Thursday, March 24, 2016

Your 2016 Giants: Cueto First Half Magic

A beat reporter noted that Cueto has had great first halves and poorer second halves.  So I commenced analyzing that and seeing why, and perhaps what could be done.

ogc thoughts

I took his career splits and inputted them to get the FIP, wOBA, kwERA, here are the relevant stats (from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs First Half and Second Half):
  • Cueto:  First half/Second half: 
    • ERA:  3.00/3.73
    • FIP:  3.75/4.02
    • kwERA:  3.86/3.91
    • BABIP:  .260/.299
    • WHIP:  1.11/1.29
    • BA:  .222/.255
    • ISO:  139/151 
    • K/9:  7.40/7.45
    • K%:  20.2%/19.5%
    • BB%:  6.9%/7.1%
    • K-BB%:  13.3%/12.4%
    • K/BB:  2.93/2.75
    • wOBA:  .288/.320
Looking at ERA, one could certainly say that Cueto has been more of a first half pitcher than second half.  But based on what are normally the key pitching stats, from a peripheral view, his first and second halves are very similar, almost exactly similar, except for one very key stat:  BABIP.  In the first half, he has a very low BABIP of .264, which is the major component of why his wOBA is .288 and WHIP is 1.11, whereas in the second half, he was slightly above league average at .299 (MLB average over his career is .298) but basically right there given randomness, leading to wOBA of .320 and WHIP of 1.29. 

Soft in the First, Harder in the Second

So it appears that Cueto in the first half is strong enough to keep hitters guessing more, leading to more soft contact, but by the second half, when he's not as strong as earlier and thus not as precise, he gives up more Hard Contact, 28.0% vs. 26.3% in the first half.  Though oddly, he gets more soft hits as well, as he gives up less medium hits, leading to more soft and more hard hits.  And that is shown by his getting more infield flyballs in the second half, 11.3% vs. only 9.7% in the first half.  Meanwhile, his HR/FB is virtually the same, 9.8% vs. 10.4%, though there is an uptick in the second half, contributing to the bump up in ISO from 139 to 151.   

And the biggest puzzler, despite all the extra hits and hard contact, he's still able to keep striking out batters at the same rate, as well as walking them at the same low rate.  And if you look at his BABIP by month, by July he's already league average (first half is generally defined as the All-Star break even though teams are past the half way point already in terms of game played).  One has to think that being more tired has to be the major reason why he is not as able to avoid hits in the second half - basically league average - as he was superb in avoiding it earlier in the season.  

And that tiredness shows up in his IP/G average:  in the first half, he averaged 6.46 IP per start, in the second half, he averaged 6.05 IP per start.  Of course, giving up that many more runs undoubtedly contributed to the manager taking him out earlier in the second half.   As well, it probably made him work that much harder during the start, giving up all those extra hits, tiring him out earlier as well.   And being tired would lead to being taken out sooner in starts.

Save It For Later

Thus, I have to wonder if taking him out earlier in the first half might allow him to keep his strength going deeper into the second half, which could drop his ERA significantly.  He was roughly 3.00 ERA in the first three months of the season, then up to 3.30 ERA in July, 3.63 ERA in August, and 4.14 ERA in September.  It might be worth it, though part of the reason the Giants signed him up was because he threw so many innings as a starter.  

Still, cutting him back to, say, 6.05 IP/Start over a full season would still mean he pitches 200 IP as a starter (assuming 33 starts, which the top two starters generally get at least that many starts).   Or they could keep him at that pace but delay the second half start so that he gets extra rest, pitching one less start, and that might help him keep his strength (though if you look at his career, there were seasons where he didn't pitch 33 starts, and he still had the poorer second half, so perhaps not that effective).  Though there is no assurance that cutting him back early would lead to better starts later,  as a concept, it does seem to make sense, particularly taking him out earlier in the first half.  Having a superlative bullpen would help greatly in executing such a tactic.

What Do You Think?

And one additional change of my writing habits I would like to try - like I noted before, trying to write shorter pieces - are posts like this one where I present the data I found and even if I don't have a great solution or analysis, or perhaps no answer, post it and see if someone smarter than I can come up with something.  


  1. Just to say, ogc, that I hope the absence of comments doesn't make you feel that you're sending your analyses into the void or the Sea of Indifference. I look at this site daily because I find it often so rewarding to do so, as I especially have several times recently, and am grateful for the hard work you do in conceptualizing, documenting, and analyzing Giants issues, whether or not I comment or agree.
    This one made me wonder whether in fields get faster as the season wears on, despite groundskeepers' efforts. More sun, more use; and more sun in Cincinnati, certainly. A faster infield would make more demands on infielders, so that pitchers who got a lot of ground balls and softer contact generally might have rising BABIPs later in the year. If so, to a significant degree, Cueto's second-half decline might become less true in AT&T.

    1. In opposition to this suggestion is that Cueto's HRs went up in the second half, from just under 10% to just under 11% (HR/AB) for his career. Neither the state of the infield nor the agility of infielders had anything to do with that. (This is an afterthought.)

    2. No, I've been very zen about comments. If there are any, there are.

      I mainly put the information out there, and people either believe it or not, and if they comment they comment.

      I believe in my analysis, not that all of it is pearls or even always correct, but they are my belief at the time I wrote them, and interesting to me, so hopefully is interesting to someone else. I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea and that's OK. I'll put my blog out into the ether and it goes where it goes.

