Francisco Cordero, The Blue Jay

Right-hander Francisco Cordero sat on the sideline as every other available closer on the free agent market found employment this winter. On Tuesday afternoon, however, it was reported that the 36-year-old native of the Dominican Republic agreed to a one-year, $4.5M deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He is expected to serve as the set-up man for the newly-acquired Sergio Santos, which will be the first year in a non-closer role for Cordero since he set-up for Ugueth Urbina for half of the 2003 season. Dave Cameron adroitly illustrated why Cordero was left on the outside of the closer’s market looking in — mostly due to a troubling decline in the ability to miss bats over the past few years — in this article.

It’s beneficial for the Blue Jays that Cordero will not be relied upon to be the team’s closer, because that declining strikeout rate was not the only red flag raised in 2011. The vast chasm between his 2.45 ERA and 4.02 FIP last season has been well-documented, but the other major concern stems from what appears to be a huge improvement from last year: his walk rate.

Cordero only walked 2.84 batters per nine innings last season, his lowest total since 2007 and well below his career average of 4.09 BB/9. That is good. The issue, however, is that Cordero no longer pounds the strike zone. In 2011, he only threw 38.8% of his pitches inside the zone, which was the fifth-lowest in the league (minimum 60 IP). Only Kyle Drabek, Derek Lowe, Livan Hernandez, and Jonny Venters threw fewer pitches in the strike zone last season.

The odds are stacked against him that he will be able to maintain a low walk rate, considering he is throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone and not inducing more swings on pitches outside the zone.

His low Zone% in 2011 also suggests the right-hander’s stuff has declined to the point that he needs to rely upon deception and getting guys to chase more than ever before in his career. That notion is further evidenced by his increased reliance on his offspeed stuff. His fastball has lost two MPH over the last two seasons, and Cordero only threw it 41.2% of the time in 2011. That is a stark decline from 66.7% in 2010. His changeup usage has jumped dramatically, and he has begun flipping up a curveball from time to time.

Quite simply, Francisco Cordero is undergoing a transformation on the mound, the same transformation that many aging pitchers have to endure. He is attempting to deal with declining stuff. This has manifested itself in the form of more offspeed pitches, fewer strikeouts, more groundballs (his GB% reached 50% for the first time in his career last year), and fewer pitches in the zone — all of which should contribute to more walks issued next season.

His effectiveness on the mound is waning. When his ERA rises from 2.45 ERA, people will point to a stabilizing BABIP as the reason for the regression in performance. That will certainly be a reason. The real culprit for the higher earned run average, however, will be that Francisco Cordero doesn’t have the stuff that he once did. He is attempting to modify his approach and get by with a little more smoke-and-mirrors. That (and a healthy dose of luck) worked for him in 2011. Do not expect it to quite as well in 2012 for the Blue Jays.

Luckily, Toronto only signed Cordero to a one-year deal. It’s tough to get too worked up about any one-year deal. The real issue for Toronto is not the amount of money invested, but the fact that they acquired a depreciating asset. How much he depreciates next season is up in the air, but the fact that he has posted FIPs of 3.92 and 4.02 the past two years, respectively, is not a good sign.

If the wheels do simply fall off for the right-hander and his effectiveness on the mound is completely shot, Toronto does have Casey Janssen and Darren Oliver who can help pick up the pieces and hold down the set-up duties. Hopefully, it does not come to that and he can post respectable numbers in the eighth inning, because Cordero has been one of the most successful closers of the past decade. It would be a shame to witness such a dramatic fall from grace.

Unfortunately, though, the numbers suggest his days as an elite reliever are over, and one could argue that his days as even an effective reliever are severely limited.



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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


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greenfrog
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greenfrog
4 years 7 months ago

On paper, the Jays have a deep bullpen that will look something like:

Santos
Cordero
Oliver
Frasor
Janssen
Villanueva
Perez

Oliver, Frasor and Janssen are potential late-inning options in front of Santos if Cordero falters.

Blake
Guest
Blake
4 years 7 months ago

That scenario, one with which I do not disagree, puts Litsch in AAA. I realize that he has an option remaining whereas Perez does not, but one has to wonder how the demotion could affect Litsch.

grady
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

Looks like a trade target, especially since the Jays need to open up a 40-man spot.

Moonraker
Guest
Moonraker
4 years 7 months ago

Just give him a few coupons to an all you can eat buffet and he’ll forgive them in a heartbeat.

yt
Guest
yt
4 years 7 months ago

potential midseason tradebait?

