There are fun players, and there are good players, and then there are fun good players. Aaron Judge is that last category, and in 2019, Nestor Cortes might have been in the first category. It was interesting to see how the Yankees would use a soft-tossing lefty in what’s normally a flame-throwing bullpen, and while Cortes Jr.’s release point and arm slot trickery was fun to see, his stuff probably doesn’t measure up to MLB caliber, especially in a loaded bullpen like New York’s.
Statistics: 66.2 IP, 5.67 ERA, 5.57 FIP, 79 ERA+, 9.3 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.545 WHIP, -0.4 WAR
2020 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, two years before arb eligibility
Cortes Jr. was one of several arms the Yankees collated in the bullpen once Dellin Betances went down for virtually the entire year, and other possible fill-ins like Jonathan Holder, Ben Heller and David Hale either were injured or recovering from injury.
From the word go he was one of the bottom-end guys in the bullpen, giving up three earned runs apiece in his first two appearances. Run suppression wasn’t really a skill of Cortes Jr., as in 42% of his games he surrendered two runs or more, definitely not a track record ascribable to anyone but the lowest-leverage arm.
He did have one appearance as an opener, his only “start” of the season, where he gave up six hits and four runs to the Tigers in 2.1 innings of work. He was, unsurprisingly, left off the postseason roster altogether, and can expect to start 2020 in Scranton.
The plus to Cortes Jr. is all in deception:
He tends to effectively vary his release points by pitches - look especially at the red dots, which represent his four-seam fastball. There’s a ton of variance, and overlap with the rest of his repertoire, which should leave hitters guessing at the plate.
The problem is his pitches themselves aren’t that great. He’s in the bottom quartile for fastball velocity and curveball spin across all of baseball, and his fastball spin rate is barely better at the 32nd percentile. His pitches just don’t have the stuff to beat hitters even with the deception in delivery.
Nestor is a fun guy to watch, or analyze with Statcast, because he’s so against the mold of the modern relief pitcher. That mold exists for a reason, though, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to have the stuff to stick in the majors as currently constructed. Barring a major change in his pitch offering, expect him to remain a bubble/depth bullpen option.