ball rate.

Notably, Cortes has minimized his walks to the fewest per nine innings in his career and maintained a low home run rate, indicating that his pitching remains strong, though he has faced some misfortune.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
Mar 3, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers in the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Despite recent struggles where he surrendered 13 runs over four starts prior to his win, Cortes ranks in the 81st percentile for expected batting average (xBA) allowed and the 85th percentile for walk rate. Even with a slight decrease in fastball velocity, he continues to challenge hitters effectively, maintaining a .261 batting average against and a .222 average when employing his cutter.

Yankees Face Some Interesting Questions

Cortes’s diverse pitch arsenal makes him a formidable opponent for batters, capable of delivering another impressive season. Following a rotator cuff injury last year, he is gradually regaining his consistency. The Yankees intend to keep giving him regular starts. Considering the youth and recent injury history of Luis Gil, the team might opt to transition him to a bullpen role, either as a high-leverage or long-inning reliever, allowing him to seamlessly rejoin the rotation if needed.

Despite the absence of Cole and several key bullpen players, the Yankees’ pitching staff has excelled this season. Their offense, too, is beginning to peak, setting the stage for a potentially successful campaign.

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