      I can see your point about harder infields, especially those in not on the West Coast. Though, fields in AZ (belying my West Coast comment :^) are known for getting really hard and allowing more hits. Not sure how I would analyze that, unfortunately, but if someone has the idea but not the time, I'll be happy to look into it.

      And, I would note the point I made about how he's way below average in the first half, while league average in the second, it is not like he's bad in the second half, as he's average, just not as superlative as he is in the first half. So if hard fields are hampering him, he's still good in the second half, just not super good as he is in the first.

      Ah, an idea: A way to test this point is to look at first and second half NL BABIP. And for the past three years, there is a slight difference between first and second halves, it was 3 points higher in 2013 and 2014, 5 points higher in 2015 (don't got time to search more).

      And that doesn't explain the huge gulf that Cueto has, but as we know from science, sometimes a slight change can result in a huge reaction, so who knows, maybe that extra change moves his BABIP towards average. Probably would take StatCast data to figure that out.

      Giving up more HR does contribute to worse results, as well, but, I don't think, not to the level that raising his BABIP from .260 to .299 does.

      And this made me realize that I should have pointed out that the Giants seem to be a team that gravitates towards pitchers who are able to lower BABIP below average, Cain, Zito, and now Cueto.

  2. Weather can play a part, too.

    It's cooler in the first half of the year than in the second. That effects the flight of the ball. About 2.5 feet per 10 degrees fahrenheit. In April, the ball's going 5-to-6 feet less than in July/August and September is almost as bad as June, all things the same, while April & May really benefit the pitcher over the hitter.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. Particularly with SF's cool weather, he'll get the benefit of that deeper into the season than when he was in midwest.

    2. This just adds to my love and admiration that the Giants didn't take the easy route and just re-sign Leake as I had thought (and really, hoped).

      It just reinforces my view that this deal is tied into the Samardzija deal (and perhaps they might have still got the Shark even had they signed Greinke).

      Just getting Samardzija and, say, Leake, our rotation is nice but not formidable, based on prior performances. Cueto, however, has been a top of rotation guy, on equal footing with Bumgarner. He gives us a two-headed ace rotation that we had with Lincecum-Cain and Cain-Bumgarner in 2010 and 2012, which, as I've noted in my business plan, is the idea situation for success in the playoffs.

      Plus, Cueto was looking for a place to cool his heels for a couple of years to build back his value and get a Greinke type deal (which showed to him and his agent that it is a possibility).

      So why not go to a team with a pitcher's park? Especially one that limits LHH HR power? Plus has the cool air that makes all hitter's HR power cooler as well. Even if he does hit a road bump career wise, these factors should help to minimize it or maybe even allow him to continue performing well. And if he is fine, he should put up even better numbers. Only LAD would have been a better situation for him, because they have an even better pitcher's park (it has made the careers for many an Asian pitcher; they had great LA #'s but poor road #'s, which was exposed when they left LA as free agents), luckily for us they were trying to save money and went with a quantity over quality tactic for their starting pitching. Cueto pitching here helps to build his value in the next two years before he can opt out.

      Then he can opt out with great stats and both sides are happy, hence why the contract was front heavy, to pay him more properly if he is as good as advertised, but end up paying him lesser if he turns out to have really hit the downside of his career. But given his relative youth and career of mostly being healthy, while it is a risk like any other free agent contract, particularly those for pitchers, the Giants did well to mitigate some of those issues.

      This buys the Giants two years to figure out Samardzija's issues and get him back to 2014 standards. Plus, pitching in AT&T should help as well. Meanwhile, as is, he's fine as our #3 starter, and he eats a lot of innings, plus he's been very healthy. As maligned as Zito was, he took the mound healthy most seasons other than his car accident year, which I believe, let to his injury ending his season, and his last season, when he finally lost it all. There is value, which is not measured right now, to a starting pitcher who can give you average-ish performance over a full season, which helps to save your bullpen, plus gives you stability in the rotation, so you don't have to dip into the minors and suffer through their learning curve.

      The Giants front office just keeps on surprising and impressing me.

  3. Here is a really nice article on Cueto:

    They claim to explain his KC problems: "Royals manager Ned Yost, when asked this spring to reflect on Cueto's slump, said there was a simple fix all along. They discovered the glitch just in time: Catcher Salvador Perez was providing too high a target."

    I looked at his game stats: the story don't match up with the stats. He was actually very good at first, continuing his good stretch with the Reds the prior month, for 4 starts (or was it 5?). Then he had that bad 5 game stretch that got everyone worried. If the catcher's height was the problem, why did it not affect him much early on? Unless the C got lazier with time and didn't want to stretch down for the pitches (which I guess is possible). However, his one great start in that stretch was with the backup catcher, so there is that too, maybe it was true to some extent, then Perez made it worse during the bad stretch.

    Cueto ended the season with an OK stretch, but while his ERA was OK, his peripherals did take a downturn (oddly enough, his peripherals were actually good during the bad stretch, his problem was humongous BABIP and HR/IP). He continued that peripherals into the playoffs, but had a couple of good starts still, along with one bad. I think any team would take that.

    Looking at his KC stats, I realized that there is a lot of pitching stats I could dig into to investigate his first/second half splits. It will take a while, but I'm thinking of compiling all his monthly stats, to create a trend line month to month, to see how things change. I'll probably drop that one year where he missed most of the season and just cover full seasons.



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