Going into 2017, there were a lot of significant question marks about the Padres’ Opening Day outfield. The team had high hopes for Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, but it was unclear how both would adjust to everyday big league playing time.
With the injury to Alex Dickerson, Travis Jankowski was given free reign on the left field job. However, early season injuries to both Jankowski and Margot thrust young outfielder Franchy Cordero into the big league fold.
Despite his initial success, which garnered lots of attention from Padres fans, Cordero had a disappointing end to his big league debut. However, a strong finish to his Triple-A season thrusts Cordero right back into the Padres’ outfield conversation for 2018 and beyond.
At the top of the list of things Franchy Cordero does well, speed is probably chief among them. According to Statcast’s new sprint speed metric, which is hosted on Baseball Savant, Cordero was the eighth-fastest player in baseball, with a sprint speed of 29.5 feet per second. On top of that, Cordero was also the fourth-fastest center fielder, behind only Byron Buxton, Billy Hamilton, and Bradley Zimmer. That’s rather elite company for Cordero to keep. Cordero also rated out very well by Fangraphs baserunning metrics, as Cordero was worth 1.4 by BsR with a 6.6 Spd score. In all facets of the game that involved running, Cordero was one of the best runners in all of baseball.
Playing off his last strength, Cordero was also an elite defender in center field during his time in the major leagues in 2017. Going back to Baseball Savant, this time using Statcast’s catch probability metric, Cordero rates out very well, as he made all the catches rated from one-star difficulty to four-start difficulty, while failing to make his two five-star catch opportunities. In addition, Cordero was second-best in baseball by Statcast’s outs above average metric with an eight percent catch percentage added, meaning he caught eight percent more balls than he was expected to catch based on the degree of difficulty. It’s obviously a small sample size, but Cordero demonstrated more than enough success to show he could be an elite defender in center field going forward.
Strong Contact/Power Potential
When comparing speed and defense, it’s easy to see the similarities between Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski, as both are near elite baserunners and defenders. However, the glaring difference between the two lies in Cordero’s contact profile and power potential. Jankowski lacks any power at all, as evidenced by his four home runs in 500 at-bats dating back to the beginning of 2015. By contrast, Cordero hit three home runs in just 92 big league at-bats with three doubles and three triples on top of that. Cordero will never be a serious power threat, but there is definite potential for him to be a 20 home run hitter if he plays a full season.
Even more importantly, Cordero makes a lot of solid contact when he isn’t striking out. Among players with at least 40 batted ball events, Cordero ranked 54th in all of baseball with 7.1 barrels/PA, meaning he barreled a ball around every seven plate appearances. Cordero fared even better with barrels/BBE with a barrel every 14.3 batted ball events, good for 18th best in baseball. Cordero also ranked 40th in baseball with an 89.9 mph average exit velocity on batted balls. Finally, Cordero made medium or hard contact on nearly 90 percent of all batted balls, making soft contact only 12.2 percent of the time. Cordero may be known more for his speed/defense combination, but it’s clear he is no slouch when it comes to making hard contact.
While Franchy Cordero showed flashes of being a five-tool caliber player throughout his major league stint, it was readily apparent that Cordero had serious issues with knowledge of the strike zone. Although Cordero was an offensive threat when he received pitches in the zone, pitchers had an easy time getting him out with pitches down and out of the zone.
What made it even worse for Cordero was the preponderance of breaking pitches that he saw in that part of the zone. After beginning the season seeing a lot of hard pitches in the zone, which he had great success with, pitchers shifted their approach against Cordero as the season wore on.
By July, Cordero had started to see a majority of breaking balls every time he stepped to the plate. Predictably, his whiff percentage rose as he saw more and more breaking balls.
To bring everything full circle to my first point, here’s Cordero’s whiff rate for every part of the strike zone. As you can see, Cordero had the most trouble with pitches low and outside the zone. Many of those pitches were breaking balls.
Although this point has already been kind of demonstrated with the discussion on Cordero’s struggles with offspeed pitches, his strike problems deserve attention on their own. It can’t be understated just how bad Cordero was when it came to strikeouts. In 99 big league plate appearances in 2017, Cordero struck out a whopping 44 times, “good” for a strikeout rate just north of 44 percent. Among players with at least that many plate appearances, only two other players sported a strikeout rate above 40 percent. Sure, strikeouts were up all around the league, but a strikeout rate over 40 percent just isn’t going to cut it. Cordero did do a lot of good things on offense, but his monumental strikeout problem cratered a lot of his offensive value.
Despite the glaring weaknesses in his offensive approach, the outlook does still look promising for the Padres’ young outfielder. Following his demotion back to Triple-A at the end of July, Cordero slashed .342/.382/.665 with a 165 wRC+ and .323 ISO over his last 166 plate appearances. On top of his further offensive success, Cordero continued to demonstrate both his baserunning value as well as his gold glove-caliber play in the outfield. However, the strikeouts were still an apparent problem, as Cordero put up a strikeout rate just above 30 percent during that time.
Going forward, Cordero’s strikeout rate is going to determine whether or not he is a viable major leaguer or not. Given his improved second half in Triple-A, Cordero should get every chance to start the season in the big leagues with the Padres in 2018. With Manuel Margot locked in as the center fielder, Cordero will likely have to fight for a corner position or a backup role. However, if he can cut his strikeout rate down and continue his offensive success, he could earn himself more consistent playing time. At the worst, Cordero at least looks like a better version of Travis Jankowski moving forward.