No Regular Johnny Cueto
by Eno Sarris //
On the heels of a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s tempting to get excited about Johnny Cueto.
But fantasy owners – and the baseball world in general – have been
excited about Cueto before. And, hey, it’s the Pirates.
his 10-strikeout, zero-walk debut in his rookie season, all sorts of
people prognosticated greatness for the effectively wild hurler. In
fact, Rob Neyer wrote about ‘signature significance’ –
the idea that one performance can be so great that it means something
for the career of the performer. While the article Neyer was quoting
mentioned Jason Bere and Luke Hudson, he did make the
excellent point that perhaps there was more significance when the
pitcher was as young as Cueto was (22). Cueto’s rookie ERA did not live up to the hype created by his first start, but he did put up a
8.17 K/9 that seemed to portend good times ahead.
Fast forward to this spring, and the optimism wasn’t nearly that strong. His Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools‘
B-Rank going into the season was only 183. That was largely due to his tepid sophomore season in 2009 which produced a much less
exciting strikeout rate of 6.93 per nine innings, as well as another ERA on the wrong
side of four. His home park hasn’t helped – Great American Ballpark
has averaged a 1.25 park factor for home runs
since 2007, meaning that the park augments home runs by 25%.
Nevertheless, Cueto gave up 1.26 home runs per nine innings last year, with a 1.36 rate for his career. He seems to have a bit of a homer problem, but if he was striking out a batter per inning we’d probably forgive him his trespasses.
So what gives? We’ve talked about post-hype sleepers before. Can Cueto recover all that promise that we once thought he had?
take a look at the pitching mix, one area we have identified as a part
of the game that young pitchers can mess with in order to improve the
effectiveness of their overall arsenal. In 2009, Cueto was almost a
two-pitch pitcher. He threw his fastball 60.9% of the time and his
slider 28.9% of the time. Strangely, it was his change-up, which he only
threw 9.3% of the time, that got the best whiff rate (14.1%).
2010, he’s thrown his two-seam or four-seam fastball 58.7% of the time,
his slider 31.9% of the time, and his change-up 9.3% of the time. The
mix is largely similar, but the extra use of the slider is worth
noting. While the slider got just slightly above-average strikeout
rates in 2009 (9.7%), the pitch is inching its way back towards elite
territory this year (12.2%). Guess the slider’s rate of whiffs in 2008: 15.8%. His fastball whiff rate is also into double digits after languishing at 5.8% last year. Cueto’s increased whiff rates have led to his strikeout rate inching forward to 7.07 K/9 this year. As you can see
from the screenshot above, this new K-rate puts him in the middle of the
top-10 pitchers’ pack in terms of strikeout and walk rates.
We return now to his
start against the Pirates. Of the 102 pitches in that game, Cueto threw 73 fastballs, 24
sliders and five change-ups. He got four whiffs on the slider for 17% and 14 whiffs on 73 fastballs for 19.2%. It
seems that his nice whiff rate was a big part of his good night.
The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools
just added a Trade Analyzer.
On the left you’ll see a trio of players that the trade machine
suggests might match up with Cueto as trade options. If you have the
chance to trade Mark Buehrle or Rick Porcello for Cueto, now would seem like the time to pull the trigger. The
slider is getting whiffs again, which seems to be a big part of his
original promise. If he can regain the slidepiece stuff that made us
all drool in 2008, he’ll be a boon to fantasy managers in 2010.
For more about trades that might net you Johnny Cueto, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.