In 2011, Francisco Cordero put together one of Major League Baseball's oddest seasons.
With 327 career saves, Cordero's 12th on the all-time list and second on the active list, behind only Mariano Rivera. Considering that Rivera's 42 and Cordero's 36, there would seem to be an excellent chance that Cordero will someday be No. 1 on the active list.
While Cordero's been a full-time closer since 2004 -- with the exception of three months in 2006 -- and racked up 37 saves in 2011, to this point there seems to be little interest among the few teams still looking for a ninth-inning guy.
Which does seem odd, considering those 37 saves. And for that matter, considering Cordero's 194 saves over the last five seasons; he's No. 1 on the list, just ahead of Rivera and Jose Valverde.
Considering how much general managers love Proven Closers, how can Cordero still be sitting by the phone in late December? Well, Marc Normandin's probably right; once Ryan Madson signs somewhere, the rest of the reliever dominoes might quickly fall.
Still, it seems fairly obvious that Cordero's stock has fallen, despite his 37 saves and 2.45 ERA last season.
As recently as 2008, Cordero pitched 70 innings and struck out 78 batters.
In 2011, Cordero pitched 70 innings and struck out 42 batters.
To Cordero's credit, he did compensate. While his strikeout rate dropped by 45 percent, his walk rate dropped by 40 percent. So his strikeout-to-walk ratio didn't really move much at all; it roughly 2-to-1 in 2008, and it was roughly 2-to-1 in 2011.
Still, it seems fairly obvious that teams prefer a closer who strikes out 10 and walks 5 per nine innings over one who strikes out six and walks three. With good reason, perhaps. But it's worth noting that Cordero still throws pretty hard.
Of course he used to throw really hard, averaging 95 or 96 on his fastballs. Last year he averaged 93. At the same time, Cordero began throwing a curveball with some frequency for the first time in a long time, and the pitch worked pretty well for. He's also still got a fine slider, which has always been his best pitch.
Essentially, Cordero's gone from a two-pitch guy just three years ago to a four-pitch guy now: fastball, slider, curveball, change-up. It's not at all apparent why he's done this, and it's not at all apparent that he's a better pitcher, or even as good a pitcher, for having done this. However, it seems he's done it by choice rather than necessity. And could presumably choose to return to his old ways, and get his strikeout rate higher if he wants.
Cordero's been making nearly $12 million per season over the last four seasons. He's not getting a contract like that again; hell, he never should have gotten a contract like that in the first place. Considering his Incredible Disappearing Strikeout Rate, he's going to have to take a huge pay cut if he wants to pitch in 2012.
My guess: He signs for one year and $6 million, and tries to reestablish himself as a power pitcher, probably beginning the season in a set-up role.