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Nestor Cortes Jr. could be latest bullpen breakout

The Yankees have had a slew of breakout bullpen arms over the last several seasons. Think guys like Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder (to some extent), and Tommy Kahnle. And that’s to say nothing of big acquisitions like Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, and Adam Ottavino.

But now there might be a new breakout reliever joining the ranks: Nestor Cortes Jr.

It’s a name nobody paid much attention to at the beginning of the season, and a name many fans probably STILL aren’t paying attention to, but Cortes has quietly been one of the more effective relievers in baseball over the past month.

In May, Cortes was pretty ineffective. Across 11 innings he pitched to a 4.91 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and allowed a .804 OPS to opposing batters. But thus far in June across eight innings, he’s looked pretty darn good. He has a 2.25 ERA, .750 WHIP, and is allowing just a .414 OPS to opposing hitters. That includes his most recent outing against the Chicago White Sox where he fanned seven over five innings.

The still just 24-year-old has an ERA on the year of 3.79. But advanced metrics actually have him better than that. His FIP is just 3.01 and his xFIP is 3.27. That suggests this may not be a fluke, and his June numbers may be more indicative of his abilities than the May ones. His K/9 of 10.42 and his BB/9 of 2.37 would suggest those types of numbers could be sustainable.

What’s especially interesting is that Cortes has been getting the job done with his fastball. At initial glance, it doesn’t look like it should be anything special, averaging just 89.4 MPH. But opposing hitters are batting just .200 off his four-seamer with only one extra-base hit. They’re slugging just .229, have an OPS of just .472, and hold a wOBA of just .212. While his other pitches haven’t been nearly as effective, they’re helping to set up the fastball. It’s also worth noting that with so many high-velocity relievers in the Yankees pen, he may be benefitting from providing a different look.

Where Cortes’ value really comes into play is in his versatility. He can come out for an inning of work, or he can give you four or five innings when you need it. Given the current pitching staff’s inability to pitch deep into games, that’s extremely useful right now.

So look for Cortes to potentially be the next breakout Yankee bullpen arm. Even if he just becomes an effective swingman for the rest of the season, he can provide a ton of value to this team.