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2013 Pod Projections: Johnny Cueto

In what is likely my last Pod Projection post of the year (my eBook teaches you how to forecast players yourself!), Johnny Cueto wins the honor of finishing up the series. Cueto has posted sub-3.00 ERAs two years running now, despite all ERA estimators sitting significantly above those marks. Great fortune (skill?) in the three “luck” metrics we analyze is the explanation for his ERA estimator beating ways. Can it continue?

2013 Pod Projection Index:

Hitter Introduction
Carlos Gomez
Mark Trumbo
Brett Lawrie
Jason Heyward
Desmond Jennings

Pitcher Introduction
Kris Medlen
Jeff Samardzija
Max Scherzer
Chris Sale

IP: 210

Cueto has dealt with various arm and shoulder maladies over the years, but he was completely healthy last season and threw over 200 innings for the first time. Since he has proven now that he could do it and is entering this season with no health concerns, then it would be fair to assume he remains above the 200 IP barrier.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 48%/19%/33%

In 2011, Cueto suddenly morphed into a ground ball pitcher. As expected, some regression did take place, but not enough to return his batted ball profile into his pre-2011 days. Compared to 2010, he has induced a higher rate of ground balls from his four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter and change-up. That’s nearly all of his pitches. Whatever has led to this change, he has been doing for two years now, so it seems safe to expect a repeat.

HR/FB%: 10%

Cueto’s HR/FB rate suppression is one of the ways he has been able to beat his ERA estimators. But even having posted rates below the league average in the past three seasons, his career rate is still right at a league average mark. The GABP significantly inflates home run power, and sure enough, his career home HR/FB is 1.5% higher than his away mark. With no clear explanation of what he has changed these last three years that have resulted in suppressed home run totals, I must assume reversion back to his career mark and a league average rate.

BABIP: .295

Aside from the clear outlier in 2011, Cueto has allowed a BABIP between .290 and .298 every season. He’s a ground ball pitcher now and sports a league average IFFB%, so he shouldn’t possess any special BABIP prevention skills.

BB/9: 2.5

Cueto’s walk rate has declined in every single season, which is quite the trend. Of course, that can’t continue forever. Amazingly, his F-Strike% exceeded the league average for the first time since his 2008 debut season. Now that F-Strike% finally matches with a walk rate in the mid-2.0 range.

K/9: 6.9

Despite possessing a pretty solid fastball velocity-wise and a strong slider which normally leads to lots of swings and misses, Cueto’s stuff simply hasn’t translated into the strikeout rate one might expect. He’s basically league average in generating swinging strikes and that should lead to yet another K/9 around the starting pitcher league average.

Below is my final projected pitching line, along with a smattering of other projection systems for comparison.

System IP W ERA WHIP SO K/9 BB/9 GB%/LD%/FB% BABIP HR/FB
Pod 210 15 3.46 1.23 161 6.9 2.5 48%/19%/33% 0.295 10%
Steamer 194 12 4.06 1.29 143 6.6 2.6 ?? 0.292 ??
Bill James 215 14 3.52 1.20 169 7.1 2.3 ?? 0.295 ??
Oliver 195 14 3.14 1.19 147 6.8 2.4 ?? 0.291 ??
Fans (44) 210 16 3.00 1.17 164 7.0 2.2 ?? 0.294 ??
ZiPS 192.2 14 3.32 1.21 146 6.8 2.4 ?? 0.293 ??