Season Preview

2014 Season Preview: Top of the Rotation

We’ve dealt with the entire offense now, and it’s time to move to the pitching staff. Pitchers are always difficult because of the injury factor. For that very reason, I choose not to worry at all about injuries when projecting pitchers. I don’t know who will be healthy and who will be hurt, and so I won’t pretend I do. Instead, innings projections represent what we should expect from a pitcher given a full season.

I will start with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. Some would argue that Homer Bailey should be included here as well, and maybe he should, but I need to see just a little bit more form him first.

Johnny Cueto
2013: 60.2 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.82 ERA
2014 Projection: 215 IP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 2.80 ERA

2013 WAR: 0.6 (FanGraphs), 1.4 (BBRef)
2013 RA-9: 1.6
2014 Best Guesses: 3.5, 5.0, 5.0
2014 Floor: 3.0
2014 Ceiling: 7.0

Mat Latos

2013: 210.2 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.16 ERA
2014 Projection: 205 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.20 ERA

2013 WAR: 4.4 (FanGraphs), 3.8 (BBRef)
2013 RA-9: 3.9
2014 Best Guesses: 4.0, 4.0, 4.0
2014 Floor: 3.0
2014 Ceiling: 7.0

There is a lot to unpack there, but let me start with the “win” stats. There are, I think, three good methods for measuring pitcher value right now. The two versions of WAR you are likely familiar with. The last, RA-9 Wins, you may not have heard of. It is also a FanGraphs metric, but it gives the pitcher credit for some things that WAR thinks are just luck.

We don’t know nearly as much as we should about measuring pitcher value yet, and so I’ve chosen to include all three in the interest of providing a complete picture. I also need to highlight that the FanGraphs version of WAR doesn’t get Johnny Cueto and never has. A lot of this has to do with how Cueto completely shuts down the running game, but there are other factors.

What we have, rather luckily are two very similar pitchers. I have Cueto just a little better because he suppresses the running game so well and because, since making changes a few years ago, he’s been consistent in his ability to suppress home runs. I’ve also docked Latos just a touch because we know he’ll start the season at least a little late.

The great thing, though, is that it would be shocking if anything other than health kept these two from being really good and it’s very possible that one of them will make a run at the Cy Young award. The Reds strength is their pitching staff, and it starts in very good shape with these two.

Joey Votto
Brandon Phillips
Zack Cozart
Ryan Ludwick
Billy Hamilton
Jay Bruce
Todd Frazier
Devin Mesoraco
The Bench

27 thoughts on “2014 Season Preview: Top of the Rotation

  1. Cueto is also a freak with bases loaded, where he just bulldogs up and gets out of trouble.

    When Bailey gets that bulldog there, he will be in this same conversation.

    Mat loses a little because he doesn’t get as far into the game and it seemed that the pen let him down at times last year.

    he loses it fast where Johnny still can get guys out when he starts to lose it

  2. No one ‘loses it’ Arroyo fast.

    If Johnny C turns in those numbers while the rest of the pitching staff turns in performances on par with last year, then hello post season.

  3. I think it’s way, way too optimistic to expect Cueto to throw 215 innings. He’s only done that once. A better guestimate would be 160-170 IP and it could obviously be much lower. A “floor” WAR for him of 3 also seems kind high. He’s only had two seasons above that. Injuries could easily bring a figure below that, like last year. I think you’re over-valuing stopping the running game, not because Cueto doesn’t stop the running game, but because stolen bases just don’t have that much influence on runs scored.

    Your Latos projections seem about right to me, assuming he doesn’t miss a few starts at the beginning of the season instead of one. Projecting SP with more than 200 innings is always dicey.

    The reason I’d consider Homer in the top of the rotation is that he’s much more similar to Cueto and Latos than he is Mike Leake. You might also say there are 105 million new reasons for it, too. :-)

    • @Steve Mancuso: On controlling the running game: For example, in the last two seasons, Homer Bailey gave up an average of 15 SB per year. Say Cueto would give up an average of 1 per year, for a difference of 14. How many times would that runner score that he wouldn’t have anyhow? Got to be a really small number. Maybe a couple runs over the course of a season.

