Mixing Fantasy & Reality: Cueto, Early Mock & More

Johnny Cueto: Sabermetric Anomaly

I am on a mission, to try to explain why some pitchers don’t fit into normal molds. I created pERA to help explain the advantages pitchers who have a mix of high and low groundball pitches experience. I tackled the Robbie Ray/Michael Pineda group of pitchers who can only throw their fastball for strikes. The next pitcher whose production can’t be explained by the above methods is Johnny Cueto. He just a hard player to figure out and here is why.

  • Over the past six seasons, his ERA-FIP is the 4th lowest (-0.59) among all starters with at least 600 IP. The other pitchers surrounding him are low ground ball pitchers (and R.A. Dickey) who will see their BABIP suppressed because flyballs and popups are easy outs. Cueto’s 48% GB% is by far the highest among the ERA-FIP leaders until Doug Fister says hi at #22.
  • Using the same sample of pitchers, Cueto has the 8th lowest BABIP (.271) and 10th lowest HR/9 (0.71). Most of Cueto’s run suppression comes from limiting hard contact.
  • I thought Cueto had a mix of high and low groundball pitches and therefore pERA would help explain the low BABIP. No such luck. Here are his ERA and overall pERA values over the years.
Johnny Cueto’s ERA and pERA
Season ERA pERA Difference
2011 2.31 4.24 -1.93
2012 2.78 3.95 -1.17
2013 2.82 4.13 -1.31
2014 2.55 4.02 -1.47
2015 3.44 3.80 -0.36
2016 2.78 3.60 -0.82

These pERA values are some of the worst predictors of actual results among all pitchers.

  • I did a quick look to see if he fell into pitchers with low Zone% breaking balls. No luck there.

The low Zone% checks led me to a possible answer, Cueto dominates hitters once ahead by maintaining a good pitch mix through all counts. By mixing his pitches, he doesn’t become predictable in hitter counts and hitters aren’t able to tee off on him.

To help explain this theory here is Cueto’s and Clayton Kershaw’s pitch mix by count.

Besides in a 3-0 count, Cueto keeps an eerily similar pitch mix. Kershaw doesn’t even touch his curve if behind and goes almost exclusively fastball when in extreme hitter counts.

If the hitter can sit on a certain pitch, they’re more likely to make solid contact. Here is a comparison of BABIP and ISO for Cueto compared to the league averages courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Johnny Cueto’s Count Dependant BABIP and ISO
Player Batter Ahead Even Count Pitcher Ahead
BABIP League (2016) .307 .301 .292
Cueto (Career) .289 .276 .285
Difference .018 .025 .007
ISO League .223 .169 .107
Cueto .175 .149 .090
Difference .048 .020 .017

While Cueto is above league average when even or ahead in the count, he doesn’t give in if behind and keeps the hitters’ production below league average and therfore limit hard contact.

Right now I am going with this theory behind his hard contact suppressing profile. In truth, it is still just a theory. I haven’t found a good way to test every pitcher yet and give them all some kind of consistent usage grade, but I am working on it.

In the meantime, if you want to see if a pitcher is using his pitches evenly, go over to our friends at Brooksbaseball.net. Select the pitcher, go to the Tabular Data tab and select Pitch Usage (Cueto’s link). Look to see if there is any green or red shaded cells in the table. For example, here are Cueto’s and Clayton Kershaw’s tables.

Cueto:

Kershaw:

It is a noticeable difference between the two. Sorry for this procedure being the best method I currently have for finding pitchers with evenly distributed pitch mixes, but it’s all I have for now.

Thoughts on Lindy’s Mock Draft

A week ago, I participated in Lindy’s magazine mock draft. I put in my normal draft preparation . I didn’t set up any SGP points rankings and instead went with the values from our auction calculator. For a reference ADP, I used the values from Fantrax.com. Here are my thoughts.

  1. I think I am going to own too many shares of Kershaw this season. The different between a healthy (definite health risk exists) Kershaw and Scherzer is more than the difference between Trout and the next player. If an owner wants to call it even here, fine, but the next group of hitters is bunch together with really no value difference. I took Kershaw 2nd overall, but I expect him to fall even further with one industry mock having him fall into the 2nd round. I know Kershaw is now a health risk but I believe he has the best chance to be the top overall player by the end of next season. If an owner is trying to win, they may need to take chances and why not take a chance on his health (and maybe Harper’s health also).
  2. Staying with pitchers, I think there is a top tier of five to seven (depending on projections) and then another tier of about 15 to 20. Then a huge bunch gets ranked together. In 12-team leagues, maybe even in 15-team leagues, I am aiming to get one of the top six and two in the next group. After that, I will wait and pick up the leftovers at the draft’s end or reserve rounds. I am looking for difference makers and then I will stream two-start pitchers or find the new hot arm to fill in with my studs.
  3. Closer values were all over the place. Knowing the role and talent level helped to find some bargains.
  4. In rounds 15 to 20, the talent really flattens out. From this draft, I found quite a few outfielders and starting pitchers I wanted. I need to look through this group of players and find some upside targets.
  5. Know your catcher qualification situation. Schwarber could be a borderline 1st rounder if catcher qualified especially in two-catcher leagues. If only 12 or 15 catchers are being rostered, I think there is plenty of depth and all teams will have a reasonable option. If more are needed, look to get two decent options. An owner can find outfield and middle infield help on the waiver wire, but there isn’t going to be any catchers.
  6. I found middle infielders to be overvalued. Owners seemed to be following some set drafting procedure of one stud corner guy and the next best middle infielder. This season, no premium should be paid for middle infielders. All position players are on the same footing besides catchers. The reason for this change is the declining production from first base and outfield. Once the top middle infielders were taken, some great options began to open up later in the draft.
  7. Don’t forget Eric Thames.

Notes

Matt Harvey is throwing pain-free.

After supervising a shopping spree at a local Target on Wednesday as part of the Mets’ holiday charity initiative, Harvey said that now, finally, he is back to throwing symptom-free.

“The way things are feeling now, I’d say it feels great,” Harvey said. “Obviously, being healthy through Spring Training and getting to the season and being healthy through the season is a big plus for me. It’s something that I’m looking forward to doing. But as far as the offseason goes, I’m right where I want to be. Everything’s feeling great.”

His current price is too high for my tastes. I want to see him throw in spring training before going all in.

• It will be interesting to see how the Padres handle both Travis Jankowski and Alex Dickerson in left field. Jankowski is the better fielder (with steals) while Dickerson is the better hitter. I could see several different scenarios play out with the pair sharing time to one eventually taking over the full-time role.

Josh Hamilton is working out for the Rangers. He’s a deep sleeper who has the potential for a decent season if his knees hold up. He’s worth a late flyer in a NFBC draft.

We hoped you liked reading Mixing Fantasy & Reality: Cueto, Early Mock & More by Jeff Zimmerman!

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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pgburant
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pgburant

Jeff, could you link to the mock results? I took a look at the Lindy site and couldn’t find it. Thanks.