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  • Patrick Gunn

Two Yankees Southpaws: Why Rodón and Cortes Struggled Last Year

By Patrick Gunn

December 17, 2023

***

The Yankees have been active in the starting pitching market during free agency. Okay, they’ve been actively tied to Yoshinobu Yamamoto - a generational pitcher about to get paid deservingly. He could change the Yankees rotation in an instant. But the Bombers need more than two aces to win a title. Namely, two former All-Star southpaws are already under contract and are crucial to any hopes of the Bombers regaining form.


Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes Jr. had brutal 2023 seasons. And yes, injuries were a factor: Rodón only made 14 starts, and Cortes just 12. When they pitched, Rodón and Cortes looked little like their normal selves:


Rodón in 2021 & 2022 vs. 2023:


2021 & 2022

2023

ERA

2.67

6.85

FIP

2.42

5.79

K%

33.9

22.4

BB%

7.1

9.8

Avg. Exit Velocity

89.2 & 89.0

91.6

Home Run%

2.0

5.2


Rodón’s drastic drop in strikeout rate, coupled with the rising barrel rate (12.2% in 2023; 6.5% in 2021, and 6.6% in 2022), also coupled with more walks hurt his first season in NYC. Not to mention that hitters torched his fastball (.283 xBA, .548 xSLG). Aside from helping him locate his fastball better and get more whiffs, the Yankees need to help Rodón drop his flyball rate. Yes, Rodón has always been a flyball pitcher - at least 44% of all contact against him has been flyballs in every season since 2020, per FanGraphs. That number jumped to 52.7% last year, easily a career-high. And Yankees Stadium is a tough place to survive as a flyball pitcher. Rodón could help himself out immensely if he lowers the flyballs even by five percent - along with striking out more batters. Better health could be a part of that; part of the reason why his 2022 was so excellent was that he could make 31 starts. Yes, pitching in San Francisco helped, but even his road numbers from 2022 - 3.73 ERA, 31 K%, 7.0 BB% - would be a drastic step forward from 2023.


Cortes in 2021 & 2022 vs. 2023:


2021& 2022

2023

ERA

2.61

4.97

FIP

3.17

4.49

K%

26.9

25.2

BB%

6.4

7.5

Avg. Exit Velocity

89.0 & 87.9

89.6

Home Run%

3.0

4.0


Cortes’ non-ERA/FIP statistics don’t paint as much of a shift as Rodón’s. In fact, MLB Statcast data shows Cortes as having a 3.66 xERA; his xSLG was just .390, xwOBA .296. Yet, his hard-hit rate jumped above 40% (41.5%) for the first time in his career in the Majors. A big reason why - He did not get the job done with his cutter. His second most used pitch (28.7% of the time), batters hit 6 home runs off the pitch to a tune of a .545 xSLG. In 2022, Cortes only gave up 7 homers on the pitch in a longer season with just a .354 xSLG.


Cortes did share one trait with Rodón: a big jump in flyball rate. He saw about a 10% jump in flyball rate, with 57.1% batted balls going in the air, up from 47.3% in 2022. His home run percentage did not take much of a jump, but Cortes did see a higher home run per 9 rate (0.9 HR/9 in 2022 vs. 1.5 HR/9 in 2023). That is a concerning number for a pitcher who thrives on soft contact and location. Regardless, I feel like there is a patch forward for Cortes. His strikeout and walk numbers stayed intact and Statcast data suggests he may have underachieved. It did not help that he dealt with injuries all year, starting in Spring Training and then again early in the summer. 


Injuries are probably the key word to look at with both Rodón and Cortes. Both missed time in Spring Training - Rodón made his Yankees debut in July. Maybe most of these downward trends can be attributed to their struggles just to stay on the field. For that reason, I think we should give them a chance to rebound in 2024. 


And they should get some grace because the Yankees’ rotation needs them both. The Yankees have traded away much of their young pitching depth over the last two seasons. Not to mention the Yankees’ regular season and postseason ceiling rises immensely when they perform. A top-four Yankees Rotation including Gerrit Cole, Rodón, and Cortes could resemble what the Phillies’ have done over the last two playoffs. The Yankees took a risk signing Rodón because of his potential, and Cortes became an overnight sensation because he’s dominated. The Yankees need to help both of these southpaws rediscover their form to return to the World Series.

11 Comments


Brad Scheller
Brad Scheller
Dec 17, 2023

Another thing to consider


Last year (after injuries to Judge and Rizzo), the offense was terrible--so the pitching had to carry the team.


This year. JUDGE, Soto. Rizzo, Torres, Wells, and perhaps Stanton, should give the team the offensive coverage that will provide the pitchers to breath a sigh of relief.


I also think Jasson Dominguez AND Spencer Jones will be back or up after the All-Star break.


Please correct me if I wrong, but IIRC, JD's injury required a TJ surgery on his right elbow, but the doctors also put used a new procedure called internal bracing--a relatively new procedure that further strengthens the ligament beyond the usual Tommy John surgery repair.


I've read that the doctors estimated the…


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Brad Scheller
Brad Scheller
Dec 17, 2023

I hope they do rebound and that the Yankees sign Yamamoto--which will help them land Sasaki next off-season.


Yamamoto signing should be considered as part of a package deal where the team can sign Sasaki for about $5M for several years of control. So whatever the team has to pay for Yamamoto should be decided by 2 in terms of considering the value of him AND Sasaki.


However, if none of that comes to pass, I still have hope.


Signing Shoto Imanga would just cost money. He would be a great addition.


Trevor Bauers is another potential top level addition. If they gave Chapman a second chance, do the same for Bauer. Just make sure he deletes his Tinder account.


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Brad Scheller
Brad Scheller
Dec 17, 2023
Replying to

A serial sex strangler is different than a serial rapist.


While I don't understand the fascination with strangling, I won't hold that against him if the act was consensual.


The one woman that came forward and pressed charges was later found as someone who went along with strangling so she could blackmail Bauer.


Upon investion, he was cleared of all charges.


So, sign him with a contrual clause stating that the only strangling he can do is while alone in a room with a jar of lube.


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jjw49
Dec 17, 2023

Yankee fans have to be pessimistic regarding Rodon and Cortes. Rodon's back issues are huge red flag, and you can see him on IL multiple times a season and Cortes except for one season is #4 or #5 rotation pitcher with durability issues beyond injuries, So can you really count on Rodon and Cortes? No imo. Yankee SP has not been good and until proven otherwise remains the biggest question mark going into 2024 season. Looks like Mets are putting on the full court press for Yamamoto, and supposedly he will meet with Yankees again, but I still believe he ends up on West Coast in SF. Yankees have options beyond Yamamoto.

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Dec 17, 2023

Great job Patrick.


If these two pitchers bounce back big, and if the Yankees get at least one more starter... oh boy... good days are coming!

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fuster
Dec 17, 2023

it's entirely fair to expect that both Rodon and Cortes will. begin the season in far better health this season and that both will fare far better.


but the Yankees will still require an additional top-flight right-handed starter from the free-agent pool.


the organization is good at developing young pitchers, but can't be expected to produce excellence when denied access to top-20 draft talent.


gotta buy a big arm, allow the organization to furnish replacements for the half-dozen good guys sent away in exchange for outfielders.

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