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Co-Co = Uh-Oh

A curious thing happened last night. My girlfriend Jen and I were sitting on the couch watching the Reds game, as we often do. Bronson had just finished cruising for about 7.2 innings after giving up a first-inning solo shot to Angel Pagan, and the Reds were comfortably ahead 3-1 heading into the bottom of the 9th. Evidently, however, "comfortable" is a relative term. No sooner had Fox Sports Ohio come back from commercial break to show Francisco Cordero loosening up on the mound, Jen let out a sound that could only be described as an anguished groan. If her utterance were anything approaching a word comprised of letters, it might be "AAHHHWWRRRUUGH!" It was frightening. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought we had a cave troll. And as indescribable, indiscernible, and downright disturbing as Jen's knee-jerk reaction was…I totally got it.

Let me step back for a second. I would be remiss if I didn't explain that Jen has done a fantastic job of turning herself into a Reds fan. When she and I met, I don't think she could have told me how many innings were in a baseball game. If the bases weren't so appropriately titled, I doubt she could have told me which one they run to first. However, over the past two years she has spent hours watching baseball with me, and has accumulated an impressive arsenal of baseball knowledge, especially when considering her humble beginnings. Balls, strikes, innings, and all other baseball basics, she has down to a T. The mathematics behind stats such as batting average and on-base percentage? Child's play. And even though she has been known to make the occasional faux pas (the other night she was lamenting how Harang was frustrating her with all his recent "ERA's"), I am confident that I could put her in a room full of baseball fans and be proud of the result. Furthermore, as heart-warming as it has been to witness her growing baseball acumen, I have been even more touched by her genuine affection for the Reds. She laughs uncontrollably at Johnny Gomes' plate gyrations, yearns for a chance at a meaningful friendship with Scott Rolen, and has recently cultivated a not-so-secret crush on Chris Heisey (doesn't hurt that they are both from Lancaster, PA.)

So, as the Reds entered the 9th inning, up by two runs with their closer taking the mound, I was forced to give her reaction a bit of thought. After all, she's paid her dues.

In most situations, a two run cushion handed over to a closer in the 9th with no one on base isn't cause for much concern. I mean, these are exactly the situations closers get paid so much to handle, right? However, I believe Jen's reaction is most likely the same reaction most Reds fans have when Co-co takes the hill these days. (I'd like to take this opportunity to admit that, though my head knows he is called "Co-co" because his name is FrancisCO COrdero, my heart still hopes it's because every time he peers in to get the sign, he looks a little like a gorilla hanging from a tree.) For, while it's true that Cordero is currently the National League leader in saves (24), he also isn't having his best year statistically (four blown saves, 3.83 ERA). I can actually see both sides to this issue. On one hand, closers really only have one job, and that is to allow one less run than it would take the other team to tie the game. If a closer is brought in with a one run lead, it is their job to protect that lead by not allowing a run. However, if a closer enters the game with a three run lead, their only requirement, really, is to get out of the inning without allowing three or more runs. The same logic would apply if, for some reason, a manager decided to bring in his closer with an eight run lead (Ryan Franklin, anyone?). Seven runs would still do the trick (Oops, Ryan). So, while Co-co has blown three more saves this year than he did through July 7th last year, he still leads the league in saves; that cant be a bad thing.

However, it seems like every time we turn around, Co-co is getting himself in a jam. For the life of me, before writing this post today I could not remember a time when Cordero went a full inning without dropping some degree of a deuce on us. I think most Reds fans would agree that Coco rarely makes an appearance without making it appear as if he might just shart the bed. This probably explains why, then, all of Reds nation gets that hot, prickly ball of "son of a B" in their chests every time Cordero enters a game.

And while we are all too familiar with that foreboding feeling Cordero gives us, Jen's reaction made me wonder if it was fair to expect so much out of poor Co-co. I mean, let's face it: no matter what team you root for, you expect your closer to hammer the door shut when he enters a game, right? And even when they do get the save, if they need 30 pitches to do it and allow a run or two in the process, you walk away feeling like you might throw up a little. I think it's safe to say that, as baseball fans, we expect our closers to earn their big salaries by being dominant all the time. No exceptions. The question, then, becomes: is that a reasonable expectation? I decided to investigate this concept, and in doing so, shed some light on the whole "closers making it interesting" idea.

In order to determine how Cordero ranks amongst the NL's elite closers when it comes to getting himself into jams, I created the Closer Trouble-ometer, comprised of two factors.

