When the Padres selected Allen Cordoba from the Cardinals in the Rule 5 Draft last year, they were taking a chance on a player who had spent his four years with the Cardinals in rookie ball, albeit hitting .362 last year. It appears that their gamble has paid off, so far, as Cordoba is hitting a surprising .280 in his first season in the majors, making it easy to justify keeping him on the roster. On the other hand, he is striking out 21.1% of the time, while walking only 4.5% of the time. So you have to wonder, will he be able to keep hitting at this level?
Approach at the Plate
If we compare Cordoba’s season to the league average, we can see that he comes out ahead in terms of batting average and strikeout rate but remains far below league average with that aforementioned walk rate; yet, we can dig much deeper than those surface numbers to see how advanced Cordoba’s approach is.
As we turn our attention to these Fangraphs’ plate discipline statistics, we see that he appears to either be somewhat more selective in the zone than the league as a whole or struggling to recognize pitches in the zone; although, he is not necessarily doing so to much effect if it is indeed the former. His overall swing rate is lower than the league’s as he is swinging at a lower rate of pitches in the zone while swinging at more pitches out of the zone. That may seem contradictory to the selectivity, but remember one sign of maturity in a hitter is that he does not swing at every pitch in the zone as he awaits balls in prime locations.
Also, even though his in-zone contact rate is lower than others, he appears to be making his mark by hitting pitches outside of the zone, where his contact percentage is ten points higher than the league’s. This could be an indication that either his approach is not sustainable (as his O-Contact regresses to the league average) or he is talented at hitting bad balls/balls just outside of the zone.
It would seem prudent to take a look at how the human element of the strike zone, the umpire, is affecting these numbers for Cordoba.
As we look at the numbers according to Pitch f/x, we can see that the umpire missed a significant number of pitches in the zone, obscuring Cordoba’s actual approach. Now, what we see is that Cordoba’s rate of contact inside the zone should be higher than the raw numbers show, suggesting he is showing more selectivity in the zone. This makes his approach seem at least a little more sustainable than we may have otherwise thought.
In order to put in perspective, let’s see how Cordoba’s approach compares to another young Padre, Manny Margot.
While their swing percentages are relatively the same, their contact rates are drastically different. Margot has a higher contact rate inside the zone and overall while Cordoba appears to be making better contact with bad pitches, partially due to his higher percentage of pitches outside of the zone. The fact that Margot has a higher contact rate than Cordoba, despite Cordoba hitting for a higher average, lends itself to the likelihood that Cordoba is either getting lucky so far or is producing more quality contact.
(In fact, Cordoba’s xBA sits at .246 and Margot’s at .232, so it actually appears to be a little of both.)
So, while we’ve seen that Cordoba is hitting above league average while being somewhat selective, we’ve also seen that he is making an inordinate amount of contact outside of the zone. As hitting balls out of the zone is generally difficult, it is easy to assume that Cordoba’s start in the majors is too much to keep up. Of course, it is possible that he is just a bad ball hitter and will continue to be so.
Only time will tell if he’s just getting lucky, or if he’s really as major-league ready as he has looked.