Without a doubt, Franchy Cordero is a key player to the Royals’ chances in the AL Central in 2021. Projected to be Kansas City’s starting left fielder in 2021 (barring another move from GM Dayton Moore), Cordero was acquired in the Tim Hill trade last Summer (along with Ronald Bolanos), and is a tantalizing combination of strength and speed. Cordero showed potential with the Padres as he put up a slash of .240/.306/.431 with an OPS of .737 in 79 games and 273 plate appearances from 2017-2019. However, injuries and a crowded outfield situation in San Diego eventually led to limited opportunities, and an eventual trade to Kansas City last Summer.
2020 proved to be a typical season for Cordero: lots of time missed due to injury, but some flashes of potential in a limited sample. Cordero spent most of the season on the 60-day IL due to a wrist injury, but in 16 games and 42 plate appearances, Cordero posted a .211/.286/.447 slash with an OPS of .733 to go along with two home runs and seven RBI. And thus, with Alex Gordon retiring, and the left field position open, it seems like Cordero will have first dibs on the position this Spring, though he will certainly have his share of competitors for Gordo’s former spot (Edward Olivares, Khalil Lee, and even Ryan McBroom could all be making cases this Spring Training).
This Winter, Cordero has primarily been playing in the Dominican Winter League (LIDOM) with Leones del Escogido and his campaign thus far has been a mixed bag of sorts. As of Monday, through 18 games and 76 plate appearances with Escogido, Cordero is only posting a slash of .227/.316/.348 with a .664 OPS. Furthermore, he has also struck out 21 times in Winter League play. That being said, he has walked nine times, which has produced a decent BB/K ratio of 0.43. Additionally, he has also continued to hit the ball with power, as evidenced by his two home runs and two doubles, which included this game-tying one below:
And thus, what should Royals fans expect from Cordero in 2021? Let’s take a look at three key metrics that Royals fans should pay attention to from Cordero next year, and why they could be key indicators or a breakout or even a regression next season.
92.5 MPH career Exit Velocity
If there is one thing Cordero does well, it is hit the ball hard. Last year, according to Royals Statcast data, only Jorge Soler had a higher exit velocity on batted balls (92.5) than Cordero (91.2). What’s interesting about Cordero’s exit velocity metrics is that his EV last year was actually lower than his career average, which is 92.5. His best season EV wise came in 2018. In 40 games and 154 plate appearances with the Padres that year, he had an EV of 94.1 on batted balls, which would be the third highest average EV in the league in 2018, if he qualified at-bats wise.
What makes this metric so important is that Cordero has not only demonstrated that he can hit the ball hard over his career, but that he can hit a variety of pitches in different zones effectively as well. In this chart below, it is obvious that Cordero is skilled at barreling balls all over the strike zone, as the red zone areas signalize a high EV on balls Cordero connected with over the course of his MLB career.
And let’s take a look at the EV zone chart on batted balls Cordero hit in 2020 with the Royals, just to see how it compares to his career rates:
As stated before, only Soler posted a higher EV rate on batted balls than Cordero in 2020, which says something considering Soler’s value to this Royals lineup the past three years. Considering their free-swinging approaches, plus power tools, and history of injury, it is common for Royals fans to compare Cordero to Soler on a frequent basis. However, take a look at Soler’s EV zone chart from 2017, which was his first season in Kansas City:
Both have some similarities and key differences: Soler hits balls pitched down the middle harder, but Cordero was much better squaring up on pitches up and away and up and in the middle. And thus, considering how Soler developed after 2017 in Kansas City (i.e. setting the Royals home run record two years later), these comparable charts should make Royals fans feel more optimistic about Cordero’s outlook in 2021.
If Cordero wishes to be a key run producer at the bottom of the lineup for the Royals, he will need to continue barreling balls (career 12.4 barrel rate; 11.8 barrel rate in 2020) and produce an EV that is around his career mark.
35.8 percent career Whiff Rate (and 34.9 career Strikeout Rate)
One of the big knocks on Cordero as a prospect has been his high strikeout, low walk approach, both in the Major and Minor League level within the Padres System. Even during a breakout 2017 campaign in Triple-A in El Paso where he posted an OPS of .972 and hit 21 double, 18 triples, and 17 home runs in 93 games and 419 plate appearances, he also struck out 28.2 percent of the time and put up a paltry of BB/K ratio 0.19. These metrics were further amplified by a swinging strike rate of 18.5 percent in that 2017 Triple-A sample, according to Fangraphs plate discipline metrics.
In the Majors, those whiff rate issues have continued to plague Cordero, as he has a career 35.8 whiff rate, and posted rates of 42.6 percent, 35.5 percent, and 37.8 percent in his first three MLB campaigns with the Padres. However, things changed when he made the move to Kansas City. His whiff rate dropped to only 20.2 percent, 17.6 points lower than 2019, and 15.6 percent lower than his career average. This lower whiff rate also influenced his other metrics, as he posted a strikeout rate of 9.5 percent and a BB/K ratio of 1.00, which would both be career bests for Cordero at the MLB level by considerable margins, according to Fangraphs.