1) How often does he get into a little bit of trouble? (At least one hit or one walk)

2) How often does he get into a significant amount of trouble? (At least two runners allowed, via hits or walks or both)

Prior to today, if someone asked me what an acceptable percentage for my team's closer allowing a hit or a walk, I wouldn't have gone above 50%. No way. However, through yesterday, Cordero had allowed at least one hit/walk in 74% of his appearances this season. 74%!!! So much for being dominant.

Next, for fun I decided to compare Co-co's Trouble-ometer to that of the rest of the top closers in the league. After Cordero, the top pitchers in the NL in saves are Heath Bell (23), Matt Capps (23), Brian Wilson (22), and Francisco Rodriquez (20). All fantasy studs. As most Reds fans would, I expected them all to blow Co-co away in this particular exercise. I was wrong.

While, its true that Co-co has been getting knocked around more this season that last (through July 7th, 2009, Cordero had allowed a walk/hit in 67% of his appearances), his numbers didn't exactly pale in comparison to the rest of the crew. K-Rod and Capps both came in at 65%. Brian Wilson led the group at 58%. However, Heath Bell (he of the recent All-Star game promotion) turned in a whopping 81%! In essence, none of the top five closers in the national league came close to cracking the 50% expectation I would originally have set. Furthermore, Heath Bell is known as one of the more dominant closers in baseball, and his numbers were the worst. To round out the analysis, I ran the percentages on how often these guys allowed at least two hits/walks. Again, I was surprised. Bell, Capps, Wilson, and Rodriquez were all about the same (41%, 43%, 42%, 43%, respectively). Cordero? 38%.

So, what does this all mean? Well, it's simple. It means we should all stop worrying so much. Indeed, Co-co's been allowing more base runners than last year. Indeed, his ERA is measurably worse. However, the fact remains that he leads the league in saves, and has only blown four of a possible 28 save opportunities. (And to be fair, two of those blown saves still resulted in Reds wins, meaning he kept them in the game.) There will always be things to critique about a club. There will always be areas to improve. However, the 2010 Reds have proven time and time again they are strong in the areas that are important. They hit. They play defense. And they get enough pitching to win 49 games – good enough to lead the NL Central by three games. Undoubtedly, Co-co has been a huge part of that success, so that's good enough for me.

Good enough for Jen, though? He'll need to cut down on those ERA's.

Reed Domer-Shank 7-8-2010


  1. Nice conversation and it sounds like you have a top notch girl. I have a trouble sometimes keeping my cool with him on the hill but then all you have to do is think back at all of the top closers who just all of sudden blow up in your face and remember he isn't that. Think of the people who had to endure Gagne getting multiple chances or even this year Hoffman's meltdown, CoCo still doesn't seem anywhere near meltdown stage.

  2. Anonymous: Tried to respond to you the other day but for some reaosn it didnt take. Indeed, she is a top notch girl; she loves her baseball. As much as I would like to support Co-co, his collapse in Friday's game weakens my confidence in him. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the second half, as I wouldnt be surprised if this is his last season as a Red. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading.

  3. Nice post. I am most concerned with what co-co does with no outs or 1 out. Those are the hits and walks that really cause the trouble (of either variety). Additionally, it seems to me that he throws a lot of pitches due to these walks. With as many close games as the Reds play, he is very valuable as long as he is THE closer on our staff. His less-than-efficient pitch count could have 2 possible negative effects on the Reds. 1- As mentioned, a lot of close games means that we need him often. Some closers get the opportunity to pitch in some tune up games throughout the week because they are not needed as often. Hence, co-co's pitch count is not planned; Rather, his pitching schedule is dictated by our close games. 2- The more pitches co-co throws per outing give every batter that we may face later, that many more pitches to see. In baseball, a closer is a closer because he can be dominant for a short amount of time. Most of the time this is either because the pitcher does not have stamina or because their stuff is most effective only 1 time through the order because batters are able to become familiar with a pitcher's delivery, the balls' movement, the patter a pitcher works in, ect. The concern for co-co is that these batters are getting better acquainted with his pitching which may prove costly for the Reds the deeper into the season it becomes when batters are facing co-co for the x time. I apologize for the novel. Thoughts?

  4. I definitely share your concern regarding Co-co's pitch inefficiency. However, I guess I am not of the belief that it is a major problem because teams get more chances to see what he's got. Especially with a closer that has been around as long as he has (I believe he is 35), teams already pretty much know the "book" on him. The reason we have closers, as you say, is that they are our one guy who can respond to the pressure by being dominant for a short period of time. If someone is dominant, it shouldnt matter if the batter knows whats coming. I think the bigger issue with Co-co's walks allowed is that, as with any other pitcher, they turn into runs. If he is to have a successful second half, he must cut down on those walks. Thanks again for the comment!