Francisco Cordero, Deadline Steal

On Sunday night, Francisco Cordero coughed up just the second run he has allowed since switching leagues in the Carlos Lee trade on July 28. Cordero was virtually ignored by the deadline rumor mill, but of all the players who changed uniforms, he may be the one who has provided the most value to his new team.

Indeed, Cordero’s seven Win Shares since the trade are more than any other pitcher who moved in late July and are second only to Bobby Abreu’s 10 among all players. Perhaps more important to Doug Melvin, they exceed the six that Carlos Lee has contributed to the Rangers.

Compare Cordero to the real-life replacement in the Brewers bullpen and his contribution becomes even more substantial: Derrick Turnbow had pitched his way out of the closer job, and no one stepped up to claim it. (Never before has so much Brewers fanboy suffering been stuffed into a single dispassionate sentence.)

Even more striking is Coco’s performance measured by WXRL. According to that measure of reliever value, Cordero has been worth almost three wins (2.866) since the deal, good for 26th in the major leagues. That’s not 26th since the deal: only 25 pitchers have more than 2.866 for the whole season. Extrapolate that out to 60 outings, and Cordero would be worth nearly seven wins. The current leader is Frankie Rodriguez, with 6.75. Given that Cordero has very possibly been the best relief pitcher in baseball for the last two months, it’s easy to forget why a contending team would deal him at the deadline—at any price. Coco’s April was so dreadful—five blown saves, ERA over 11.00—that he lost his job as closer to Akinori Otsuka despite turning the corner almost immediately.

One may question Buck Showalter for making a decision based on fewer than 50 at-bats, but it’s tough to fault the skipper for taking the pressure off of a guy with a double-digt ERA. If anything, Showalter should be blamed for not handing the job back to Coco a few weeks later. A look at Cordero’s numbers for this year, and over the course of his career, show just how dramatic a blip his disastrous month really was:

Timeframe AB      HR      BB      K       AVG     OBP     SLG
2002-05   993     12      113     289     0.226   0.308   0.308
Apr. 06   48      2       4       11      0.333   0.400   0.562
May-trade 137     3       12      43      0.241   0.299   0.336
post-trade83      0       15      27      0.169   0.296   0.229

It’s like he went from facing lineups full of Jason Giambis in April to lineups full of Adam Everetts in May and June. After the trade, his performance becomes difficult to characterize in terms of major leaguers: his NL opponents have hit like Matt Bush with a few extra walks.

Cordero’s 2002-2005 line indicates just what a valuable property the Brewers acquired. It’s one thing to ride the high of a lights-out closer—Milwaukee fans have done that for stretches with Derrick Turnbow and Dan Kolb, and we’d appreciate it if you stopped laughing already—but yet another to legitimately expect that level of performance the next year. It’s unreasonable to think that Coco will keep his ERA under 1.00 and not blow a save in 2007, but a return to his ’04-’05 All-Star form is certainly in the cards.

In fact, the Brewers hold a $5 million club option on one of the best relief pitchers of the last five years. Cordero may not be a top-tier guy—walking a man every other inning sees to that—but he’s awfully close. The going rate for first-rank closers is into eight figures per year, but Coco’s numbers suggest that Milwaukee will get an eight-figure performance for their mid-seven-figure outlay. Here are Cordero’s totals from 2002 to the present, compared to those of his best-known colleagues:

Last, First         AB      HR      BB      K       AVG     OBP     SLG
Benitez, Armando    1005    31      124     270     0.204   0.291   0.337
Cordero, Francisco  1261    17      144     370     0.228   0.310   0.316
Hoffman, Trevor     892     15      51      234     0.217   0.261   0.328
Isringhausen, Jason 1084    21      123     281     0.205   0.288   0.307
Lidge, Brad         1194    29      139     468     0.213   0.304   0.340
Nathan, Joe         1018    18      91      357     0.178   0.247   0.271
Rivera, Mariano     1266    14      70      302     0.212   0.264   0.276
Rodriguez, Francisco1104    27      128     414     0.182   0.269   0.296
Ryan, B.J.          1213    19      141     422     0.208   0.294   0.289
Wagner, Billy       1268    32      92      428     0.184   0.246   0.286

As expected, Cordero allows more walks than anyone on this list, pushing his OBP to the top as well. He makes up for it in other categories, though: only Mariano Rivera is stingier with the long ball (Cordero managed that in Arlington!) and Coco’s strikeout rate puts him right in the middle of this group.

Cordero will never be a Hall-of-Fame closer, if only because he has peaked so late. He didn’t record his first save until midway through his age-27 season, and his walk rates suggest that when he starts to lose velocity, his performance will go downhill, fast. But, of course, the Brewers don’t need a legend, they just need a dependable ninth-inning guy for another 170 games. More than nearly every other general manager in baseball, Doug Melvin can check that item off of his list with confidence.

References & Resources
As is so often the case, David Pinto’s Day by Day Database was irreplaceable, especially for generating Cordero’s splits for the 2006 season. I also used it to quickly calculate the 2002-present numbers for other closers. Baseball Prospectus’ stat report for WXRL came in handy, as did the Yahoo! Sports game log for Cordero. All stats are through games of Sunday, September 24.

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