Friday, 6 July 2012

Nixing the Narrative: The It's Not All Cordero's Fault Edition

Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via Daylife
It was a calm, cool Thursday night in Toronto. The air was crisp, but there was a odd smell of anger and frustration as Francisco Cordero strolled on over to the mound in the top of the 8th inning. At the time the score was Royals 5, Blue Jays 3.

The first batter of the inning, Mike Moustakas, singled on a ground ball up the middle. The anger tweets began. The next batter, Jeff Francouer, followed suit with a second ground ball up the middle. However this time both Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson got to the ball, but in what was almost a nasty collision neither player came up with it. The anger tweets multiplied.

After a few more ground balls as well as a couple line drives the anger tweets were growing at an exponential rate. The inning seemed to have dragged on too long already, but the beast that is Eric Hosmer was just stepping up to the plate. Unfortunately for Mr. Hosmer all he could muster was a ground ball to the right side of the infield, but wait...somehow he is safe at first because Cordero couldn't get to the bag in time. The anger tweets were at an all time high.

Following the game one could find many a tweet proclaiming something along the lines of DFA CORDERO. It wasn't the most subtle of approaches, but it sure got the message across. I don't intend on going all Wilner here, but at this point in the season the Cordero hate is becoming ridiculous. It isn't all his fault.

Starting with Thursday night's debacle, most people if asked would likely agree with the statement "Francisco Cordero was the reason the Blue Jays lost that game". On the surface it certainly seemed like that was the case, but a fan's reactive tendencies, especially to a player who is already in the doghouse, can cause a lack of recognition of what really went on.

For one thing in the first 4 batters of that inning Francisco Cordero induced 3 ground balls and only 1 line drive. The first ground ball was well hit right up the middle. The second ground ball was mishandled and had KJ and Escobar not both gone for the ball it could have very likely been a double play. The line drive Cordero gave up to the Salvador Perez would then only result in one man on first and the subsequent ground ball induced from Jarrod Dyson would have ended the inning. No runs scored.

In another situation where one assumes that the mishandled ball by KJ and Escobar still happens and you look strictly at the rest of the inning two of the three runs could have easily been prevented. After Hosmer hit the ground ball it is true that if Cordero were possibly hustling a bit more they may have gotten out of the inning, but there was also why Cordero wasn't at the bag sooner. On that play the Blue Jays were playing the shift and Kelly Johnson was closer to first base than usual. Because of that Edwin did not need to go after the ball and instead could have left it to KJ creating an easy out at first base, inning over. In that situation only 1 run would have scored.

Some may point out that these are all hypothetical situations and while that is true on a batted ball results level Cordero didn't actually pitch that poorly. Over the course of the 7 batters that Cordero faced he induced 4 ground balls and 1 strikeout. Of course the other 2 batters hit line drives, but a 28 LD% is also not mind-blowingly awful. Cordero was in no way outstanding on the night, but to blame everything on him expresses a lack of observation as to what actually went on.

As for the rest of the season, well it hasn't exactly been peachy. After Thursday's night's proceedings Cordero brought his shutdown to meltdown ratio to an even .500 and in case you didn't know thats not very good. Another couple tidbits from this year include that Cordero has brought his walk rate back up after dropping it in 2011, he is tied for the second worst fWAR among relievers, he has the highest home run rate of his career, and last but not least Cordero currently sports a 6.00 ERA accompanied by a 5.68 FIP and 4.65 xFIP.

At first, second, third, and maybe even fourth glance those don't look like a good set of numbers, but looking at some of the underlying stats it might tell you a slightly different story. First off the statement that many have made this year "Cordero was bit by the BABIP monster" is a statement that holds through over the season. Francisco Cordero's .376 BABIP on the year ranks as the sixth worst among qualified relievers. That number is 162 points higher than where it was last year and 78 points above Cordero's career average.

Beyond that this year Cordero sports a ridiculous 17.9% HR/FB, which again ranks near the bottom of the league, but more importantly it is over double Francisco Cordero's career average. Thus explaining where a fair amount of Cordero's home run woes have been.

Despite the evidence brought forth a few of you on Twitter wanted to argue that there is no way that Cordero could have been unlucky for 3 whole months. While that is partially true, Cordero has also only pitched 33 innings this year which means that if he were a starter that would amount to a about a month's worth of pitching, a small sample size. Inherently that is one of the many volatility problems with relievers in that they don't pitch a lot so bad luck and bad pitching can be carried along over a longer period of time without making the actual sample size significantly bigger.

With all that said it certainly hasn't been all luck, Francisco Cordero has been a bad pitcher this year. Though his velocity has remained relatively consistent with where it was last year after having dropped the two years previous he hasn't been able to harness his pitches the way he was able to last year. More specifically in the 2012 season Cordero has not been able to get players to chase and swing at pitches outside the zone. His O-Swing% this year, a measly 22.6%, ranks 5th last among qualified relievers and is roughly 6% lower than where it was last year as well as Cordero's career average.

Seeing that Cordero has been unlucky and frankly not the best of pitchers one thing I do question is why the Blue Jays continue to place him in high leverage situations. One would argue that if you are paying a player a significant amount of money to perform to a level that he has performed to in the past then the right course of action is not to DFA such a player when he is pitching poorly. At the very least you could shrink down his impact on the game while he is working things out. Pitch him in mop up duty or even as part of a long relief crew, but don't pitch him in a 5-3 ball game when the leverage is arguably the highest in the entire game.

At that point it is the manager's fault for placing Cordero in that situation. Cordero doesn't get to choose where he pitches and pitching him in close games only exacerbates the problem by bringing it front and centre to both the fans and the media.

To my detriment, you can decree a Cordero DFA all you want, but Cordero can be a better pitcher than what he is now, Anthopoulous knows that, Farrell knows that. Also if you want to DFA Cordero then who do you propose as a replacement? Scott Richmond? Shawn Hill? Joel Carreno? Chad Beck?

The other options may seem good, but there is also a reason those pitchers are in AAA. Us fans may not be able to recognize their true talent level because we haven't seen them in the majors in a significant capacity. The Blue Jays front office on the other hand has multiple people scouting their players and they are able to have a much better barometer of the players' respective talent levels.

Ultimately blame Cordero for what he has done and that is pitch poorly, but don't blame him for the plethora of factors that have contributed to the cornucopia of Cordero hate. Finally regarding specifically Thursday night's performance there is one last thing I'd like to say...
Special thanks to @SMcEwen_eh and @Mentoch on Twitter for helping to fight the good fight in calming people's reactions last night as well as providing a couple of ideas for this post. If you're not already following them then go do so right now.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference


  1. Chad Beck certainly deserves another shot, and it wouldn't surprise me if we saw Stilson in the pen soon. Its time to see what we have on the farm, its time for the draft and trade strategy to start bearing full fruits. While Cordero might be slightly better than he has performed this year, he has had entirely too many blow ups. We would be better off in the long run letting a young kid make the same mistakes.

  2. I'd agree that on some level there are a few of the younger players who deserve a shot, but in my opinion at least there isn't too many. Dyson, sure, but some of the other guys like Chavez, Carpenter or even Beck himself aren't the youngest of specimens.

    For the most part it seems like some people are giving too much credit to a couple guys who can be considered AAA fodder and not enough to a guy in Cordero who has shown he can pitch effectively in the majors before.

    As I said in the blog post there is often a reason why guys like Carpenter and Chavez spend a fair amount of time in the minors and it isn't because they are being blocked. Simply they often aren't very good.

    Sometimes you get the odd guy who shows something new in the majors that he hadn't shown previously, but even in relievers those guys are rare.