Every time Johnny Cueto takes the mound, Reds fans see his continuing maturity and growth. No one should ever question Cueto’s abilities or his “evolution” in the role of staff ace.
Through his first two seasons, Cueto held a 20-25 record, an ERA of 4.61 and a WHIP of 1.387. Over the last three, those numbers are 40-21, 2.93 and 1.183, respectively. Johnny Cueto is now a pitcher, not a thrower.
Previous to 2011 and 2012, there was slight concern over Cueto’s drop in SO/9. Her’s a look a his SO/9 over his first five seasons.
You can see that Cueto rediscovered the strikeout, but he also allowed more hits this past season in comparison to 2011. Was he gunning more for the whiff than pitching to contact? Hard to determine Cueto’s mindset in certain situations, but Fangraphs does tell us that Cueto did throw his highest percentage of strikes in 2012 (64.7%) than in other other season. 2011 saw Cueto throw a strike 62.4% of the time, his previous career high.
Again, we can’t determine his thought process or that of Ryan Hanigan, who caught most of Cueto’s outings this past season.
But that could also tell us that Cueto is becoming more and more comfortable pitching to contact. When your team possesses one of the best defenses in the major leagues, it can put a pitcher a little more at ease when he’s on the hill.
Baseball Reference thinks so much of Cueto that he ranked 2nd in WAR for pitchers this past season with a 5.8. Only Clayton Kershaw was higher (6.2). NL Cy Young front-runners R.A. Dickey (5.6) and Gio Gonzalez (4.5) ranked behind Cueto. On Fangraphs, Cueto (4.8) did rank behind Gonzalez (5.4), but still ahead of Dickey (4.6). And until the onset of September, Cueto was looking like a Cy Young winner.
There is another pattern that Cueto is developing. A good one, He is walking less opposing batters. Like there were concerns over his SO/9, the exact opposite would be true of his BB/9.
Less guys on base lower the chances on them scoring runs. Simplistic, I know.
In his rookie season of 2008, Cueto led the NL in HBP. He has been in double digits practically every season except for 2010…when he hit 9. And this does not alarm me. Sure, the situation when he hits an opposing hitter could, but the sheer number alone doesn’t. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that Cueto is not afraid to pitch inside. He wants to establish the inside part of the plate as his. I’m sure there are those within another fanbase that feel differently.
As Cueto continues to develop into his role of ace, a tag that some feel he has rightly attained, we should see a continuing evolution from the native of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.
Side note here…if that city sounds familiar, it should. Teammate Jose Arredondo hails from there. So does Denis Phipps. A couple of others: George Bell and former Red Tony Fernandez. Nice outfit they have going there.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect another excellent season from Cueto in 2013. That’s what aces do.