Johnny Cueto, Perpetual Sleeper?

How long do we consider Johnny Cueto a sleeper starting pitcher option?  How long do we rave about his ability, only to see him stumble?  How long do we hold out hope that this season will be the year that he finally puts it all together?

Last season was an improvement to his rookie campaign, yet it still wasn’t much to get excited about:

11 Wins
171.1 Innings
4.41 ERA
1.36 WHIP
132 Strikeouts (6.93 K/9)
61 Walks (3.20 BB/9)
.296 BABIP

Those numbers are certainly nothing to brag about.  After bursting onto the scene in early ’08, striking out 59 batters in 61.2 innings, the strikeouts certainly have taken a turn for the worse.  In the minor leagues he did post a K/9 of 9.3, though the majority of that was below Double-A.  He tossed just 83 innings at Double & Triple-A in ’07, so we need to take the numbers with a slight grain of salt.

His ’08 major league mark was 8.17, so there certainly is hope and there is still reason to believe that his ’09 mark was an aberration.  I would obviously expect a better number in ’10, though temper the expectations a bit.  He’s not likely to come close to his minor league mark.

There is some reason to be concerned about is ERA, considering his home ERA thus far in the big leagues:

  • 2008 – 4.71
  • 2009 – 5.16

He was significantly better on the road in ’09 (3.83), but he pitches half of his games in a ballpark that is conducive to home runs.  When you dig deeper into the numbers, there is reason to believe that it will improve.

He’s not an extreme flyball pitcher, posting rates of 40.5% and 40.6% during his time in Cincinnati.  The problem has been his HR/FB rate, which has been 13.9% and 11.2%.

In 2009, that put him 15th in the league among pitchers who qualified, meaning there certainly is a lot of room for improvement.  If he can do a better job in keeping the ball in the ballpark, the results are going to continue to improve.

Driving that point home is his control, which is actually solid.  Over his minor league career he posted a 2.1 BB/9 and he has shown improvement since making his major league debut:

  • 2008 – 3.53
  • 2009 – 3.20

If he can continue to improve and limit the free passes, which we can expect given his minor league track record, things are likely to improve in both the ERA and WHIP department.

Considering that his numbers have not come due to bad luck (realistic BABIP and a 73.6% strand rate), there is reason to think that he is going to make further improvements in 2010.  How far?  Let’s look:

180.0 IP, 13 W, 4.00 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 150 K (7.50 K/9), 60 BB (3.00 BB/9)

Those would be good, though not great, numbers.  If he can make the necessary improvements, as I’ve discussed, he’d certainly be usable as a backend rotation option.  It is worth noting that he is entering his third full season as a major league pitcher, a time where many youngsters (Cueto is 24-years old) tends to fully put things together.

He has the potential to significantly out produce the numbers I’ve put out there, so considering his ADP of around 236, I’d say giving him one more year as a flyer is well worth the risk.

What about you?  Is Cueto someone you will once again take a flyer on in the late rounds?  What are you expecting from him?

If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5), click here.

Make sure to check out some of our 2010 projections, including:

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

4 comments

  1. DK says:

    I think your projections are low end. He has shown flashes of brilliance and is only 24. When he gets consistency he’ll be a solid number two starter and if that happens this year he will far outperform his ADP.

  2. BLAZE says:

    He really needs an effective 3rd pitch. He has one (changeup) but the kid throws his FB/SLD 90+ % of the time. His changeup sucks, but its not like he uses it much anyways. He’s mostly just trying to throw FB/SLD all year long. That’s what relievers carry on their toolbelts.

    He’ll never reach his potential w/o getting that 3rd pitch not only incorporated more into his arsenal, but it also needs to start being effective.

    Until then, he’s meat for hitters when he gets through the order once or twice.

    The guy has great potential but it’s wasting away pretty quick. The guy wasnt getting anyone to miss bats last year. Contact rates soared and K/9 in the 6′s. Ugly…

    Once i see the 3rd pitch actually working, Im passing. He’s too predictable right now. IMO

  3. BLAZE says:

    And if he keeps throwing his slider 30% a year he’ll be playing catch with Edison Volquez rehabbing their arms from Dusty Baker abuse.

  4. Aaron says:

    He started out strong last year. I am planning on drafting him really late in every draft because I think he’ll start out strong. I will trade him soon thereafter.

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