While the following charts below measure strikeout rate, not whiff rate specifically, the same principles apply from 2020 in comparison to his career as a Padre from 2017-2019. Take a look below at his Zone K rates from 2017-2019 in San Diego:
Now, let’s take a look at K rate from his Royals tenure in 2020:
Hence, that difference in the K zones is pretty remarkable, but could give some context to Royals fans next season, should Cordero struggle early in 2021. As Royals fans can see, he struggled mightily in the upper part of the zone with the Padres, as he posted K rates of 66.7, 41.2, and 66.7 in the upper third of the strike zone from left to right. However, he minimized those K rates in those zones in 2020 (zero in upper-middle and upper right; 33.3 percent upper left). While it is unlikely that he will maintain such low rates in those zones in 2021, it will be critical that he keeps his K and Whiff rates lower in those zones in comparison to his San Diego days.
Furthermore, to think that Cordero will strikeout in less than 10 percent of his at-bats again and only swing and miss around 20 percent is overly wishful thinking. After all, last year was only a 16-game sample, which is not even three weeks of play. However, Cordero has showed some progression in terms of minimizing the whiffs since his rookie debut in 2017, for in 2018, his biggest sample thus far, he went down 7.1 percentage points in Whiff Rate. And thus, if Cordero can post a similar difference (i.e. 7-8 percentage points lower) in 2021 from his career whiff rate, then it could seep into keeping other metrics such as strikeout rate and BB/K ratio relatively stable as well next season, which could be good news for him and the Royals lineup.
7 degree career average Launch Angle
Another area that has plagued Cordero since debuting in the Majors is that he hits the ball far too much on the ground for a hitter with his kind of power tool. Cordero has a career groundball rate of 49.7 and in his first year in Kansas City, he hit the ball on the ground 61.7 percent of the time, a result that Royals fans would expect from someone like Nicky Lopez or Nick Heath, not one like Cordero.
And thus, a key development for Cordero this off-season will be how he will improve his launch angle in 2021, so that he can hit more line drives and fly balls, which can be home runs or extra base hits with his power and Kauffman’s spacious outfield grounds.
Let’s take a visual look at Cordero’s batted balls by launch angle from 2020, as evidenced in this chart from Baseball Savant below:
As one can see, while Cordero did hit the ball hard in 2020, it mostly produced a lot of outs, as demonstrated by the multitude of gray dots, especially below the 0 degree line. Hence, it’s not surprising that he produced a negative 1.1 degree launch angle in 2020, which is sub-par for a hitter with his power tool and potential.
Now, let’s take a look at his 2018 radial chart, which was his longest stint in the Majors.
There is a lot more batted balls above that 0 degree line and a lot more hits too. However, it still could be better, as his 7.3 degree LA in 2018 was only 0.3 points above his career average.
And thus, LA is going to be the key to Cordero tapping into his potential power and run production potential in Kansas City. An interesting development from 2018 to 2020 that could lead to such a development is his change in stance from over the past three seasons. With the Padres in 2018, Cordero has a more upright approach, as evidenced by the video clip below:
However, with the Royals in 2020, his knees were a little more bent and his hands were a little lower (both not by much, but slightly). He also seems to put more weight on his back foot in his stance than his 2018 version as well. Let’s take a look from a hit he had last season with the Royals, which is pretty much the same result as the clip above (i.e. groundball single up the middle):
So far in Winter Ball clips of Cordero, it seems like he has gone back to his more upright stance from 2018, which has produced more power, but more strikeouts in LIDOM play. And thus, Cordero’s stance and swing could be an interesting development in Spring Training. Cordero needs to produce more line drives and fly balls to tap into his power tool more effectively, and how his launch angle develops in the new year will be key to the Royals’ production at the end of the lineup. Will Cordero tap into a stance that is more similar to 2018? Or will he try to launch the ball better out of his 2020, more crouched stance?
Final thoughts on Cordero
While the Soler comparisons are understandable and somewhat valid, as both showcase similar tools and injury history, a player I like to compare Cordero’s outlook to is Gregory Polanco of the Pirates. Polanco does not have Soler’s home run upside, but he does barrel the ball effectively (10.5 percent barrel rate the past three seasons), ranks in the upper percentiles when it comes to exit velocity (95th percentile last year), and strikes out a lot (37.4 percent strikeout rate a year ago). Furthermore, he has struggled with injury, much like Cordero, and is also a lefty hitting outfielder as well.
Polanco’s breakout season came in 2016 at age 24, his second full big league season. In 144 games and 587 plate appearances, he posted a .258/.323/.463 slash with a .786 OPS and 107 OPS+. Furthermore, he also accumulated 22 home runs, 86 RBI, and a 2.2 WAR in 2016 as well. If healthy, it’s easy to see Cordero post something similar either in 2021 or 2022, and the Royals would certainly welcome that kind of value and production, especially in the 7th spot.
Lastly, Polanco’s EV zone chart from that 2016 season isn’t all that far off from Cordero’s career one, though Polanco has less blue zones than Cordero:
Cordero offers a lot of potential to the Royals in the near future, and his metrics, especially EV and barrel rate, hint at a possible breakout in 2021. His health will be a huge factor, and how his whiff and strikeout rates stabilize over a full season sample will also be something to pay attention to, as those metrics could give a glimpse into Cordero’s long-term outlook. That being said, Cordero is the Royals’ best option in left field, as of now. His tools, potential, and even production in small samples, merit a longer look in the lineup next year.
And if he does stay healthy in 2021, it isn’t out of the question to think that he could not just produce in left field for the Royals for next season, but also be a long term option in the Royals outfield that Royals fans can get behind for years to come.