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Looking to 2012: Johnny Cueto

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A little over a month ago, I noticed that FanGraphs.com had included the Bill James projections for the 2012 season. When I first see these, I gloss over them quickly and barely give thought to them. I usually print them out and then choose that time to look a little deeper.

In the beginning of a series here on Blog Red Machine, we’ll take a brief look at those projections from Bill James, search for a trend or two, and produce some statements about these numbers. Today’s look will be that of the guy to which some are affixing the “ace” tag, Johnny Cueto.

Projections

Positives
Actually, Cueto owns many positive trends. If I were to do a blurb about each and every one, this post would be well over 2,000 words.

1. Improvement in WHIP

This may be just me, but I do like the WHIP stat. If you can keep guys off the bases, you’re chances for wins for your team increase. I know this can lead to luck being involved as far as the hit aspect is concerned, but there is also skill involved from both the pitcher and the hitter, too.

That all being my take, look at Cueto’s WHIP since he entered the league as a rookie back in 2008.

I’m sure some of you have a different view of WHIP.

2. LOB%
So, you allow a baserunner. Now, can you keep him from scoring? Cueto seems to be a bit proficient in not allowing those runners to score.

As I stated, Cueto has many positive trends. A couple that can help explain both his higher LOB% while lowering his WHIP can be those of a constant lowering of both batting average against and BABIP. If you can’t hit him, you can’t beat him.

3. The ERA…and then some
There’s hardly a person that does some form of stat analysis that puts great stock into ERA. CUeto is just the subject as to why that’s the case. Do not let Cueto’s 2011 ERA of 2.31 fool you.

Wait…isn’t this supposed to be a positive thing? It is. I’ll get there. All you have to do is look at the number of runs Cueto permitted versus those that were earned. He allowed 51 runs, but only 40 were earned and 6 of those unearned runs came in one game. That’s why you see the stats of FIP, xFIP and tERA come into play.

According to FanGraphs, each of those three are defined as follows:

FIP: measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a give time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.

The aim of FIP is determine that which a pitcher does control (walks, strikeouts, home runs, hit by pitches).

xFIP: It’s calculated exactly the same as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s homerun rate with the league-average rate (10.6% HR/FB) since pitcher homerun rates have been shown to be very unstable over time.

This allows the home run aspect to be “more controlled” as it relies on the pitcher himself, and not the league average which FIP takes into consideration. xFIP could be considered a better indicator of a pitcher’s future performance since it is more based on the individual and not so much a league average.

tERA: is a defense-independent stat that is meant to improve upon FIP and xFIP. The most common complaint about FIP and xFIP is that they completely ignore performance on balls in play, while batted balls can still tell us something about a pitcher’s skill level: groundballs are good (since they normally result in outs), flyballs have a higher probability of resulting in extra basehits, pop-ups are almost guaranteed outs, and line drives are the most likely type to end up as a hit.

I think we got all the bases covered here.

So if you look at Cueto’s ERA, FIP, xFIP and tERA…

All are tending downward which is a positive here. Sure there’s the big discrepancy for ERA and the trio for his 2011 season, but the trend is still positive.

Negatives
Hard to think that Cueto has any negative trends, but he does. I wouldn’t be too alarmed about them though as long as the positive trends continue.

1. K/9

Considering the increasing success Cueto has attained, this won’t exactly set off too many bell and whistles, but it is worthy of mention. For each of his four years, Cueto’s K/9 has decreased every season.

Two thoughts can creep into your mind here. One is that Cueto is pitching more to contact. The opther is that Cueto is becoming less of a thrower and more of a pitcher.

2. What about Cueto’s health?
Good question. You hope that Cueto can give you the 30 starts James projects. You also hope he garners more than 11 wins, but getting 30 starts should get you close to 200 innings. A healthy Johnny Cueto will greatly increase the Reds chances of winning the NL Central in 2012.

Wrap
Those 11 wins seem a little slight considering the Reds haven’t make any major adjustments to a team that can score a few runs. They really don’t. It’s been said once, but I’ll repeat it: the Reds 2011 offensive issues revolved around clutch situations, not the overall scoring total.

The only other real discussion would revolve around the 7.09 K/9 rate projected. Since Cueto’s rookie season of ’08, his K/9 has never been above 7.00. I’d like to see it closer to 6.00 only for the fact that would show the Cueto’s staying the course of being a pitcher and not regressing back to being a thrower.

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