    • @Steve Mancuso: I agree with you, but as I said, I have no interest in trying to predict how healthy a pitcher will or will not be. It’s too unpredictable. Therefore, I assume full health unless (as with Latos) I know otherwise.

      It’s just how I approach these. I’m much more interested in rate stats, IP really only tells you how many innings I think he’ll manage per start when he’s healthy.

  4. I can agree with all of this. But, I need to see the pitchers healthy first. If we don’t have that, it won’t make a difference if we have a top flight 4-hole hitter.

  5. Latos has won 14 games in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Cueto and Leake have won at least 14 one time. Bailey has yet to do it.
    Latos is 28-11 in 65 starts in 2 years with the Reds. The bullpen has squandered about 8-10 wins he could have had.
    What is it going to cost to keep Latos in the fold? If Bailey gets 6 yr./$105 million, Latos is going to command about $125 million for 5 years. Next off-season will be like this one was with Bailey about an extension. My take is, if Latos cannot be re-signed by next winter he will be dealt. He will bring back more in return than one late first round compensation pick. Even with just one year remaining before he hits free agency. That one year gives a team sole negotiating rights for that one year.
    Latos, Cueto, and Leake all are deserving of an extension. But one will have to go to make room for Stephenson next year.

        • @WVRedlegs: Oh, I think they do. At least, the smart teams do. Those stats tell you the most about how good a pitcher is.

          If I’m a GM, though, I’m concerned with a very few things: 1. Health. 2. K-Rate. 3. BB-Rate. 4. Groundball rate. 5. Home run rate.

          That’s pretty much it, with a few special exceptions for pitchers like Cueto who are especially good at holding on runners or fielding their position or whatever.

        • @Jason Linden:

          Pardon my snarkiness. End of a long day with a co-worker being a burr up under the saddle.
          I get what you are saying. But I would hope a team would take a whole picture attitude when valuing players or pitchers. I get the w/l argument, too many things factor into a win for just the pitcher to get credit for it.
          I agree mostly with your #1-5, if you are talking “pitcher” in general. Except I would move K-rate down, unless K’s are your thing as a GM. The BB%/9 would be #2 with me. No matter what style P you are giving up free bases (BB’s) leads to opportunities for free runs. K’s are nice, but as long as they are getting them out, why nit-pick.
          Now if you are talking “starting pitcher”, I like to see the w/l record, but its not the first thing. IP is very important in relation to # of starts. If 32 starts is avg. then 192 IP in a season is avg. 6 innings. There is added value in SP’s that pitch 215, 220, or 230 IP. Saves on the bullpen.
          For a SP, I would list it as 1-health, 2-# of starts, 3-IP, 4-BB rate, 5-the opponents BA in relation to the 1st time thru the order, second time, and third time.

        • @Jason Linden:

          Well, duuuhhh.But they don’t pay a SP on ERA+, weighted this, and weighted that.

          Yes, teams do use those stats when evaluating talent.

  6. Why am I so negative on Johnny Cueto? It’s totally irrational, but I’d be completely okay if they traded him tomorrow. I’d love to unpack this.

    I suppose a lot of it is due to his unmanly and disgraceful show in Pittsburgh.

    Or his walking off the mound in San Francisco, leaving everything in poor Sam LeCure’s lap.

    Or the fact that he wasn’t able to string more than 3 starts together all last season. Basically, here’s what he’s given the Reds over the past 19 months:

    September 2012: 6 starts, 4.33 ERA
    October 2013: Starts NLDS Game 1 – Faces 1 batter. Walks off making faces and holding his back.
    April 2013: Makes 2 good starts. In game 3, walks off the field making faces and holding his back.
    Misses 5 weeks.
    May 2013: Makes 1 bad start and 2 good ones.
    Misses 3 weeks.
    June 2013: Makes 1 okay start and one terrible one. In game 3, walks off the field making faces and holding his back.
    Misses 7 weeks
    September 2013: Makes 2 decent starts.
    October 2013: Wets pants on national TV.