Jays of Thunder
Guest
Jays of Thunder
4 years 7 months ago

I would think so. In AA’s first year he held onto Downs, Frasor & Gregg for the full year, presumably in part for draft pick compensation. With the new CBA, I would think it’s very likely that the Jays will be sending out one or more of their veteran relief arms via trade, especially when there is depth in the system (eg, Litsch, Carreno) to fill in the pen. Cordero could be an attractive piece for a team with closer issues out of the gate.

winfield wants noise
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

AA has shown again and again that he likes depth and is not afraid of mixing it up when it comes to exploring the trade market.

Erix
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

I’ve got to say, as a Blue Jays fan I hope this signing works out nicely for Toronto. It is important that you all now know that.

SC2GG
Guest
SC2GG
4 years 7 months ago

You wouldn’t be a very good Blue Jay fan if you hoped it worked out horribly.

Matt M
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Matt M
4 years 7 months ago

It is pretty normal for some Jays fans to expect the worst. Some might suspect many hope for it so that they can have something to bitch about during the season.

Preston
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Preston
4 years 7 months ago

This strikes me as a move to flip a player at the deadline. There is always a team in contention looking for back end help, and the fact that he’s been a closer increases his value. If they pay 3 million of his salary and flip him for somebody elses B- prospect later that seems like a pretty good signing.

Eric R
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Eric R
4 years 7 months ago

By the trade deadline they would have already paid about $3M for his performance to date…

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 7 months ago

That’s what I’m saying, I think whoever they trade him to will pick up the 1.5 left, maybe you eat that to get a better prospect. Either way the Jays have money, so spend it and flip it for prospects.

Tom
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Tom
4 years 7 months ago

xFIP over 4,00 the last 4 years; WAR over 1.0 one of the last 4 years (mainly due to an outlier HR/FB ratio).

A 4.5mil flier in hopes of flipping a guy at mid-year and also hoping he gets even a B level prospect?

Are the Jays really going to use this guy in higher leverage innings to get his trade value up?

BJknowitall
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BJknowitall
4 years 7 months ago

I would think Darren Oliver would have much more trade value at the deadline than Cordero, his contract has an option attached to it not too mention his peripherals are still strong.

greenfrog
Guest
greenfrog
4 years 7 months ago

Or maybe you flip a couple of relievers as part of a larger package (a la the Rasmus trade in 2011). Potential candidates include Oliver, Cordero, Frasor and Janssen. The Jays-Cards trade helped St. Louis make the playoffs and win the WS last year.

Darren
Guest
Darren
4 years 7 months ago

This. I see no other reason for these moves.

Siouxsie Sioux
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Siouxsie Sioux
4 years 7 months ago

Is anybody else beyond tired of ‘This.’? Let’s come up with some new memes, dorks..

SC2GG
Guest
SC2GG
4 years 7 months ago

This.

Er, I mean, +1.

Sam Samson
Member
Sam Samson
4 years 7 months ago

MTE. *likes*

20389438
Guest
20389438
4 years 7 months ago

“This” is not a meme.

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 7 months ago

AA’s new nickname is SABR-Ed Wade.

He seems to have a bit of a reliever fetish.

DC
Guest
DC
4 years 7 months ago

It’s clear that Jays needed a lefty specialist, they got it in the form of Oliver. Reacquisition of Frasor costed minimal talent, and essentially sent two cheap lottery tickets to ChiSox…now it’s a (relatively) inexpensive contract to a known reliever. It’s a big upgrade over Rauch & Co. for minimal costs, why not?

This move is clearly set up to trade for B-level prospect. Everybody can see that but someone WILL come calling in mid July and enquire AA about the services of Coco.

Justin
Guest
Justin
4 years 7 months ago

Am I the only one that thinks Cordero can still be a good pitcher with his new approach? Obviously he knows he can’t leave anything over the plate so he is going for the corners. If he goes down in the count he is coming back in and inducing gbs. I think we underestimate the skill of an experienced veteran. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an ERA in the low 3s

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 7 months ago

Red sox sign a bench/platoon player with declining performance for $3m to try and fill a glaring starting hole in their lineup and its called a steal on fangraphs.

Jays sign one of the best closers of the past decade with declining peripherals for $4.5m to be their setup guy and its a bad signing.

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