The Yankees pitching staff has been the best in MLB so far this season, and one of the main factors in that happening has been Nestor Cortes picking up where he left off a year ago.

Cortes is not the conventional pitcher by any means. He averages 90 MPH on his fastball, so he will not beat you with velocity, he does not have that in the tank. But with Cortes’ unique pitch mix and his ability to mess with the timing of hitters, he has become one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2021.

Cortes was on the 2019 Yankees, known for starting on “bullpen days” that season. He would pitch an inning or two, then the Yankees would bring in Chad Green for the bulk of the innings.

After spending the 60-game season with the Mariners in 2020, he returned in 2021. That is when he went from a fun novelty to a valuable member of the staff. Cortes started games down the stretch after performing well out of the bullpen, and the Yankees were confident enough to start the 2022 season with him as the fifth starter.

What Cortes lacks in velocity, he makes up for with finesse and location. He is often seen changing arm angles, including his signature drop-down delivery for his slider, which opposing batters have said is really tough to hit.

Cortes’ success is predicated on his fastball/cutter combo. For the most part, he attacks hitters with cutters inside, then pitches away with a fastball. It has been a successful formula this season.

For someone who does not have the super high velocity or some kind of wipeout breaking ball, many would assume that the analytics would be low on Cortes. That is not the case. While his fastball velocity is not high, his spin rate is above average, being in the 77th percentile for the league. He also gets a high amount of strikeouts and produces soft contact. It does not take much thinking to figure out why that leads to good results.

Cortes is in the 89th percentile for strikeout rate and 72nd percentile for hard-hit rate. The expected stats back up that these results are sustainable as well, as Cortes is in the top six percent in the league for expected ERA, expected batting average and expected wOBA.

Given that Cortes has been getting good results as a starter since the second half of 2021 and expected stats are most often used to project future performance, maybe it’s time for people to embrace him as a quality starting pitcher.

Photo Credit: Scott Taetsch/USA Today Sport

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