How Has Nestor Cortes Jr Been So Dominant?

After being hit by the injury bug again, The Yankees needed help in the rotation and it was Nestor Cortes, but how has he been so good?

The New York Yankees 2021 starting rotation has been up and down. Domingo German and Corey Kluber were out with injury for a long period of time this summer. Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery dealt with COVID. There were some causes for concern, and some people had to step into the rotation and fill the voids. Luis Gil, Andrew Heaney, and many others. But the one mainstay? The one player who really stepped up and made the most out of his opportunity? An unlikely hero, Nestor Cortes Jr. And he has been dominant in 2021.

Nestor Cortes doesn’t have the most dominant stuff, and we’ll look at that later. But he has been nothing short of fantastic for the Yankees in 2021, steering the Yankee rotation in the right direction.

An Advanced Look At Cortes:

Cortes’ fastball averages 90.4 MPH and is in the 6th percentile in fastball velocity, but he still makes everything work. He is in the 74th percentile for K%, 86th for xBA, 87th for xOBA and xERA, 80th for xSLG, and 79th for Barrell %. You can look at his full Savant page here to see more.

Now how does Cortes manage to do all of this? He is able to fool hitters and mess up their timing. Cortes throws in a variety of funky leg kicks and different arm slots to throw off hitters. Take a look at this at-bat when Cortes goes against NL MVP favorite Bryce Harper.

As you can see here, Cortes completely throws him off. Cortes went with curveballs for the first two pitches, and he took a sidearm approach on the second pitch. On the third pitch, Cortes just kicks his leg and does some funky turn with some odd leg action to throw off Harper. The slider was outside, but it definitely messed up Harper’s timing. Then Cortes goes with a fastball on the outside corner for the strikeout.

He doesn’t have the nastiest stuff and he is not throwing 95+ on each fastball, but he is a master of deception. Throwing hitters off with different arm angles and weird windups confuses hitters.

Here’s another video of him going against another MVP caliber player in superstar hitter/pitcher Shohei Ohtani.

Cortes completely fools Ohtani and even the umpire, as he called time while Cortes was just standing there kicking his leg during his windup which amused Ohtani. Cortes then proceeds to bring out the quick pitch to Ohtani on the next pitch, and then he gets Ohtani to fly out on a 73 MPH curveball, in which he threw sidearm.

Clearly, “Nasty Nestor” brings out all of the tricks he can to get hitters out, especially MVP candidates in Harper and Ohtani. The tricks Cortes pulls are one of the reasons why he has been so successful in 2021.

Pitch Location:

Nestor Cortes Jr has been very successful with his pitch location this season as well. 

Cortes throws most of his pitches in the upper inside corner to lefties and outside to righties. Nestor throws his fastball high and in especially to left-handed batters, and jams them in so it is hard to put a good swing on it. And his fastball ranges from 86-94, hovering around 88-91 most of the time. It doesn’t have the highest velocity, but when he locates it correctly he is able to get hitters out. Cortes has been very successful with the high fastball.

Again, those pitches up in the zone when Cortes jams hitters with tough pitches to hit are very important. As the diagram shows, hitters have a very hard time hitting those pitches. Low and away to right-handed batters and low and into lefties is also a strong suit of his. Cortes is good at hitting corners of the strike zone, as opponents struggle there. He also throws offspeed pitches outside the zone, incluidng curveballs and sliders. He racked up a couple of K’s last night agaisnt Baltimore throwing offspeed outside the zone.

When Cortes throws middle in the middle of the zone opponents tend to hit those pitches. But Cortes excels with his location most of the game by locating pitches in hard-to-hit areas. Painting corners and fooling his opponents is a recipe for success for Cortes.

Nestor Cortes
Source: Getty Images

Concluding Thoughts:

With all of the injuries and inconsistencies revolving around the Yankees rotation in 2021, Nestor Cortes Jr has remained a mainstay. Cortes took great advantage of his second opportunity with the Yankees and has turned into New York’s secret weapon and a fan favorite.

The way Cortes throws off and fools his opponents using a variety of arm slots, leg kicks, windups, etc and his pitch location has really turned him into a reliable starter for Aaron Boone to throw out there every couple of days.

Personally, if the Yankees make the 2021 ALDS, I would start Nestor Cortes in Game 1. He has arguably been the Yankees second most reliable starter in 2021 outside of Gerrit Cole (who would probably start the Wild Card game).

Nasty Nestor made a case for himself to stay in the Yankees rotation this season. Cortes has put together a really special season. He has been a blessing in disguise for a rotation that dealt with injury all season, and for a Yankees team in a playoff chase.


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