Luebke_v_Sabathia_v_Hamels_v_Verlander

Cory Luebke in the RAW

Recently, I unveiled the 2012 RAW Pitcher Ratings, preseason edition. The goal of these ratings is to strip away stats like ERA, WHIP and wins and focus on the raw skills evident in the numbers (strikeout rate, whiff rate, groundball rate, etc…). Some players, however, are destined to outperform or under perform their RAW Pitcher Ratings.

Cory Luebke, 93.5 RAW, which puts him in front of CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels and Justin Verlander.

That seems crazy, right?

On the surface, it sounds absolutely insane to suggest that Luebke is a better pitcher than the proven ace arms of Sabathia, Hamels and Verlander. However, his peripheral numbers from last season make for one compelling argument. Matthew McMillen took a look at some of those impressive numbers in this article, but let’s compare some of those peripherals to the pitchers listed above…

The one thing you can see from the chart – and what gives him the edge in terms of his 2011 RAW, was that he held the highest strikeout rate of the group. He also, however, had the highest walk rate, but was about equal in every other category. RAW Pitcher Ratings love strikeouts, as they are the only guaranteed out – no need to rely on defense and the results of BABIP.

While Luebke’s numbers are unquestionably awesome, we must not linger on them too much while looking toward the forthcoming season. At the minor league level, Luebke had always displayed good command and a good, but not great, strikeout rate, so to see him keep his walk rate in check during his first major league season with at least 100 innings pitched was no surprise, but to see him strike out almost 10 per nine innings was completely unexpected. In 430.2 minor league innings across all levels, Luebke posted 7.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 and those rates were fairly consistent each season. Based on his minor league numbers, I would expect his strikeout rate to regress a bit, but also for his walk rate to improve a bit.

I believe that it’s important to note Luebke’s first and second half splits from last season. While I don’t always buy into first and second half splits, I put some weight on them in this case. Luebke didn’t become a starting pitcher until late June and his ERA from mid-July and on was 3.76 with a reasonable .290 BABIP. In fact, Luebke’s ERA rose each month after transitioning to the rotation…

July: 3.00 ERA

August: 3.19 ERA

September 4.34 ERA

However, he still maintained a high K/9 (9.7) and very good K/BB rate (3.5) in the second half and his xFIP actually held rather steady over the season’s final three months…

July: 2.87 xFIP

August: 3.24 xFIP

September: 2.80 xFIP

The other interesting split stats were his home/road numbers. When we think of Petco Park, we think of a place where fly balls go to die and pitchers can put up much better numbers than they would elsewhere. However, this wasn’t the case for Luebke…

Home: 4.04 ERA, 3.37 xFIP, 3.27 K/BB

Road: 2.55 ERA, 2.68 xFIP, 3.67 K/BB

Is it just me, or do all of these numbers seem incredibly out of whack? A pitcher with a 7.5 K/9 in his minor league career comes to the big leagues and posts a K/9 of almost 10, then struggles at home in a pitcher’s paradise, but dominates on the road.

Maybe the problem simply comes down to sample size. After all, Luebke only threw a total of 139.2 major league innings last season and only 100.2 of those were as a starter. Can we draw concrete conclusions from 100 innings, or roughly half of a season, from a starting pitcher? I think not. Every season we see more than a handful of pitchers that go from first half surprises to second half fades. Perhaps we just never got to see enough out of Luebke as a starter to see such a fade.

I still see well above average raw skills in Luebke and think that he’ll be a successful pitcher going forward. However, his RAW Pitcher Rating places him in the company of some of MLB’s best and he’s not likely going to meet those standards any time soon. We simply don’t have enough data on Luebke as a major league starter to completely buy into his 2011 numbers. What we do have is a large sample from his minor league track record that suggests he’s a very good pitcher, but not an ace and not someone to overvalue on draft day 2012.