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Starting Pitchers: Will 2012′s Top Arms Regain Elite Form in 2014? Part 3

I started this little week-long mini-project under the impression that there were a lot of top-tier pitchers that struggled in 2013. It sure seemed that way, but was it accurate? To find out, I went to ESPN’s Player Rater in 2012 and 2013 and found that not only did nine of 10 pitchers regressed but other than the one who didn’t (Clayton Kershaw), the highest of 2012′s Top-10 in 2013 was 29.

Just what happened and is it likely to happen again?

In Part 1, we looked at R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. In Part 2, we looked at Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants, Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals, and Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels.

Today, we finish our look at 2012′s Top-10 pitchers who regressed in 2013 with Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies, Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves, and Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds. As we’ve done with everyone else, let’s start with the basic numbers. 

Season (SP Rank)
Player
IP
K
W
ERA
WHIP
2012 (8)Cole Hamels (2012)215.1216173.051.12
2012 (39)Cole Hamels (2013)22020283.601.16
2012 (9)Kris Medlen (2012)138120101.570.91
2013 (29)Kris Medlen (2013)197157153.111.22
2012 (10)Johnny Cueto (2012)217170192.781.17
2013 (104)Johnny Cueto (2013)60.25152.821.05
 * — Sources: ESPN’s 2012 Player RaterESPN’s 2013 Player Rater 1-50ESPN’s 2013 Player Rater 51-100.

 

Now, what exactly happened?

 

Cole Hamels

  • What Went Wrong?

In many ways, Cole Hamels is similar to what we went over last time with Matt Cain. The ratio stats were only slightly worse than they had been in recent years, but the ERA spiked. It didn’t spike quite as high as Cain’s, but his numbers weren’t as low as Cain’s in previous seasons, either.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Something that I can’t help but wonder about is what happens to these pitchers when their teams become bad. Obviously, their W-L record is likely to take a hit, and Hamels failed to top 10 wins for the first time since 2006. But also, do they just pitch a little different knowing that if they allow more than a run or two, the team is likely to lose more often than not? When you see what happened to Hamels and Cain this year, it’s a valid question.

Nothing else really adds up for Hamels. According to Fangraphs, he allowed fewer line drives in 2013 than 2012. A case can really be made that the 3.60 ERA was more bad luck than anything, which would explain the jump from a 3.05 ERA to 3.60.

  • Will 2014 be Better?

Sticking with the Cain parallel, you have to think that 2014 will be a lot better. Like Cain, he was so much better in the second half than in the first, and you can’t help but be encouraged by that. 

Half
IP
K
W
ERA
WHIP
First Half12911844.051.225
Second Half918442.971.066

He’s been one of the best pitchers in the game since 2007. I don’t know what the wins will be because I don’t know how good the Phillies will be in 2014. But otherwise, when you look at his second half and see that he’s only going to be 30 in 2014, you can’t help but think that he’ll be one of the best in the game again and return to form next year.

 

Kris Medlen

  • What Went Wrong?

Here’s a perfect example of someone who just set the bar too high for himself. Did anyone really think that Kris Medlen was going to repeat these numbers from 2012?

Season (SP Rank)
IP
K
W
ERA
WHIP
Total138120101.570.91
As a Starter83.28490.970.80
 Anyone? Anyone? That’s pretty close to a Bob Gibson, 1968 level, and we’re probably never going to see that again.

The slightly concerning stat from Medlen in 2013 was his 1.22 WHIP. That’s not bad by any means, but his BB/9 and H/9 were both up, while his K/9 was down. Now, the walk rate was fine. A 1.5 BB/9 rate is not going to be sustained, especially when you go from under 140 innings to just about 200. Still, a 2.1 BB/9 rate is still very good. Now, a case could also be made that his 6.7 H/9 in 2012 wasn’t really sustainable, and that’s true. But he jumped from that to 8.9 H/9, allowed more home runs, and struck hitters out at a lower rate. The fact that opposing hitters got to him a little bit more in 2013 as a full-time starter is a bit of a problem.

  • Will 2014 be Better?

Better than 2012? No. Medlen will never be that good again and with the exception of Kershaw, I don’t think any active starter will have a year like Medlen did in 2012 if they’re going over 200 innings.

I think 2013 is pretty close to what we’re going to see from Medlen for the rest of his prime. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was a little better, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if he was a little worse. Before 2012, his career WHIP was 1.266, which makes the 1.223 in 2013 look a lot more reasonable.

Medlen is still a young guy (28) and has only made 61 career starts, which is basically the equivalent of two full seasons. I’d feel pretty good drafting Medlen in 2013 thinking that 2012 will repeat itself. Anything much better than that and you’re setting yourself up to be let down.

 

Johnny Cueto

  • What Went Wrong?

We finish with Johnny Cueto, the easiest regression of the nine to explain. The numbers from 2013 were actually pretty similar to 2012, he just couldn’t stay on the field. But you can’t ignore that he had a similar ERA and lower WHIP when on the field.

The pressing question with Cueto is, can he stay healthy for a full year, or is he just a little injury prone? It’s a valid question when you

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

look at his innings pitched since his rookie year of 2008.

  • 2008: 174 IP
  • 2009: 171.1 IP
  • 2010: 185.2 IP
  • 2011: 156 IP
  • 2012: 217 IP
  • 2013: 60.2 IP

That would be one year where he hit 200 innings. In that year, he started the Reds first playoff game and recorded one out before going out with an injury that cost him the remainder of the postseason (and would have no matter how long the run was).

So, the injuries were what went wrong in 2013, and they’ve been an issue for most of his career.

 

  • Will 2014 be Better?

Logically, you have to say that it will be. Look at what Cueto has done since 2011. 

Season
IP
K
W
ERA
WHIP
201115610492.311.09
2012217170192.781.17
201360.25152.821.06
Total433.2325332.611.13
Average145108112.611.13

There’s a few ways to look at this:

  1. When he’s been on the mound, Cueto’s been one of the best pitchers in the game over the last three years. He’s going to be 28 next year, so he should be in the prime of his career right now.
  2. He’s only 28 and has dealt with injuries for pretty much his entire career. As he gets closer to 30, it’s only going to get worse.

There is some truth to that, but I’m not expecting another 60 inning season. Some injuries? Sure, but not like that. If I had to guess right now, I’d say that Cueto will be around 150-175 innings and that his numbers will be about the same as they’ve been over the last three years.

The injuries do worry me but I think that will slow him down more in a few years. This year? He’ll miss some time but when he’s out there, will be one of the best in the game again.

Tags: Cole Hamels Johnny Cueto Kris Medlen

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