Welcome to our 2021 Boston Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2021. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player, describing the season in a sentence, looking at the positives from the year as well as negatives, looking back at our one big question from our season preview and looking ahead to the 2022 season. Today we look at Franchy Cordero’s 2021 campaign.
2021 in one sentence
Franchy Cordero was only part of the Andrew Benintendi return, but fairly or unfairly he was the face of that return package and was extremely underwhelming in that role.
So, uh, this is awkward. Looking at the major-league performance from Cordero in 2021, you really have to stretch to find some positives, though I think it’s fair to point out the success he did have down in Triple-A. Surely that wasn’t the goal for him this year, to light it up in Worcester, but it is where he spent most of his time and there he was very good. Getting 335 plate appearances down in Triple-A, the outfielder hit .300/.398/.533 for a 149 wRC+. With the caveat that park effect numbers typically aren’t as defined in the minors as they are in the majors, Cordero’s wRC+ (a park-adjusted stat encompassing all aspects of hitting) was higher than all but seven of the 173 players who received at least 300 plate appearances at Triple-A.
Again, this was not what he was coming into the season looking for his positive to be, but it was a fairly significant amount of time of good hitting. Facing lesser pitching than he did in the majors, he had an easier time laying off bad pitches, walking over 12 percent of the time while still being able to hit the ball hard on a consistent basis and finish with a .233 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) and was on a 23-homer pace prorated over a full season of plate appearances. If you’re looking at positives in what was a dreadful year at the major-league level, you have to look to the minors.
You can also point to a couple more minor and abstract things as well, starting with the fact that Cordero learned a new position. We’ll talk about his future more at the bottom, but the main bullet point is that he is no longer someone who we can talk about as more than a depth player until he proves otherwise. And in this day and age with growing bullpens and shrinking benches, added versatility is paramount for those on roster fringes. Cordero is still mostly a corner outfielder, but he got some time at first base this year and can put that on his résumé. So that’s nice.
Probably the more notable positive would be that he stayed healthy. Health without performance isn’t much looking at a team-wide level, but that was one of the biggest questions around Cordero coming into the year. One of the reasons so many of us allowed ourselves to dream on him before the season was that he never really got a full season to prove himself in the majors, and that largely came down to health. This year, between Triple-A and the majors, he combined for 471 plate appearances, his most in a season since 2017.
The positives required some stretching to find, but the negatives are right there and apparent. Cordero made his way onto the Opening Day roster as part of the outfield mix to start the season, but it was clear pretty much right off the bat that he was overmatched. He ended up only getting 136 plate appearances at the highest level, most of that coming in the early parts of the season, and he was one of the worst hitters in baseball. Finishing his time in the bigs this year hitting .189/.237/.260 for a 32 wRC+. Above we mentioned that only seven Triple-A hitters were better than Cordero, but in the majors only seven were worse by wRC+ among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.
As you can likely imagine giving how bad things were here, you can basically pick an area of hitting and go into detail as a negative. But for me, if you’re not wanting to spend all day talking about it the obvious place to start is with the strikeouts. This was the big concern for Cordero coming into the year and the biggest reason I was skeptical about his true talent, and the swing and miss was a major issue here. The now-27-year-old struck out over 37 percent of the time, and to make matters worse he combined that sky-high strikeout rate with a walk rate under six percent.
Clearly, those rates indicate just a lack of process at the plate and an approach that badly needs some refinement. Looking at FanGraphs’ plate discipline numbers, and again comparing him to the group of hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Cordero’s swinging strike rate was the 10th worst in all of baseball. Much of that was due to an ability to make contact with pitches out of the zone (his O-Contact rate was the 16th lowest in baseball), an issue that is exacerbated when your swing rate on pitches out of the zone is in the top 16th percentile in baseball.
But strikeouts were always going to be part of the package for Cordero, with the question instead being just how high the rate would be. In today’s era of baseball, you can live with strikeouts as long as you’re getting power, but the outfielder came up short here as well. He finished with just one homer, seven extra-base hits in total, and an .071 ISO that was the 20th-lowest among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. A lack of contact certainly hurt, but even when he did make contact his hard-hit rate of 26 percent six percentage points lower than league-average, and his 28 percent fly ball rate was eight percentage points lower than league-average. Cordero struggled against basically any kind of pitch, but breaking balls in particular proved to be an issue with an average exit velocity below 80 mph and a whiff rate over 40 percent.
The Big Question
It sure looks like the answer to this one is a resounding no! A lot of the linked post above comes down to the ability to stay on the field and whether or not he could hit left-handed pitching, but it really wasn’t that complicated. He just didn’t have the kind of refined approach that you need to play every day at the highest level. At this point, the much fairer question is whether or not he’s a major-league player at all, not an everyday player.
2022 and Beyond
While the Red Sox were still playing in the postseason they removed Cordero from the 40-man roster and exposed him to waivers. He ended up clearing waivers and accepting a minor-league deal with Boston, so he should be in the depth picture for next season. That said, he won’t be in the same way he was this season when he entered camp with an inside track to an Opening Day roster spot. He’ll be in Worcester and will have chances to get himself back into the MLB roster conversation, but it won’t be out of camp and he’ll have to earn any bit of progress he makes on that front. Entering his age-27 season, he can no longer lean on the potential. Cordero needs to perform, or he won’t get another chance.