What exactly the Toronto Blue Jays are getting in recent free agent signing Francisco Cordero isn’t abundantly clear. On the surface, the prospect of a 36 year old right handed reliever moving from the NL Central to the AL East isn’t likely to turn on very many heart lights. However, certain numbers from last season might lead some to view Cordero as a very valuable addition, even at this latter stage in his career.

Those who feel as though signing Cordero to a one year contract worth $4.5 million was a good idea are quick to point out the former Cincinnati Reds’ closer’s ERA, WHIP and number of saves last season. Those with a little more statistical savvy are rather dismissive of such points, instead revealing an eagerness to explain the massive difference between the reliever’s ERA and FIP, by bringing up Cordero’s career low BABIP and career high strand rate from last season.

The one thing that neither side can dispute is that Toronto’s new set up man was able to induce a whole lot of ground balls this past season. His 50% ground ball rate last year is a massive increase over his previous career high of 43.5%. But far more important that the increase in ground balls was the increase in ground balls that became outs, and most notably those occurring on balls hit up the middle.

Mark Simon of ESPN, explains:

Our advanced hit location data shows Cordero’s batting average made the biggest drop on ground balls hit between 15 degrees to the right and 15 degrees to the left of second base (in other words, the middle of the field).

Simon also includes a miniature chart in the article which reveals the following information:

Francisco Cordero On Ground Balls “Up The Middle”

Result 2010 2011
Hits 12 6
Outs 13 32
Outs fielded by SS 4 21

The question now becomes one of whether the Cincinnati Reds optimally positioned their infielders while Cordero was pitching or are these results evidence of nothing more than the type of random variation that loves to fool baseball fans.

Comparing Cordero’s .214 BABIP from last season with his .307 career average prior to 2011, leads me to believe his low ERA last season had more to do with elements outside of his control than anything he’s doing differently.

However, if there is something to Cordero’s odd numbers from last season, I fully expect Blue Jays infield defense coach Brian Butterfield to be able to exploit it. As Getting Blanked’s newest contributor Craig Robinson once documented, Butterfield is to infield defence as Tony La Russa is to bullpen management.