Cory Luebke Player Projection No. 73

CKey Stats:Cory Luebke established himself as enough of a big league talent that San Diego was comfortable to trade away Mat Latos. Despite getting only 6 Wins on the year (he was in the bullpen until his first start on June 26th), he pitched better than his already good 3.29 ERA would lead you to beleive. He was able to build off of his cup of coffee in the majors in ’10 by increasing his K% and decreasing his BB% leading to a 3.50 K/BB ratio, good enough for the 17th best ratio in the bigs (had he pitched the minimum amount of innings to qualify for the leader boards). Every single one of his modified ERA stats was lower than his actual ERA, and his FIP and SIERA even came in under 3.00.

Skeptics Say: PECOTA doesn’t look upon Cory favorably projecting an 8-7 record to go along with a 4.43 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and a measly 86 K’s. I’m not smart enough to understand how it works, but it’s a very highly regarded projection system. RotoChamp however, has Luebke projected to closely match his numbers from last year, with an uptick in wins from 6 to 11. According to FanGraphs, his fastball not only gained half a mph but also increased it’s value by about 6 times…a pretty significant jump. That, along with a moderate, but still impressive increase in the value of his slider don’t convince me that he is going to have as bad a year as PECOTA thinks. One other cause for alarm? Opponents batted .206 off of him last season, while that’s a great number, it seems tough to repeat given that 22% of the batted balls he gave up were line drives (for the record, the ground and fly balls were split identically at 38.8%)

Peer Comparison: The success that Luebke had starting had to have some sort of impact on the descision to trade Latos away. While Luebke won’t be jumping into the number 1 spot in the rotation, it doesn’t hurt to compare them and try to see what the Padres did. 

 

Pitcher ERA FIP ERA-FIP K% BB% K:BB
Luebke 3.29 2.93 .36 27.8 7.9 3.50
Latos 3.47 3.16 .31 23.2 7.8 2.98

I know there is more to measure than just what is laid out in the table above, but what really jumps out is the difference in strikeout percentage between these two pitchers. Latos is going into his 4th year in the majors, while Luebke is entering year three. Jeff Zimmerman developed some hitting aging curves, but also applied the same thought process to pitchers and strikeouts. Eno Sarris wrote about it here. Notice the data used refers to a debut, and not necessarily age. The basic idea is that most pitchers peak with their strikeout percentage in their debuts and then go downhill from there. With the higher K% starting out, it would seem Luebke is a safe bet to continue to get K’s at a better rate than Latos. While you could go on the thought process that Latos also pitched better than his ERA indicates (which is true) you could argue that Luebke has more upside now. He had a better ERA FIP differential, a much higher K percentage and a comparable BB%. Factor in the home park for each pitcher now and it seems that Luebke could be the better pitcher going forward.

Team Outlook: The pitching staff is definitely the strength of this team. It’s well known that their park is pitcher friendly, and given the make up of their offense, the Padres are going to need to keep the opposing offenses in check. Pitching on the road has always been a concern for Padres pitchers recently, but Luebke’s splits from last season actually show he was better on the road than home.

What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline – #39 Starting Pitcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com – #44 Starting Pitcher & #157 in the Top 250 Players; RotoChamp – #68 in the Top 300 Players; Mock Draft Central – #40 Starting Pitcher and #137 Overall

Projection: Wins will still be tough to come by, but there aren’t any obvious reasons to think he is going to pitch worse than last season. 

11 W, 3.18 ERA, 170 K, 1.10 WHIP in 155 IP