I love a good mystery. So why not start my preseason writing off with a mystery? That mystery is, what the [bleep] are we supposed to do with Nestor Cortes? He came on to the scene last year and found something magical. After some unimpressive showings before he put a spell on hitters last year with great effect. Nestor was magnificent!
So main thing to note is in 2021 Nestor started 14 games. Before that, he had only started a grand total of… (carry the 1… multiply by square root…) 2 games. 2 games that’s it. So this was a bit of a new foray for him. It’s not often that you go from the pen to starting and your numbers improve drastically. Not just a little mind you; but by every conceivable measure, he got better. His K-rate went up, BB-rate went down, and he cut home runs in half while suppressing hard contact and limiting runners. Everything you could possibly want. Mama mia!
The plot thickens…
With our boy Nestor, the mystery is two-fold. Number 1, how much stock can we put into last year? And Number 2, how much stock can we put into the Yankees actually letting him pitch. The Yanks are often hard to figure out with their pitching prospects, as they tend to, well, yank them around. They rarely give them much leash and often pick up veterans off the free-agent market. We’ll get to that… first let’s explore what made him better.
Strikes And Gutters
First and foremost, Nestor Cortes pitched more strikes, or at least, the appearance of strikes. As you see his command improved significantly, and especially, adjectively, with his breaking pitches. That is evident enough in the diagrams below. He not only gained better control of his pitches but located them better than before, and appeared to have a better game plan of utilizing them.
But that’s not all… then he added a new wrinkle… THE CUTTER
Cutting The Fat
Nestor all but scrapped the sinker and curve and replaced it with the cutter. Being an LHP, he now has a weapon he can pair with the change to neutralize righties. Last season he threw 321 cutters to RHB and only 38 to LHB. Oddly enough though RHB weren’t his biggest weakness. Plot twist! Nestor had reverse splits. In 2019 he gave up a .344 AVG to LHB and .249 to RHB. Last season he trimmed that to just .228/.214, a massive improvement. So what’s the change to LHB?
He stopped relying on mostly the fastball-slider to LHB. By adding in the cutter, he boosted the effectiveness of both the fastball and the slider since it is essentially a hybrid of the 2. This also allowed him to trust the fastball more and not get crushed. In 2019 opposing hitters hit .267 off his fastball and .337 (.422 LHB) on his slider. In 2021 he lowered that to .196 vs his fastball and .233 vs his slider. And after allowing 5 HRs to lefties via the fastball in 2019, he gave up none.
The cutter helped him get an edge back. And when your fastball clocks in at 91 mph (no velocity) you need to rely on command and deception to limit hard contact for outs. He trimmed batters xSLG from .449 down to .370 last year. Batters weren’t getting the jump on him anymore. Sure though he was doing more. You can’t throw a 91 fastball nearly 50% of the time without something more…
Release The Kraken
Release points. Nestor will literally throw any pitch, at any angle, on any count.
All the pitches. Most notably his fastball and slider, vary, ummm, the most. I’ve counted at least 8 separate release points for each. Some overlap, and some stray and overlap with other pitches. He’s a throwback to the “crafty veterans” of the old school that use whatever tool they have at their disposal to get you out. Nestor is an 8-armed Kraken coming at you with all sorts of tricks and illusions.
Timing Is Everything
Here’s Nestor Cortes painting corners. Fluid release.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 20, 2021
Here’s Nestor playing with your head. First, 1 toe tap.
Nestor Cortes, 92mph Sidearm Sinker.
And, sells it with the Insta-K strut. ? pic.twitter.com/fOzLl4biSG
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 15, 2021
And now, WTF?
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 11, 2021
Those are just a couple of examples, but he has literally done everything in between, and then some. The point is he will use any and all the tricks to get outs. And that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Throwing off hitters’ timing is a big deal, especially hitters that have long release mechanisms like a high kick. Many pitchers have used timing tricks over the years to varying degrees; Nestor Cortes is just the latest in a long line of magicians. A couple of others currently are Johnny Cueto and Marcus Stroman that have found some success with it.
All The Magics
Cortes employs all the right moves. He throws a combo of pitches now that move all over and a gradient of movement between the ones that used to get blasted. Fastball to cutter, to slider, to change. And then you consider he has no problem pitching backward. If he’s behind in the count, he will still throw anything. Despite throwing anything, he can locate everything. Next, he will throw it to you in any arm slot. You don’t know where it will come from. And finally, you don’t know WHEN it’s coming. He will mess with your patience and expectations so it’s hard to sync up with his release, wherever and whatever that may be. It’s wild.
Fiction Or Fantasy
Now here we are to the actionable portion of our program. What to do with Nestor? Last year he produced a 10 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 with a 2.90 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP. Those are borderline ace numbers, mi amigos. Not only that but the Ks under the surface were pretty sexy too with a 20.9 K-BB%. That puts him in the same sentence with Nathan Eovaldi and Charlie Morton, both of whom daddy likes. You get that kind of separation and good things happen. The catch though, there’s got to be a catch. There’s ALWAYS a catch. Why is he not talked about more?
Last year he only pitched 93 innings (plus 15 in AAA), and his previous high was 66.2 (plus 39.2 in AAA); needless to say, his arm hasn’t been tested over a full season yet. Dahhhhh, the catch. Also, the Yankees yank around their pitching prospects. Deivi Garcia anyone? Hell, it took them 3 years to let Luis Severino pitch. So yeah, the Yankees have a recent history of delaying their pitching prospects from spreading their wings and signing veterans from the free-agent market like [checks notes] Corey Kluber. As of right now in January (during a lockout) he’s projected to be their 5th starter behind Cole, JorMont, the aforementioned Severino, and the escaped war criminal German. Then factor Taillon into the mix at some point.
So, there are some hills to climb. BUT… fortune favors the bold, and at his current price of [checks notes again] 363 in NFBC behind even Taillon… I like that price for the dice roll. I don’t expect him to total much more than 140 IP; but with that, I think a 3.65 ERA with a high 9 K/9 is reachable. There’s some magic in that Yankees hat of his that the projection systems can’t quite project. He is a wizard after all. Because everyone knows wizards wear hats; there’s no mystery in that.
If you want more Coolwhip to top off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.