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My Pick For Nationals MVP For 2005: Chad Cordero

[October 5th] --Trying to pick a Most Valuable Player for the 2005 Washington Nationals was a little like trying to find the best family-friendly program on MTV; there just wasn't much to choose from. Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen would have been considered if they had been healthy the entire year. Vinny Castilla sure looked like the team's MVP through mid June, but age, or injuries, or perhaps both took their toll on the 38 year old. Livan Hernandez would have been the MVP were it not for his very, very ordinary last two months of the season. That leaves only one other "impact" player left in contention.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2005 Washington Nationals MVP, CHAD CORDERO!

Cordero had a wonderful season. He went 2-4 [why is it that the great closers always seem to have a losing record?] with a sparkling 1.81 ERA, in spite of his being very average for much of September. Going into the final month of the season, his ERA was an amazing 0.89. In 74 innings, he struck out 61 while walking only 7. He saved 47 out of 54 opportunities.

Make no mistake, Cordero is not a Billy Wagner clone. He doesn't blow pitches past you at 98+ miles-per-hour. On a good day, and with a strong tailwind, he can reach 92 mph. What makes him even more unusual for a top-notch closer is that he doesn't have any other pitches. No great curve or change. No slider to speak of. Just that barely adequate fastball. So why does he do so well?

He has something in common with Neiman-Marcus, Macey's and Wal-Mart: location - location - location. Cordero puts the ball exactly where he wants it. A 92 mph fastball in the heart of the plate will travel for a long, long time. However, a 92 mph fastball that paints the black is popped up or bounced to first.

Cordero is a steely-eyed, cool as a cucumber cowboy. During a May sweep into California, Cordero took the mound against the Angels in the bottom of the 9th with his team leading by a score of 1-0. Cordero allowed the first three batters to reach base. Bases loaded and no one out with the heart of the lineup coming up.

No sweat.

Cordero struck out the first batter, popped up the second and struck out the third to earn the save and cement in my mind once and for all that the Nationals had a stud in the bullpen. Sure, he tired in September, but that was quite understandable. He's never been asked to throw so many innings, and under such pressure-packed conditions, in his young career.

Cordero improved his location in 2005. Last year, in 82 innings, he struck out 83 while walking 43. This year, he struck out 61 and walked 17 in about as many innings. A reliever with pinpoint control is going to succeed year in and year out.

Congratulations to Chad Cordero. Without his efforts out of the bullpen, the Nationals would never have come close to a .500 record during their first year in Washington. With him in the bullpen, the Nats have one very large and important piece of a championship puzzle in hand, just waiting for the new owner to sign those missing pieces.

Closers often have losing records because of the manner in which they're used: to protect small leads. Thus, because they rarely enter games in which their teams are tied or trailing, their opportunities for victories are more limited than their opportunities for defeats.
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