|Anything Goes: Pitching Risers and Fallers|
Written by Adam Adkins (Contact & Archive) on July 08, 2009
I've been tasked with finding a pitcher likely to regress in the second half and a pitcher likely to improve.Â With the help of some telling stats, let's dig in.
Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds: 3.45 ERA, 104.1 IP, 89 H, 14 HR, 79 K, 35 BB
Those numbers, those basic stats, do not look bad.Â The ERA isn't astounding (but it should be noted on Monday night, Cueto allowed 9 runs and only recorded 2 outs against the Philadelphia Phillies; before Monday, his ERA was below 3), but it's good.Â Nice hit rate.Â If a pitcher is allowing fewer hits than he has innings pitched, that's a good thing.Â The K to BB rate isn't marvelous, but it's at least 2 to 1.Â HR rate is a little high.
This argument doesn't look so strong now that he was rocked last night, but there are some indicators that Cueto isn't a truly dominant pitcher, as his pre-Monday ERA would have indicated. (Just to prove my point, his ERA used to be 2.69).Â So let's act like his ERA is still 2.69, okay?
Great pitchers have ERAs that low.Â Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, those kinds of pitchers do that.Â Is Johnny Cueto that kind of pitcher?
Fangraphs' Johnny Cueto page shows that in his minor league career, he had many low ERAs.Â But be careful about going off of minor league stats, because often times the opposing talent can be quite low.Â Better to go off scouts' opinions, and the general consensus with Cueto is, he's good, might end up as very good, unlikely to ever be elite.
2.69 ERA indicates otherwise.Â Let's delve into some numbers to see if Cueto's been lucky or good.
Batting Average on Balls in Play is a wonderful way to evaluate a pitcher's luck (or a hitter's) because it tells you how many times a hit occurs on a ball hit into play.Â It should look and be read just like a normal batting average.Â .300 is a fine standard, but some pitchers and hitters have different career baselines. Â Obviously, Ichiro, a contact machine, has a higher BABIP than a typical player.Â But with Cueto, we lack a good major league sample, so we have to go off his 2008 number, which was .309.Â A tick above average, but not an outlier.Â His ERA and rate stats from 2008: 4.81, 8.17 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 2.32 K to BB, 1.41 WHIP.Â Remember, K to BB is a good gauge of a pitcher's dominance.Â A good K to BB is above 2.50, and an elite one is above 3.
Cueto's 2009 rate stats are very similar to his 2008 ones, with two glaring exceptions: 3.45 ERA, 6.81 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 2.26 K to BB, 1.19 WHIP, and the grand finale, his current BABIP: .258.Â (Note: A good K/9 rate is above 8, a good BB rate is below 3.3, a good WHIP hovers around 1.)
So we can see that even though Cueto's 2009 ERA is better, he's not a better pitcher than he was last year.Â His K rate is actually down, but so is his walk rate.Â The WHIP is down a lot because of the low hit rate, which is a function of the low BABIP.
Is that BABIP sustainable?Â No.Â Cueto's average BABIP, which includes all his minor league numbers and his 2008 and 2009 averages, is .290.Â That .258 is going to rise, and we saw it already begin last night.
Cueto's much more likely to finish with an ERA around 4 than an ERA around 3, because of the rate stats he's showing.Â The drop in ERA would be real if it included a real improvement in his rate stats (K/9, BB/9, HR/9, H/9), but those improvements are not there.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox: 4.16 ERA, 106 IP, 108 H, 13 HR, 123 K, 33 BB
With Lester, we see a pitcher with room to improve.Â Let's look at the 2008 rates first, then the 2009 ones right below:
2008: 3.21 ERA, 6.50 K/9, 2.82 BB/9, 2.30 K to BB, .60 HR/9, 1.27 WHIP, .299 BABIP
2009: 4.16 ERA, 10.44 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 3.73 K to BB, 1.10 HR/9, 1.33 WHIP, .351 BABIP
I'm not sure that either year is a good indicator for Lester.Â With Cueto, 2008 appeared to be a fine measure of what he is, in terms of his rates.Â But with Lester, I don't think he's only a 2.30 K to BB pitcher.Â But I also don't think his .60 HR/9 rate is real, either.
But this year, he's suddenly striking out 10 every 9 innings, while walking 4 in the same span.Â His HR rate has shot up, and so has the BABIP.Â What do we make of this?
I'm not sure.Â It seems that both years are almost aberrations, given the wackiness of his rates.Â But, that's not the point of this article.Â Lester has, by all accounts, been an unlucky pitcher in 2009, because I know for certain that BABIP is coming down.Â Lester's striking out a lot more, which means he's throwing more strikes, and that might mean his BABIP will be higher than the 2008 figure because more pitches are over the plate.Â But I really doubt his BABIP would reasonably jump 50 points.Â Maybe 10, if I squint maybe 20, but not 50.
The BABIP will come down, and so will the hits and the homers might a little too.Â With all of that will come the ERA.
Lester's a better pitcher, in my opinion, than his current ERA would indicate.Â Is he 3.21 good?Â Maybe.Â I think Lester will finish the year at about 3.50.
Adam recently finished the first part of his 2000 All-Decade Team.