I was planning on covering several overvalued starting pitchers in this next article but after analyzing Reds ace Johnny Cueto, I realized I might have enough material to fill an encyclopedia.
I’m seeing Cueto being drafted in the 3rd round of the deep NFBC 15-team leagues and I’m just shaking my head in disbelief. For one, there’s too many excellent power bats left at that point in the draft and HRs are becoming more and more of a rare fantasy commodity. Secondly, there are many very good pitchers with similar profiles to Cueto available just a few rounds later. It’s a completely unnecessary pickup being fueled by a career season.
Cueto brings a few red flags into 2015, the least of which is that he just tossed 244 innings on his 5’11 frame just one year after being placed on the disabled list three separate times. There were signs down the stretch that the innings were taking a toll. His control slightly eroded in the 2nd half of the season (BB/9 climbed from 2.2 to 2.7) and his batted ball profile took on a very un-Cueto shape with groundball rates dropping below 40% with more line drives and fly balls.
In the early rounds of the draft I do not like taking unnecessary risks with ouchy players. You can survive when your 11th rounder spends half the year on the DL, but when it’s your 3rd/4th round pick your chances of winning your league take a significant hit. Pitchers with an injury history fall into this risky category and they are the type of players you should look to avoid early on.
Statistically, Cueto is coming off a fantastic season as one of the best fantasy pitchers of the 2014 season. A super productive 20 wins, 2.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 242 Ks helped crown many fantasy champions last year. His basement level .238 BABIP was aided by a superb team defensive effort and there’s reasons to be concerned that it won’t be the case in 2015.
Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton are both two Gold Glove-caliber defensive players who saved numerous runs for the Reds staff last season (33 DRS combined) but concerns about their offensive production are real and may put their playing time in jeopardy.
With a 56 wRC+ in 2014, how long are the Reds going to tolerate Cozart’s atrocious bat? In the return of the Alfredo Simon trade they acquired Detroit SS Eugenio Suarez. Certainly an offensive upgrade from Cozart but Suarez’s -5 DRS in 622 innings for the Tigers last year show a major drop-off defensively. If the Reds decide to go with the offense, the combination of the young Suarez and aging Brandon Phillips puts a bit of a dent in that infield that Cueto needs to make plays for him. Hello BABIP regression.
In the 2nd half of the season, Hamilton was also absolutely useless at the plate (.200/.254/.257) and his 70% stolen base success rate wasn’t as great as advertised. If the bat doesn’t get off to a good start in 2015 that could be another Gold Glove-caliber defender removed from behind Cueto.
Another piece of that league best defense, fourth-outfielder Chris Heisey (+29 UZR/150 over last two seasons), has moved onto the Dodgers this offseason. Without Hamilton and Heisey that’s a much different outfield for the Reds.
There’s a strong chance that the Reds +67 DRS will be regressing significantly in 2015 and that means Cueto’s numbers will be too. Even if he manages to stay healthy, an ERA north of 3.00 and 1.10-1.15 WHIP are far more likely outcomes than he what he did last year. I will let someone else make the mistake of drafting him in the 3rd round.