Posts tagged Closer

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

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Photo Courtesy of Reuters Pictures via Daylife

It was a calm, cool Thursday night in Toronto. The air was crisp, but there was an 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 of 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 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.

K-Rod for Closer

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With news coming out yestertoday that all current Type A free agent relievers will now likely not require the signing team give up a first round pick, it has brought a whole new potential market for the Blue Jays to further explore. Even though the Jays were linked to free agent closers Jonathan Papelbon (before he was signed), Ryan Madson, and Heath Bell it was fairly clear they weren’t going to sign anyone of them if it meant giving up a first round pick. Because of this we saw them look at lesser options like Huston Street of the Rockies who would have been on a shorter term and probably would not have cost much in prospects due to the Rockies likely looking for some salary relief. Though now with the first round draft pick compensation likely being taken away for Type A free agent relievers with the signing of the new CBA it allows the Jays to look at options like Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps, and Francisco Cordero, who likely without this change in the CBA would get little to no serious consideration.

Of this group the one who looks to make the most sense is Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod started the season as the Mets closer in the last year of a 3 year $37 million contract and finished as the unhappy setup man for Canadian John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite his lowest save total since becoming a full time closer in 2005 for Los Angeles Angels, K-Rod’s peripheral stats were still very good in 2012. Rodriguez had a 2.64 ERA, 2.72 FIP, and 3.02 xFIP, which produced a 1.4  fWAR. All these numbers were put up despite a .321 BABIP, which is 46 points above his career average.
To go along with all those stats in 2011 K-Rod put up a career low walk rate at 3.27 BB/9 and a career high GB% at 51.8%. That relatively high GB% came along with a career low 31.5% FB%, which is a bit of a change of pace from the 49.7% that de facto closer Jon Rauch put up in 2011. Granted an infield that includes Brett Lawrie may have some issues, but if and when Blue Jays defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria makes it to the big leagues, it could be a big help. It seems like the only real concerns with Francisco Rodriguez and his 2011 season that have been cited are his close to career low 9.92 K/9 and his dipping velocity. From 2008-2010 K-Rod’s average fastball velocity was 92.0 mph, in 2010 it got down to 91.2 and in 2011 it went to 90.2.
I’m not going to go around and tell you that he’s a proven closer, so he can overcome that, and I acknowledge it is concerning that there has been a dip of 2 mph, but he did deal with it in 2011 and could very well do the same in the future. Granted if the velocity dips anymore it could become a problem, but it is likely not to be too much of a problem as long as the deal he is signed to isn’t a long term one. As well the dip in velocity could simply be a product of the thumb ligament injury that K-Rod incurred in the odd altercation that happened between him and the father of his girlfriend at the time as the injury happened with the thumb in his pitching hand.

Even after weighing out the pros and the cons of signing Francisco Rodriguez the eventual determiner of a K-Rod signing will be the dollars and the years. Obviously K-Rod is looking for a multi-year deal, but with the market what it is that may not be what happens. In their “Free Agent Stock Watch” series MLBTR suggested that K-Rod should get a deal around the ball park of like 1 year $9 million. Their reasoning for that estimation was essentially as a midway point between the average annual salaries that closers turned setup men Bobby Jenks and Rafael Soriano got in their respective deals last offseason. Though that deal seems pretty fair, there is a couple factors that could pull the average annual value down.

Firstly K-Rod might lower the average annual value in return for a second year, and in Anthopoulos’ case probably an option for a third year, or a one year deal with an option for a second year. Secondly as evidenced by his comments in December he obviously wasn’t happy being a set up man and will likely be looking for a job where he is the de facto and set in stone closer. Just as it did to Rasael Soriano, who eventually changed his mind, it decreases his options on the marketplace. Thirdly the free agent class that Rodriguez is in is fairly saturated and still includes options like Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Joe Nathan, and Jonathan Broxton, even after the signing of Jonathan Papelbon. Finally considering that at times Francisco Rodriguez can be considered to have “makeup issues” such as when he allegedly punched his girlfriend’s father, as well when he makes comments like, “I’m not fine, they told me I’d have the oppurtunity to close some games, and we’ve had 20-some save oppurtunities since then and I haven’t even had one.”

Suffice to say all of these things are not positives and just express the many reasons why the Blue Jays may be able to take a shot at him. Taking into account the fact that according to FanGraph’s dollars stat that describes the amount of money that the player should make on the free agent market has his value at $6.4 million in 2011, I’m thinking if I was AA I would offer K-Rod 2 year $7 million with an option for a second year and maybe guarantee the second year. He would be cemented as our closer, and he would at least be have an option for a second year. The fact that there really hasn’t been much buzz with Francisco Rodriguez makes me think that this could be a possibility. Besides would you rather give $6 million to a 37 year old Joe Nathan or an oft-injured Jonathan Broxton, or would you spring the extra million or two to go after a guy who has been a consistently good reliever for his whole career.

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