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Nestor Cortes Jr. is here to stay

Our beloved mustache-sporting, turtle-loving, deception master is back at it after a dominant first start on the mound yesterday. After a breakout 2021 campaign, Nasty Nestor came out firing in his season debut to the tune of 4.1 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 5Ks. Not a bad line for a guy who is known more as “the guy who throws funny” more than his actual ability.

Obviously, one start is not a big enough sample size to say he’s going to lock up the two-spot in the rotation, but I think it’s time to transition him from a “fringe-starter” to a rotation staple.

Maybe this isn’t even a hot take, but it’s time that we respect Nestor as a true force in the rotation. Yes, he throws funny, but it’s looking like the success from that is just the norm now rather than an outlier.

2021 Success

Again, this is not based solely on yesterday’s start. Nestor dominated in 2021,  but it was overshadowed by an underwhelming season and funny mechanics. Aside from his 2.90 ERA, which led the Yankees, Nestor also posted an outstanding 10 K/9, an excellent 2.4 BB/9, and an above average 3.78 FIP. The only knock on Nestor is that he does not go deep into games – which he wasn’t expected to last year.

Keep in mind that this guy is a converted long reliever. In 2021, he pitched in the rotation out of necessity, then earned his way into becoming the five starter. According to the broadcast last night, Nestor spent the entire offseason building up his stamina and conditioning to go deeper into games. There is no reason to believe that he can’t be an effective 4-5 starter over the long haul on this team.

2022 Sustainability

Yankee faithful is quick to turn on anybody – see Aaron Judge 2022. However, Nestor has all of the important factors to not get turned on. He’s fun, plays well, has very low expectations, and most importantly, he does not make a lot of money. If Nestor were to go out in his next 4 starts and give up 50 runs, the fanbase would respond something along the lines of, “Damn, that was fun while it lasted.’ That’s it, it’s over.

That being said, Nestor’s metrics actually back up what he’s done over the last season plus. Below are his 2021 key metric percentile ranks per Baseball Savant:

Hard-Hit% – 68%
xwOBA – 81%
xERA – 81%
xBA – 79%
K% – 77%
BB% – 73%

Is Nestor a Hall of Famer? No. He is a very above average pitcher, though, and based on the expected metrics, it was no fluke.

Couple his funky windups and timing deception with solid pitches and an improving fastball, you have all of the pieces to have a long time efficient starter. ZIPS projects Nestor to fall off a bit with an ERA and a FIP around 4.40 – both around league average. I think that expecting him to regress that far is worst case scenario. Somewhere in between what he’s done recently and that 4.40 mark is probably more realistic. Regardless, even in the worst case scenario, the Yankees have a much needed, consistent, five starter. Best case scenario, he sustains what he has done for over a season now and is a very solid mid-rotation arm.

Either way, Nestor Cortes has a place on this team for the foreseeable future – and rightfully so.