But the ante has been upped for Wednesday’s matchup. Starting on the mound for the Rays will be the hard-throwing, dynamic, young southpaw Shane McClanahan. Opposite him for the Yankees will be “Nasty” Nestor Cortes, a crafty lefty building off a breakout 2021 campaign.
The two starters are among the seven starting pitchers in Major League Baseball with sub-2.00 ERAs midway through June and find themselves entrenched in the conversation for the American League Cy Young.MORE: Star Reds rookie Hunter Greene learning on the job as he evolves in debut season
Here’s what you should know about the two lefties as they prepare to toe the rubber in the most anticipated pitching matchup of the 2022 season.
Standout 2022 campaignsDescribing this as a matchup of two of the best pitchers in baseball is no hyperbole. This year, they rank among the best pitchers in nearly every category.
|Shane McClanahan||1.87 (5th)||98 (1)||0.86 (3rd)||.188 (4th)|
|Nestor Cortes||1.96 (7th)||71 (T-26)||0.92 (7th)||.193 (6th)|
And there’s not much of a reason to expect regression. Among qualifying starting pitchers, Cortes’ Expected Earned Run Average (xERA) of 2.38 ranks second in MLB, while McClanahan’s 2.46 is third, according to Baseball Savant. Based on FIP, McClanahan is fourth in the league at 2.45, while Cortes is 11th at 2.84.
The rest of their Baseball Savant numbers also display how dominant they have been. Both McClanahan and Cortes rank within the 90th percentile for Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) and xERA, the 80th percentile for Expected Batting Average (xBA) and Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG), 70th percentile for hard hit rate.
MORE: 2022 MLB Cy Young odds
It should come as no surprise then to see that the odds for each pitcher to win the AL Cy Young have dramatically gone down.
Compare that to how the season began. McClanahan had +1800 odds to win the AL Cy Young, according to Sports Betting Dime, while Cortes did not appear on the list until April 25, when he opened at +5000. Now, the site lists McClanahan as the favorite at +350 and Cortes as the fourth-most likely at +900.
Velocity vs. movement
The results might be the similar, but the process is anything but. Cortes and McClanahan will offer viewers of Wednesday’s game with drastically different pitching styles.
Per Baseball Savant, Cortes averages 91.1 mph on his four-seam fastball, which places him in the sixth percentile in the league. McClanahan, on the other hand, averages 96.8 mph on his fastball, putting him in the 93rd percentile.
McClanahan’s velocity is all the more impressive considering he pitches from the left side, where velocity is not as common as it is from the right. His 96.8 mph fastball ranks fifth in MLB among qualifying left-handed pitchers, placing him behind three relievers and only one starting pitcher. It also ties him with Yankees’ fire-baller Aroldis Chapman. And that’s not his only high velocity pitch. He throws a slider at 88.6 mph (seventh among qualifying lefties), an 87.7 mph changeup (12th) and an 81.7 mph curveball (sixth).
The results of his high-octane arsenal are that batters have a hard time catching up. Among qualifying starting pitchers, his 35.8 percent whiff rate trails only Corbin Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young winner and Brewers ace.
Compare that to Cortes. The hardest Cortes has thrown all season is 94.4 mph. McClanahan’s slowest fastball this season is 93.2 mph and his hardest off-speed pitch is a 93 mph slider.
But where Cortes excels is with the movement of his fastball. While McClanahan has four pitches he uses at least 16 percent of the time, Cortes has only two pitches: a cutter (38.9 percent) and a fastball (38.3 percent).
On his four-seam fastball, 94 percent of the movement comes from active spin, according to Baseball Savant, while 49 percent of the movement on his cutter comes from active spin.
Top prospect vs. longtime MiLB pitcher
This isn’t just a display of different styles on the mound: It’s about different journeys to the mound.
In 2018, McClanahan was listed by MLB Pipeline as the No. 14 MLB Draft prospect. In the same year, Cortes was listed at No. 25 … of the top 30 Orioles prospects.
The Rays wound up taking the South Florida ace 31st overall, and he was an immediate standout. After a short 2018 season, he pitched to a 3.36 ERA in 2019 across Class A, Class High-A and Double-A. He had 154 strikeouts in 120.2 innings of work. He ranked as the Rays’ No. 11 prospect on the 2019 list and was No. 7 on the 2020 list, 99th among all prospects.
McClanahan was promoted ahead of the 2021 season and finished seventh in AL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a 3.43 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 123.1 innings. He never pitched in Triple-A and logged only 18.1 innings in Double-A.
Cortes took a different journey to the majors. He was drafted in the 36th round, 1,094th overall by the Yankees in 2013 and signed with the team. He spent three different seasons in Rookie League before he pitched in Class A, Class High-A, Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. He had a combined 1.53 ERA across those levels. It was Double-A, Triple-A and Class High-A in 2017.
But ahead of the 2018 season, Cortes was selected by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft. He made the Opening Day roster, but after pitching to a 7.71 ERA in 4.2 innings of relief work, he was designated for assignment and claimed by New York. Back with his old team, he had a 3.68 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A.
Cortes logged 39.2 innings at Triple-A in 2019, but also spent time in the big leagues, where he had a 5.67 ERA in 66.2 innings, making one start and 32 relief appearances. After the season, Cortes was traded to the Mariners for international pool money. He pitched only 7.2 innings and had a 15.26 ERA before being placed on the 60-man injured list. He was outrighted from the 40-man roster and elected free agency.
Back for a third stint with New York, Cortes pitched in just five games in Triple-A in 2021 before the Yankees called him up. This time, he stuck, proving to be one of the Yankees’ best weapons as he posted a 2.90 ERA over 93 innings that included 14 starts and eight relief appearances. He has only been used as a starter in 2022. The campaign would be the only season in his professional baseball career in which all appearances made were starts.
Battle of Florida
There are plenty of differences between Cortes and McClanahan. But besides being dominant left-handed pitchers, they can also share in having pitched in Florida.
McClanahan was the ace of the South Florida Bulls, posting a 3.78 ERA in 29 starts with 224 strikeouts in 152.1 innings of work between 2017 and 2018. His high-octane fastball and wipeout slider were his calling cards as he stood out as having among the highest upside of any pitcher in the 2018 class.
McClanahan is originally from Baltimore, but he attended Cape Coral High School until he joined South Florida ahead of the 2016 season, which he missed due to injury.
Cortes, who was born in Surgidero de Batabano, Cuba, pitched at Hialeah High School in Hialeah, Florida, before he was drafted by the Yankees in 2013. Hialeah is about two hours and 50 minutes away from Cape Coral High. Cortes was also committed to pitch for Florida International.
In another world, it is possible the two could have met on the mound in college. On April 26, 2016, South Florida faced off against FIU, in a game won by the Golden Panthers 6-5. But of course, Cortes did not pitch for FIU and McClanahan was injured that season.