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May 10, 2007
Chad Cordero took what you could call the fast track to the major leagues-he made his debut for the Montreal Expos after just 26 professional innings in the minors, and has not looked back since. He was successful right out of the gate, which helped him keep his space in the majors for an organization searching for a shiny bauble to present to their remaining fans. Cordero is not without his troubles, though-he could stand to throw something besides a fastball to right-handers, and his control is not always what it should be. His PECOTA is very consistent for 2007 through 2011; let's see what we can make of his career thus far.
Chad Patrick Cordero was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2000 at #769 overall, but he declined to sign in order to attend Cal State Fullerton. He closed games for the Titans in 2001-2003 before the Expos took him with their first-round pick in 2003. Dominating is an apt term to describe his performances against college hitters, where he was a closer his freshman year:
Year Team IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9 RA 2001 CS Ful(NCAA) 64.0 8.9 1.7 5.3 0.4 6.1 2.25 2002 CS Ful(NCAA) 55.0 13.3 3.3 4.1 0.3 7.5 2.95 2003 CS Ful(NCAA) 57.0 10.7 1.3 8.5 0.5 6.5 1.58
Cordero did not walk many batters back in his college days, his strikeout rates were lofty, and he was difficult to hit, aluminum bat or no. He signed with the Expos for $1.35 million, which was below market value for his slot, and was aggressively assigned to High-A Brevard County in the Florida State League:
This stint was pretty brief, so it's tough to take anything from it. this is why relievers are hard to judge in a general sense; the sample size is just much too small most of the time. Cordero's success was due to his microscopic hit rate; his strikeouts and walks were both in places you do not want to see, which equated to a poor K/BB rate. This did not stop the Expos from calling him up to finish the season in Montreal, where Cordero would log 11 innings, making for 94 total amongst his three stops in 2003, before and after being picked:
Again, the sample size is small, but you have to love when your top pick holds opponents to fewer than four hits per nine innings pitched during his debut, with only 26 pro innings under his belt coming out of college, and the second player from the 2003 draft class to reach the major leagues after the Reds' Ryan Wagner. Better still, his strikeouts reappeared.
Baseball America thought Cordero could grab the closer's job as quickly as 2004:
Cordero was a surprise pick at No. 20 overall, but he was a good fit for the Expos…and didn't need much seasoning. Cordero projects as a closer in the majors, possibly as early as 2004. He's aggressive with his heavy 90-94 mph fastball and sharp slider. He's not big, but he generates power with good lower-half drive and extension in his delivery. Cordero has a mature body with strong legs and rounded shoulders, so his stuff won't get much better. He's thick through his hips and will need to watch his weight. He occasionally leaves his circle changeup high in the strike zone and needs to scrap a slower version of his slider. Based on his September showing in Montreal, Cordero should make the Opening Day roster with a good spring. Rocky Biddle isn't the most reliable closer, so Cordero could take the job quickly.
Cordero is basically the same pitcher today as when he was drafted, although he has refined certain parts of his game. As previously mentioned, he still does try to get right-handed batters to chase fastballs, which end up in the seats a little more often than you'd like to see, but overall he's certainly been successful.
PECOTA did not expect much from Cordero in his first full season with the Expos, forecasting a 5.23 ERA-although with a PERA of 4.62-and generating just 4.2 VORP in 36 total innings. Baseball Prospectus 2004 felt Cordero was a solid addition to the organization:
The comment was right on the nose, as there was no chance of Cordero becoming a starter for the Expos. They needed someone to stabilize their bullpen, and Cordero seemed prepared for the job. He would eventually lay claim to the closer's job in 2004, although he only logged 14 saves on the season:
Cordero handily beat his PECOTA forecast, but the walk totals were no good, regardless of his results--walking almost five batters per nine will get you into trouble more often than not, but Cordero got away with it in 2004 thanks to a low hit rate. This is a very good rookie campaign for a player with 37 total professional innings, though, no arguments here. Baseball Prospectus 2005 agreed:
Wow, that's a fast track for you. Only a year removed from being drafted, Cordero claimed a regular gig in the majors and looked sweet. The Cal State Fullerton product throws a nasty fastball, striking out a batter an inning in the closer's role at age 22. If he can tweak his command a bit he could become an elite reliever pretty quickly. PECOTA thinks he'll take a step back before that consolidation season arrives.
PECOTA projected Cordero for a 4.31 ERA and 4.69 PERA in his first year as a Washington National and second full big league season, but he managed to put up the same solid results, although with different peripherals:
Cordero's strikeout rates fell somewhat, but his free passes also dropped to compensate. He gave up a few more homers per nine as well, but again, the hit rate was well below average. His 2.91 Run Average was not all that far off from the previous year's figure, and he posted a 3.96 PERA both seasons. His 1.82 ERA looks pretty gaudy, but he gave up nine unearned runs on the season, hence the higher RA mark.