    It’s almost certainly unfair, but I am so sick of seeing him walk off, incredulous, that his twisting pitching motion caused a back injury.

    • @Chris Garber: I see nothing irrational there Chris.

      The fact that he is damaged goods like you noted so accurately is the reason I think we could get a discount.

      His demeanor has changed over time. I guess I would trust his psyche more than Chapmans at this point, but I think they are both in the same category…. uber-talented and language challenged which may not help them understand the finer points of fan criticism or the impact of their actions on the momentum of the team.

      I think Johnny has made great progress in his demeanor. I would hate to trade him today because we are selling low. I would like to re-sign him low and trade Mike Leake who I think would command a nice return

    • @Chris Garber: That’s some cherry-picking though, isn’t it? I mean, the injury was legit. He’s changed his delivery. What if he comes out this year and is 2012 Cueto? I think there’s something about muscle injuries that makes them seem less serious, but if the guy can’t pitch, he can’t pitch.

    • @Chris Garber:

      Like it or not, there is some playoff angst in the Red fanbase. Can’t falt Johnny Cueto for getting hurt but that guy definitely melted down in the playoff game last year, which when on top of the injury is a shadow on his playing career. People tend to remember when you bombed in the playoffs.

      • Did he pitch winter ball that year? Back and side and shoulder injuries need lots of rest and rehab to avoid becoming chronic. It bothered me, too, but I’m going to be uncharacteristically optimistic about Johnny because everybody else on the staff (seemingly) is getting injured.

    • I agree with Jason: The injury was clearly legit, and the bad outings in critical games were injury-related. He clearly has heart–witness his tenacity when he’s in a tough spot. And the twisting motion in his delivery is an attempt to eliminate his tendency to fall off toward first. Makes me nervous, for sure, but a power pitcher his size has to have the moving parts in sinc (any size, really). We all have our likes and dislikes, though, and perhaps Johnny will win you over by winning game 7 of the series this year.

  7. I think the blame for Cueto’s poor performance in the playoff game rests more with management than him. As Chris pointed out, he had 2 decent starts in September after 7 weeks off. One of which came against the Astros if I remember correctly.

    He was obviously struggling from the beginning in that game. There is no way the manager should have chosen him to start a single elimination game.

  8. Who would have thought that Cueto would be the healthiest of the three big Cincy boys to start the season?

    Cueto / Cingrani / Leake to start the season against STL looks most likely now. Craziness.

  9. And on the health note, Chapman likely just received the biggest concussion any pitcher will ever receive. That’s just a terrible situation and it’s going to create a big problem in the bull-pen.

    Hope he’s OK to return sometime this season. Geesh.

  10. Straight from the Reds’ Facebook feed:

    UPDATE ON AROLDIS CHAPMAN:

    In the sixth inning of tonight’s game vs the Royals at Surprise Stadium, Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman was struck above the left eye by a Salvador Perez line drive.

    Chapman was taken to Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City, where tests indicated fractures above his left eye and nose. He has been transferred to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, where he will undergo further testing. He will be kept overnight for observation.

    We will update his status tomorrow morning.

    Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers.

    This officially sucks. At least we have 2 closers in the pen, and I’m not a religious person, but prayers to the Cuban Missile. That looked nasty. Kudos for MLB to realize that it’s a spring training game, he’s a massive part of the Reds, and the game needed to be called after a devastating injury like that. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about increased pitcher protection after this since it’s happened a few seasons in a row now. Have a tolerable night everyone.

  11. Praying for Chapman. With Simon already appearing to be pressed into service for the rotation should Latos need more time (which seems likely), I wonder how the pen is going to shake out. I would expect Chapman will be gone for a while.

  12. Pingback: Redleg Nation 2014 Season Preview: The Rest of the Rotation | Redleg Nation

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