Sunday, May 11, 2014

Johnny Cueto pegged as toughest pitcher to steal a base on in baseball

The Reds' Johnny Cueto, who has a 1.88 E.R.A. through 15 starts, uses Luis Tiant-style mechanics.

The typical chance of success for an average base runner to steal a base is roughly 67 percent. In other words, two out of every three runners who attempt to steal do so successfully.

Johnny Cueto isn't your typical pitcher though. And the odds of swiping a bag off him aren't nearly as good. Here's Jared Cross of ESPN.com explaining Cueto's prowess at keeping runners honest:

Johnny Cueto's left knee buckles. To the runner on first, it appears, if only for an instant, that Cueto is about to lift his front leg and deliver a pitch. Instead, it's Cueto's back foot that moves first, two lightning-fast steps rotate his body nearly 90 degrees, and he throws a bullet to first base across his body. This Cueto two-step is the single best defense against baserunning in baseball, more effective than Yadier Molina's fantastic arm and quick release, and capable of making stolen base attempts untenable for even the fastest runners in the game.

The rate of pickoffs, perhaps unsurprisingly, is closely tied to the intent to steal, and when calculating success rates, it makes sense to include them in our calculations. Since the beginning of 2011, Cueto has nabbed eight runners with his move to first base -- note that all pickoff numbers in this article do not include pickoff-caught stealing -- while another 13 have been caught stealing second. Only two runners have stolen second base successfully on him. In other words, runners have been successful in less than 9 percent of their attempted steals of second base on him.

According to a steal probability formula compiled by Cross, which factors in pick-offs, stolen base percentage, a typical runner, and an average catcher behind the plate, runners have only a 33 percent success rate of stealing a base on Cueto. This is by far the best percentage of any pitcher in Major League Baseball. Mark Buehrle and Zack Greinke are tied for second behind the Reds ace with a stolen base success rate of 44 percent.

According to the model, Cueto has enjoyed having above average battery mates over the years. But what makes him so difficult to steal on is his ability to keep runners close and by whipping the ball quickly toward home plate on each pitch from the stretch.

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