2016 Projections: Now In San Francisco, Is Johnny Cueto An Elite Starting Pitcher?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

When the San Francisco Giants signed Jeff Samardzija you figured they would be out of the starting pitcher market, but that wasn’t the case.  Yesterday they inked Johnny Cueto to a 6-year, $130 million contract (with an opt out after two seasons), theoretically further bolstering a rotation and forming a dynamic 1-2 punch with Madison Bumgarner.

We say theoretically, because it is fair to question exactly what Cueto brings to the table.  While he was lights out with the Reds, the falloff after his trade to Kansas City was stark:

  • Cincinnati (130.2 IP) – 2.62 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.27 K/9, 2.00 BB/9
  • Kansas City (81.1 IP) – 4.76 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.20 K/9, 1.88 BB/9

It’s easy to point to significant luck in his numbers with the Reds, including a .234 BABIP despite a 20.5% line drive rate, and the move to the AL always brings with it the risk of a strikeout regression.  Obviously signing with San Francisco eliminates the concern about the latter, and there’s reason to believe that he will see a rebound in his SwStr% (10.8% with Cincinnati, 8.7% with Kansas City).

In regards to the BABIP, interestingly enough he had posted similarly “lucky” numbers the previous few seasons:

  • 2013 – .236
  • 2014 – .238

Can we call it luck after two and a half years, or is it a skill?  It certainly would appear to be more believable, though a regression was always likely.  That’s not to say that he would completely fall off a cliff, because the other skills are there.

He brings the strikeout potential, especially returning to the NL…

He’s an elite control pitcher…

He also has proven capable of keeping the ball in the ballpark (0.92 career HR/9), despite pitching in a hitters haven.  Last season Great American Ballpark yielded 2.26 HR/game, third most in the NL.  In contrast AT&T Ballpark was at 1.35, the fewest in the NL (in 2013 it was at 1.35 and in 2014 it was at 1.32, showing it was no fluke).

You put that all together and things are looking up for Cueto.  He’s not likely going to match the 2.25 ERA he posted in 2014, but we never would’ve expected that.  What we can expect?  Here’s our preliminary projection for 2016:

215.0 IP, 54 W, 3.06 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 192 K (8.04 K/9), 56 BB (2.34 BB/9)

In other words consider him a Top 25 starter in all formats and while we wouldn’t reach too far, he’s a pitcher worth targeting.

Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN

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2 comments

  1. Doug says:

    54 wins, awesome 🙂

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