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Sports Media

It’s Time We Recognize Nestor Cortes as a Legitimate Pitcher

Nestor Cortes Yankees

Nestor Cortes
(Kyle Ross, USA Today Sports)

Nestor Cortes, From Start to Now

When we talk about a player such as Nestor Cortes, most people would recognize him for his on-field antics. Consistently messing with timing in his delivery, changing his release point and arm angle to throw off the hitter, and striking the hearts of Yankee fans with his hilarious personality. When Nestor made his debut for the Yankees in 2019 and posted a 5.67 era in 33 appearances, many thought his ceiling wasn’t all that high. It wasn’t until Nestor came back to the Bronx in 2021 after a trade to Seattle the prior year that he would begin to turn heads.

Once Cortes got the call from Triple-A on May 30th, he became an incredible story for the Yankees. He ended up starting 14 games for the Yankees last year and posted an era of 2.90 throughout the season in 22 total appearances. His most recent success came against the Baltimore Orioles, where he retired 15 of the 19 Orioles he faced, with 12 strikeouts, all while allowing only three singles. In addition to this, Nestor also threw the 9th immaculate inning in franchise history. If that isn’t convincing, Cortes was just as effective in his first start of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays, going 4.1 shutout innings. He even struck out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3 times. But what makes a lefty who throws no harder than 90 mph so difficult to hit?

A Dive into Nestor Cortes

A look into Nestor Cortes’ Baseball Savant page tells us a lot about just why he has been so successful since the start of last season.

Nestor Cortes

From this graph, we can see that Nestor was in high percentiles for many of the categories. Some of the blues are certainly explainable, as him being in a low percentile for fastball velocity isn’t shocking; he is one of the few pitchers in the league who average 90mph on their fastball. But what do the rest of the stats tell us? Essentially he strikes out a lot of batters and doesn’t walk many. The xBA (expected batting average) tells us that when hitters do make contact it’s rarely for a hit.

I think the most notable grab from this graph is the xwOBA for the past 250 plate appearances. In case you may not know, xwOBA is defined as Expected Weighted On-Base Average, and “is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed” (MLB.com). More can be read here, but hitters are hitting Nestor less and less the more he pitches it seems.

While it’s early in the season, Nestor has gotten off to as good a start as any starting pitcher. He and Andrew Heaney of the LA Dodgers are the only two pitchers who have thrown 9+ innings with 16+ strikeouts and a 0.00 earned run average. Another reason for Nestor’s success could also simply be that professional hitters aren’t preparing to face a pitcher like Nestor, ever.

Pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Hitters are training and preparing in the minor leagues for the Tyler Glasnows and the Corbin Burnes of baseball. The hard-throwing pitchers. Way more pitchers are throwing 95+ today than ones throwing 90mph. Hitters simply are not preparing for a sidewinder lefty who throws his cutter and 4-seam fastball at the exact same rate. Or a guy who’s going to drop his arm in the slightest to throw off the hitter’s eyes. Players don’t face pitchers like Nestor Cortes when they’re coming up, and that’s what makes him so unique.

Nestor Has Established Himself Amongst the Staff

The last year has shown Nestor’s emergence as a legitimate pitching option for the New York Yankees, and it’s been quite the ride. His path has led him right back to the Bronx, and Yankees Pitching Coach Matt Blake is working his magic on him. Most fans are starting to realize Nestor Cortes is a legitimate pitcher if they have not already, and will be a huge part of the team’s rotation throughout the year, especially if their offense continues to struggle. From being called up a total of 8 times during the 2019 season, to now establishing himself in a good rotation, the sky’s the limit for Nestor Cortes.


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