Today, fangraphs unrolled some new pitching metrics that will help those of us who are mildly frustrated with the emphasis on defense independent pitching statistics (DIPS). As most of us are fans of Johnny Cueto, who is almost certainly underrated by FIP/xFIP/WAR, that would be most of us.
The most basic of these is RA9-Wins. It essentially takes your the pitcher’s absolute performance in allowing runs and calculates it on a WAR scale based on the innings pitched, and provides a park and league adjustment. This is great for people who totally reject DIPS, but want a single number to compare pitching quality and quantity between players (while correcting for home park). As Dave Cameron notes, most of acknowledge that while WAR undershoots a pitcher’s ability to control aspects of run prevention that aren’t BB/K/Hr, this probably overshoots.
The new calculation is the BIP-wins, which calculates the wins above replacement that comes from a pitcher’s BABIP. It uses linear weights for singles and doubles. LOB-wins, which should look at the value of how at-bat results are sequenced is just a catch-all – just Ra9-W minus WAR minus BIP-wins. Together, fangraphs is calling LOB -wins and BIP-wins Fielding Dependent Pitching, or FDP. So FIP and FDP combines to look at all the aspects of run prevention. We know that FIP is all under the pitcher’s control, we’re not totally sure about FDP, but some of it is attributable to the pitcher.
Now for the Johnny Cueto part. Just looking at Johnny’s ERA and WAR, gives you an idea that WAR may be underrating Cueto. Cueto doesn’t have the best peripherals (other than HR), but has managed to have one of the lowest ERA/the lowest in the league for almost two seasons now, and that’s in a very hitter-friendly park. He’s a bit of a ground-ball pitcher – but not like Trevor Cahill or anything. At a 49% groundball rate, he ranks in the top half of MLB pitchers, but is number one among Reds starters.
So I looked at some of the new pitcher value numbers for some of the major NL Cy Young contenders:
Johnny leads in RA9-wins, obviously, as Cueto has made all his starts, and done so with the lowest ERA in the league. Once adjusted for park though, Cueto’s advantage looks enormous. Cueto’s improved his WAR outlook recently, but he’s still second to Clayton Kershaw, though he’s put some distance on the other contenders, like R.A. Dickey. So what’s the difference between Cueto’s RA9-wins dominance and WAR-not-so-dominance.
Cueto actually doesn’t have a very low BABIP, partially a consequence of the groundballs. That shows up in his BIP-wins number which is low, at about 0.2. Most of the difference for Cueto is coming from LOB-wins, that catch all stat. Cueto’s LOB% is at 79.7% right now, which is fairly high. This may be a little luck, a little clutchiness, and probably something to do with Cueto not allowing a lot of extra base hits. Allowing more singles means that more base-runners will get on, but not as many will score. And Cueto’s SLG against number is fantastic. At .335, it’s number three in the NL (behind Gio Gonzalez and Clayon Kershaw).
But that LOB-wins number can anything else relevant to preventing runs. It may be a little hard to think of many more things that are relevant, but when you’re talking about Johnny Cueto, I can think of a big one. Baserunners. I’ve discussed before how Cueto is number one (with a bullet) at not allowing runners. This year is another point in Cueto’s favor. So far, Johnny’s allowed one stolen base, compared to 8 caught stealing – on seven pickoffs. That pickoffs number is good enough for second in MLB. But even though Clayton Kershaw has 8 pickoffs, he also has 8 stolen bases allowed while pitching.
Altogether, Cueto could probably considered the best stolen-base preventing pitcher in MLB right now, and that could definitely be showing up in that LOB-wins statistic. It’s also a good argument for contributing a little more of that FDP to Cueto. Even a little bit would boost Cueto above his competition in wins. Just listening in to places like MLB Network, I definitely think the national media is considering Cueto a CYA front-runner. C’mon Johnny, just throw a few perfect games this September, and there won’t be any debate.
EDIT: If you want to read a somewhat/vastly better treatment of this subject, you should probably head on over to fangraphs to read Dave Cameron’s article. (I note that mine was published first, only to defend myself from claims of plagiarism.)