Who: Francisco Cordero, No. 48. Relief Pitcher. 6’3, 245 LBS.
Tao-Approved Nicknames: Coco! (An old favourite from the Fantasy 411 podcast.)
History: 13 MLB seasons and 753 games with Detroit, Texas, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. First season in Toronto.
Contract Status: Signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal this offseason.
Career Stats: 3.17 ERA in 785.1 innings pitched. 765 strikeouts, 327 saves. Three-time All-Star.
2011 Stats: 2.45 ERA in 69 innings pitched. 42 strikeouts, 22 walks. 37 saves, six blown saves.
Clumsily Handled Nerd Stats: Coco was a lucky duck last season according to his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching number (xFIP). Cordero’s xFIP was 4.12, more than a run and a half higher than his ERA.
Somewhat Scary Stat: Cordero’s strikeout per nine rate has fallen in each of the past five years. His 5.43 K/9 rate in 2011 was the lowest of his career.
More Frightful Figures: Cordero’s .214 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP!) was unsustainably below his career rate (.294).
Looking Back: It feels like just yesterday that Coco Cordero got real paid, inking a four-year, $46 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds before the 2008 season. And even if you quibble with the amount of importance that people place on closers, it would be hard to argue that the Reds didn’t get fairly decent value out of that contract. Cordero stayed healthy, racked up saves, and posted a 2.96 ERA while pitching in a homer-friendly park.
And yet, no one came calling when his contract was up after last year.
It could be that the precipitous drop in his strikeout rate had teams concerned that he could no longer miss bats. And while we can’t necessarily prove the following conventional wisdom, we’ll spew it out anyway: When old relief pitchers blow up, they blow up good. (Members of the John Franco Fan Club should send their complaints via postcard to the postal address of their choosing.)
Strangely, we’re all focused on the subtext of some of the bad numbers, while the text that is written by his performance isn’t all that bad at all. In particular, he dropped his walk rate to 2.84, his lowest rate since 2007. Moreover, he put up the highest ground ball rate of his career (50%) and the lowest fly ball rate of his career (33.8%), both of which were significant improvements over his 2010 numbers.
Looking Forward: Has Coco become a crafty veteran? Able to induce key ground balls when he needs them? Does he enjoy pumping his fist and dancing as much after a well-earned double-play ball as he did when he mowed hitters down?
Cordero’s fastball velocity has waned a bit over the past few years, averaging 93.0 MPH (down from 95.0 MPH in 2009.) But he’s adjusted by dialing back drastically on the frequency of its use (from 66.7% in 2010 to 41.2% last year) while increasing his usage of a changeup (from 6.7% to 18.8%) and mixing in a curveball (9.8%) that seemingly had never existed in his repertoire. (There are a few reports under 1.0% of curveballs thrown between 2003 and 2006 which are almost as likely to be labeling errors.)
2012 Expectations: If Cordero can be successful making a late-career adjustment to hitter, he could be a very useful piece at the back end of the Jays bullpen. At best, he could challenge newly acquired Sergio Santos for ninth-inning work. Even if he’s not as successful as that, he could still be an asset if he slid down the bullpen pecking order and provided the Jays with an arm in the sixth and seventh inning.