Can’t Stop The Bleeding

The Reds have seen some flashes of brilliance from 22-year-old Johnny Cueto since handing him a rotation spot coming out of spring training. His debut was nothing short of sensational, giving up just a solo home run over seven innings of brilliance, striking out 10 guys on the way. However, after a couple of starts that weren’t as effective, Cueto is now sporting a 5.40 ERA.

However, his peripherals don’t look like that of a young kid adjusting to life in the majors – 6 walks and 33 strikeouts in 35 innings shows that he’s commanding the strike zone, and even with his home run issues, his FIP stands at just 4.14. So why doesn’t Cueto’s run prevention match his peripherals?

Take a look at his splits.

No One On Base: 98 PA, .170/.204/.351, 4 HR, 4 BB, 28 K
Runners On Base: 45 PA, .421/.442/.711, 2 HR, 2 BB, 5 K

That’s a remarkable difference, even in a sample of 143 plate appearances. When he’s pitching from the wind-up, he’s blowing hitters away – 28.5% of the batters he has faced have struck out when no one is on base. Once he starts pitching from the stretch, however, that rate drops to just 9%. The walk and home run rates are similar in both scenarios, so it seems unlikely that his stuff takes a nosedive when pitching out of the stretch (this sounds like a great case for a Pitch f/x analysis), but someone in Cincinnati might want to work with Cueto on his approach to pitching once a guy gets on base.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

8 Responses to “Can’t Stop The Bleeding”

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  1. Mike says:

    Awesome analysis. Thanks!

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  2. Mr. Redlegs says:

    Wow, this is great stuff, Dave. I’d like to see a similar look at Homer Bailey’s AAA numbers of the past two seasons. Great job!

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  3. Johnny Was says:

    Let’s just be thankful that Gary Denbo isn’t a pitching coach and working with Cincy — because he’d ruin this guy’s career.

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  4. Keith says:

    The people demand Dick Pole act, and act quickly! Dick Pole will fix Cueto!

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  5. Choo says:

    This answers the question I posted in the “Unlucky Pitchers” post a few days ago when I was feeling lazy. Thanks Dave! You nailed it. I actually did a bit more research and posted this at a fantasy baseball site yesterday:

    Cueto has been one of the unluckiest pitchers since his first two outings. His ERA is currently 5.40 but his FIP is 4.14, which is attributed to a ridiculously low LOB% of 52%. League average LOB% for SP’s is currently around 72%. His K/BB ratio is still a ridiculous 5.55 and the .284 BABIP is pretty average . . . so in other words, he has pitched well but the majority of his bad luck and homeruns have happened with runners on base. It’s possible he simply struggles from the stretch. This is a fairly common problem for young starting pitchers who dominate minor league hitters because their experience from the stretch has been limited by the number of times they are required to do it during a game and combined with weaker competition. I don’t know for sure, but as he gains experience and his LOB% regresses to the mean, his numbers should improve. He is a sneaky buy low candidate IMO and someone worth hanging onto for awhile longer.

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  6. MlbFan30 says:

    There is also concern about arm slot changes.

    Look at his first start at home, and last start at home. You will see it shift left and up according to Pitch F/X.

    Will Carrol has mentioned the change in arm slot could be an indication an injury is on the way, although it’s just a theory.

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  7. dan says:

    MLBFan– I’ve heard that Cincy has some weird things going on with the actual sportvision cameras. There are some corrections that need to be made for that park, so that might be part of what you’re seeing with the arm slot.

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  8. Eric Seidman says:

    MLBFan30, Cincinnati is the WORST stadium to look at PitchFX data for. When looking at release points, which is something I’m currently studying, you need to be very careful. Cincinnati is a bad team to look at. It may be that his release point is vastly different start to start but be wary of Cincy PFX data. The location of pitches, IE, where they are in the strike zone is fine, but the PFX and PFZ data is screwy.

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