I’m fairly confident about a few things about Francisco Cordero:
1. He’s going to be a pretty good pitcher, at least this year.
2. He’s only going to pitch 70-85 innings.
3. He’s going to make a lot of money.
The unanswered question will be how much value Cordero will bring to the Reds in those 70-85 IP. Most of that depends on manager Dusty Baker. A manager’s style of using his bullpen ace makes a big difference.
At one extreme, some managers (most?) let their decisions be dictated by a statistic — the closer only enters the game save situations (assuming he’s rested), never before the 9th inning, and he never enters the game if it’s not a save situation. The other style, essentially extinct now that Jack McKeon is retired, is to use the team’s best reliever in the highest leverage situation, which isn’t always the 9th inning.
The difference is illustrated by an example: Reds are up by two at home in the 8th. Brewers have runners on second and third, one out, and Braun is up with Fielder on deck. The game is clearly on the line, but I’d bet that fewer than half of the managers in baseball bring in the guy who’s presumably their best reliever. Instead, they chance it with the setup guy, and if he succeeds, they bring in the closer to start the 9th with the bases clear, a 2-run lead, and the bottom of the order coming up. In my opinion, that’s a big waste of your resources. Jerry Narron and Pete Mackanin, to their credit, used David Weathers to get almost every big out last year in the 8th or later.
Back to the point: Will Dusty Baker put his newest, most valuable asset to the most efficient use, or will Francisco Cordero sit in the bullpen and watch lesser pitchers blow saves in the 8th?
I’m not entirely sure how best to answer this question. I looked at FanGraphs’ pLI, but I think the raw pLi numbers are always skewed by the mere fact that the closer pitches the 9th. So I looked to game logs at baseball-reference, to see how Baker’s closers were used. I’m not going to reprint all of the raw data, but looking at the usage patterns for Dempster, Borowski, and Hawkins in Chicago, and Robb Nen and Rod Beck in SF, and it’s evident that for the most part, Baker’s closers will enter the game with nobody on in the 9th, and get their three outs. Only around 10% of their appearances will come with runners on base, or will be for more than one inning.
In contrast, even though Dave Weathers was the Reds’ closer for the entire 2007 season, 27% of his outings last year began in the 8th inning; 24% of the time he entered with runners on base; and 26% of the time he pitched more than 1 inning. All of these numbers are at least twice as high as any closer Baker has ever managed. (Obviously, a good deal of this was due to desperation — Weathers was the only reliever who could get anyone out for most of the year).
Dusty is pretty typical in his usage patterns, which let guys pile up saves, but doesn’t maximize their value to the club. Francisco Cordero will help the team the most when he’s getting the biggest outs, not just the last three.
My “analysis” is admittedly very rudimentary, so please chime in with your thoughts on how Baker will use Cordero.