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Red Sox "Wooing" Francisco Cordero

Francisco Cordero of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the ninth inning during a game at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Francisco Cordero of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the ninth inning during a game at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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According to Yahoo! Sports' Mark J. Miller, four teams are in the process of "wooing" former Reds' closer Francisco Cordero, one of which is the Boston Red Sox.

Cordero appeared in 63 games for the Reds last season, and owns a 2.84 ERA over his last 209 innings (spanning 2009 through 2011). While he used to be a strikeout pitcher, that has changed the last few years: after posting a career-high 12.2 per nine in 2007, his K/9 the last four years has dropped to 10, 7.8, 7.3, and last season's 5.4 per nine.

This last drop in punch outs also came with a dip in his walk rate, though, and he has never been one to give up many homers. His career 0.6 home run per nine rate is even more impressive when you consider he has spent all but one season of his 13-year career in extreme homer-happy stadiums (six-plus years in Texas, a year and change in Milwaukee, and the last four years in Cincinnati).

We don't know if the drop in walk rate is sustainable just yet, but it's a 70 inning sample: we don't know if the drop in strikeout rate is permanent, either. His groundball rate has increased as his strikeouts have decreased (from 40 percent in 2008 to 50 percent in 2011), if you're wondering how it's possible he is continuing to succeed even without swing-and-miss pitches. It's good to have that insurance when you don't know if the strikeouts are coming back.

He isn't without his question marks, and FIP suggests there is a disconnect between his recent performances and reality, but there is a lot to like here. Namely, the same thing there is to like about most of the remaining closer market: there are more relievers left than jobs available, and the Red Sox are likely to get someone capable without spending too much so long as they keep their options open.

Cordero likely wouldn't be as productive as Mark Melancon if he were to switch to the AL East, but he doesn't need to be if he is going to close. Setup men have it tougher than closers, given they have to enter the game far more often with runners on, rather than during a fresh top of the ninth with no one on and a lead in place. Someone like Cordero, who is good enough to hold a lead but not outright dominating, is the perfect fit for the closer role if the team has quality setup men in place to act as a bridge.

Brian MacPherson covered this the other day at the Providence Journal, discussing run expectancy and how it relates to what jobs are tougher for relievers. You should read the whole thing, but here's the money quote for our purposes:

Bard, by this measure, was a significantly more impactful pitcher for the Red Sox last season than Papelbon was, even though Papelbon was the closer. Bard saved 0.22 runs per inning, more than Aceves (0.20 runs per inning) or Papelbon (0.15 runs per inning.)

Bard entered with runners on more often than Papelbon, as 19 of his 70 2011 appearances came with runners on, compared to just five for the closer. In 2010, when the bullpen was thinner, Bard entered 24 of his 73 appearances with runners already on. One-third of his appearances involved cleaning up someone else's mess, and that's no easy task, especially if that mess is already in scoring position.

Cordero would allow the Red Sox to have someone with that "established closer" background in the role, but also allow Melancon, potentially the better arm at this stage in their careers, to pitch the more important innings. Think of it as a best of both worlds situation, where a Qualified Closer sits in the role, but the tougher innings go to the relief ace you would rather see out there. And, if Daniel Bard as a starter doesn't work out, then he either gets to setup along with Melancon in 2012, or take those innings as the team's closer, putting Cordero and his groundball stuff into a setup role.

Either way, the way the chaining of relievers works would help the Red Sox. Assuming Alfredo Aceves sticks in the pen (and Bard starts), signing Cordero would give Boston a group that included Cordero at the top, Melancon and Aceves in setup, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, and Felix Doubront available for middle relief duty. Even without a Papelbon in place, that's a deep pen that can miss bats and induce groundballs, and from both sides of the mound. If Bard doesn't make it as a starter, then the pen is even stronger.

It's going to take time to sort out the rest of the roster, but, assuming the price makes sense for both parties, Cordero is a move that would work for a team with this many pitching slots still in flux.