For the second consecutive week the Blue Jays signed a former closer with the intent of rebuilding their bullpen for 2011. The newest addition to the bullpen corps is Chad Cordero who was last seen throwing a whole nine and two-thirds innings out of the Mariners' bullpen last season. Previous to that he, more or less, completely missed all of 2008 and 2009 after an injury to his right shoulder. The deal is a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, making it about as low-risk a move as your going to find.
Cordero is best know for his three year run as the closer for the Washington Nationals. From 2005 to 2007 he made at least 68 appearances and worked no less than 73 innings each year while compiling 113 saves in 133 chances, an 85 percent success rate. If you throw in his 2004, in which he pitched 82 innings but had only 14 saves in 18 chances, he had a cumulative ERA of 2.83 in over 300 innings of work. His FIP in that time was a much less impressive 4.05.
Though Cordero was consistently healthy and effective in terms of his ERA and save percentage for those four years his peripheral numbers fluctuated greatly. None more so than his walk rate which went from bad(4.68 BB/9 IN in 2004) to outstanding(2.06 in '05, 2.70 in '06) to just average(3.48 in '07) in the span of four seasons. His strikeout rates fluctuated as well, peaking at 9.04 K/9 IN in 2004, but stayed above average each season. His homer rates were around average, with one glaring exception in 2006.
Cordero out pitched his FIP by almost a full run in each of his four full seasons which leaves a reasonable expectation he can repeat that in the future. He was able to do so in both 2005 and 2006 by suppressing line drives better than all but two NL relievers. Cordero kept his homer rates around average despite being a heavy flyball pitcher. That too looks to be repeatable skill, and not luck, from 2004 to 2007 his percentage of flyballs that turned into homers was just 9.1 percent, league average is generally around 12-14 percent.
All that is good and fine but the reality is that on Opening Day 2011 that run of performance will be almost four years into the past. Cordero will still be just 29 when the season opens however, making it very possible he can still be effective if healthy. He was healthy enough to throw 45 1/3 innings over 43 appearances between Triple-A and the show in 2010. His Triple-A numbers were impressive putting up a 2.66 FIP between the Mets and Mariners Triple-A teams and striking out 36 batters in 35 2/3 innings while walking only 9.
The arm injury is a concern and is the reason for Cordero's absence from the majors for the last three seasons. But on the bright side, Cordero wasn't a fireball pitcher who had success by throwing high 90s heat past opposing batters. His fastball averaged right around 89 MPH during his peak seasons and was paired almost exclusively with a 79-80 MPH slider and an occasional 83 MPH change-up.
Cordero has also never heavily relied on being a swing and miss pitcher, he had two seasons above and two seasons below average swinging strike percentages. That would partially explain his fluctuating strikeout rates as most pitchers who consistently strikeout more than a batter an inning also have high swing and miss rates. That implies his success had more to do with deception in his delivery and a batters inability to differentiate his fastball from his slider than anything else. This would be great for the Jays and Cordero since he'll be facing plenty of new faces in a new league.
The Jays would be delighted if Cordero could put together 50-60 innings of anything resembling his peak performance out of the Jays 'pen next season. If healthy, he'll almost certainly be given the opportunity. And unlike the recently acquired Octavio Dotel, all of 37 years young, the Jays might actually keep Cordero around for two or three seasons if he's able to pitch effectively and stay healthy. A harmless move for the Jays if it fails but with his history Cordero is one of the more interesting guys to pay attention to next season when summoned from the 'pen.