Nestor Cortes was a monster to begin the season. He was the first Yankees pitcher to open the year with a sub-1.50 ERA and at least 65 strikeouts in his first ten starts. That excellent performance was enough for our own Joe LoGrippo to write that he was making a strong case to start the All-Star Game in July; and you know what? He was right. At the time, Nasty Nestor was perhaps the most deserving candidate.
And while Cortes has struggled a bit in his last few turns, he should still be a lock to make the All-Star roster. He may not be the favorite to take the ball and start it at this point, but he deserves to be picked for the squad nonetheless.
The funky southpaw is currently sporting a 2.31 ERA, a number that has grown a bit in his last three starts by virtue of allowing nine earned runs in 14 innings. Even with that being the case, not many pitchers can top his overall body of work so far in 2022.
Perhaps more importantly, the left-hander is showing that what he did in 2021 was no fluke. Last year, he posted a 2.90 ERA in 93 innings: many of us thought it wasn’t possible for him to repeat that kind of performance, having had many failures and struggles throughout his career.
But those failures and struggles, together with his own drive to improve and the Yankees’ player development staff, made him who he is today. Not only has he maintained last year’s level, but he’s taken it up a notch and become one of the best pitchers in the league.
Cortes is one of the hardest pitchers to face in MLB. If we add up his 2021 and 2022 performances, he has pitched 167 frames and allowed just 129 hits. In years prior, he had completed 78 innings and conceded 97 hits.
Before Friday’s games, Cortes was 14th in the American League in fWAR, with 1.6, and 26th overall. He was also eighth in the junior circuit among qualified hurlers in K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), with 9.49, and sixth in ERA (2.31).
However, when we use Baseball Reference’s WAR, we have Cortes as the sixth-best pitcher in the American League, with 2.2. He has been a top-ten hurler in the junior circuit, and deserves to share a weekend with the best players in the world.
Even if he is not really a sub-1.50 ERA pitcher (who is, really?), he should have a place in the roster alongside Toronto Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah, Tampa Bay Rays’ Shane McClanahan, Cleveland Guardians’ Shane Bieber, Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal, Chicago White Sox’ Dylan Cease; and teammates Gerrit Cole and Clay Holmes, just to name a few.
Fans also like his unconventional pitching style, his ability to dominate with a 91-mph fastball, his effective cutter, his funky deliveries, and the joy he brings to the game. We are sure the cameras will love his ‘stache and his funny, unique persona.
Beyond the stats — which show he is more than deserving of a spot — it will be good for the game to have someone like Cortes pitching in the All-Star Game. It will show audiences all over the country and the world that it doesn’t take a 100-mph fastball to succeed in baseball. You can always maximize your own skillset, and the Yankees’ southpaw is perfect proof.