Is Johnny Cueto A Top 10 Starting Pitcher?


Sep 25, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park. Photo by Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the second article in my Top 10 series. In this series, I take some of the best players on the Reds, run through some statistics, and see if I consider them top 10 players at their position. If you missed the first article, featuring Jay Bruce, you can check it out Here.

On January 21st, MLB Hot Stove broke down their list of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball right now. Here is their list:

1. Justin Verlander

2. Cliff Lee

3. Clayton Kershaw

4. Roy Halladay

5. Felix Hernandez

6. Jered Weaver

7. Chris Sale

8. David Price

9. Cole Hamels

10. Stephen Strasburg

As we can see, MLB Hot Stove does not consider Johnny Cueto to be a top 10 starting pitcher right now. In order to determine whether or not I think that he is (and where he would go if he is), I’m going to look at several groups of stats. The first stat that I’m going to analyze is FIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, and measures what a pitcher’s ERA should look like over a given time period if BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and timing were league average. FIP goes on the principle that pitchers can’t control what happens after a ball is in play, and looks at factors that pitchers can control- walks, strikeouts, hit by pitches, and home runs given up. xFIP, the next stat that I’m going to analyze, neutralizes luck on fly balls. It takes the home run to flyball rate average for the league and multiplies it by the pitcher’s flyball rate, using this new number in place of the home run. In effect, it it tells us the pitcher’s FIP if he had given up the amount of home runs that he should have. Both FIP and xFIP are generally considered very important metrics. The third stat that I’m going to analyze is SIERA, which stands for Skill Interactive Earned Runs Allowed. While both FIP and xFIP ignore balls in play, SIERA attempts to dive into the underlying factors that make a pitcher successful. It doesn’t ignore balls in play, but utilizes them more intelligently.

Finally, I’m going to look at BABIP, which stands for batting average on balls in play. BABIP measures how often balls in play against a certain pitcher go for hits. This can be altered by defense, luck, or a regression in mechanics. The reason I am going to look at this is to see how sustainable the pitcher’s performance is- a BABIP of around .290-.300 is league average. If a pitcher has an extremely high BABIP, they are likely getting unlucky, and with a neutralization of luck will come a lower BABIP (and, subsequently, other pitching stats.) This is the same for pitchers with low BABIPs, they are likely getting lucky, and with a neutralization of luck will come a higher BABIP (and, subsequently, other pitching stats.) I’m not going to look at the top 10 pitchers in terms of BABIP, that would be pretty meaningless. Instead, I’m going to take all of the pitchers mentioned on the previous 3 lists and look at their BABIPs to determine who is more likely to continue their success, or even to get better. As with last time, I will be using 2 year stats (2011-2012) for this analysis.

Here are the top 10 pitchers in FIP, according to FanGraphs:

Johnny Cueto is absent from this list, as FIP over the past two season was 3.35, good for 16th on the list. If you didn’t already think that the Phillies had a stacked rotation, this should change your mind. 3 pitchers in the top 10 for FIP is just unreal.

Here are the leaders in xFIP according to FanGraphs:

This is a very similar list to last time, just with some positions changed. The 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price makes his emergence onto the list in the number 9 spot. Johnny Cueto, whose xFIP is 3.75, would be 31st on this list.

Here are the leaders in SIERA according to FanGraphs:

This is another very similar list to the previous two. New Royals ace James Shields makes his emergence onto the list in the number 10 spot. Johnny Cueto, whose SIERA was 3.77, would have ended up 33rd on this list.

Finally, let’s take a look at these pitchers’ BABIPs. From FanGraphs, here are the numbers:

For reference, Cueto’s BABIP was .296, which was right in line with league average. From this list, we can see that Justin Verlander and Matt Cain have gotten extremely lucky over the past two years, while Clayton Kershaw and James Shields have gotten their fair share of luck too. The only pitchers who were very unlucky over the past 2 years have been Adam Wainwright and Zack Greinke. Taking into account all of this data, while also utilizing division and BABIP information, I present my top 10 pitchers in baseball right now.

Oct 03, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) throws in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Photo by Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Josh’s Top 10:

1. Cliff Lee

2. Zack Greinke

3. Clayton Kershaw

4. Roy Halladay

5. Justin Verlander

6.Felix Hernandez

7. CC Sabathia

8. Adam Wainwright

9. David Price

10. Cole Hamels

Thanks for reading! Feedback is appreciated, so feel free to leave a comment.