Baseball Prospectus 2006 mentioned Cordero's primary issue while also praising his performance thus far:
We tend to be a bit dismissive of closers and their feats in these pages, but that's more a product of their tailored roles than any disrespect for their talents. When it comes to Cordero, we happily give the kid his due--he's a closer who's good at it, finishing 14th and ninth in WXRL in the majors in his two seasons. If he has a wart, it's his tendency to challenge right-handed hitters with high fastballs, only to see them occasionally catch up to them, as they did on six of his seven bombs allowed. In RFK, he can afford to take some chances, but if he learns to avoid this sort of mistake, he'll be better still.
The strikeouts were back, and thankfully the walks were still down. What was not staying down were the number of flyballs he was allowing, with 13 turned into souvenirs. With the low walk rate and low hit rate, you'd expect that Cordero should give up runs relatively rarely. Giving up dingers as often as he does for a team with an offense as poor as the one the Nats have is a little bit tragedy and travesty. Baseball Prospectus 2007 hammered the point home once again in regards to his problems with fastballs to right-handers:
He still tries to get righties to chase high heat. It works often enough; all sorts of hitters want to be heroes and go yard, and Cordero happily logs a fair number of fly-ball outs. Unfortunately, he also ends up regretting this approach more than you'd like to see from a premium closer. It's hard to know what to expect--he could keep doing this for a few more years--but it would be nice to see him try to cut back on the deep flies. That said, his raw numbers from 2006 underrate his performance--he gave up 10 of his 27 runs and four of his 13 home runs in just two blown-save losses. However deflating those days at the office may have been, the games don`t get any more lost, and Cordero has demonstrated that crucial ability to forget about his bad days.
Cordero been an effective closer, but he would be better if he could improve on that longball aspect of his game. His 2007 season has been somewhat problematic so far, with 1.8 homers per nine in the early going, and an inordinate number of line drives have been struck and are landing for hits against him. His H/9 of 13.1 is almost twice his career hit rate, but unless there is something physically wrong with him, that should drop back down somewhat as he logs more innings.
Year P/PA FB% LINERD% GB% IF/F% HR/F% BABIP eBABIP Diff. 2004 4.2 50.2% 20.8% 29.0% 8.1% 7.2% .286 .328 +.042 2005 4.0 48.8% 15.7% 35.5% 17.0% 8.5% .236 .277 +.031 2006 3.9 51.7% 12.9% 35.3% 10.6% 12.5% .250 .249 -.001 2007 4.1 41.5% 24.5% 34.0% 9.1% 13.6% .386 .365 -.021
Cordero is what you would call an extreme flyball pitcher; his career GB/FB rate is 0.69, which is not usual for a closer these days-Keith Foulke was at 0.64 from 2002-2006, and he was a rarity at closer as well. Cordero's flyballs have topped 50 percent of his batted balls twice, and just missing a third time in his three full seasons. His success in 2004 was simple to explain: he gave up a lot of liners, but his defense kept many of the hits that should have fallen in from doing so. Thanks to a somewhat regular HR/9, there were not any real problems with his high flyball rates; batters were hitting the ball deep, but they were not clearing the fences too often, as his 7.2 percent home run-per-flyball rate attests.
His line drives allowed dropped in 2005, while he was also inducing more popups, which helped lead to his excellent performance despite the increase in his home runs allowed. In 2006, there was a further drop in his line-drive rate, to a low point that is not really sustainable-among qualified pitchers, Derek Lowe was the lowest at around 16 percent in 2006-and there was that dangerous increase in his home runs per flyball. To put that figure into context, that's around where Carl Crawford and Mike Cameron were in 2006 on the offensive side of things. So far, 2007 has been no better for Cordero, as the line drives are coming often and falling in even more than they should, while his home run rate has increased again. His declining number of popups from 2005 to 2006 will be a problem for Cordero if he goes back to allowing as many liners as he used to, especially given his ever-increasing tendency to let hitters knock one into the bleachers.
Now, Cordero is only 24 years old, and still has plenty of time to fix his mistakes. This has been an ongoing problem for a few years now though, and hitters have more than picked up on it at this stage of the game. If Cordero can figure out a way to pitch to right-handers that doesn't involve Russian Roulette with a fastball, then he can continue on his merry way to a successful career as a closer. However, if he does follow through with what he has been up to as of late, the Nats will have lost one of their few bright spots.