The “Ace” Season of Johnny Cueto

The topic of being an ace is one that takes on a couple of different paths. In general terms, an ace has been defined as a team’s top pitcher. But if you delve a little more into the definitions, here’s one that seems logical and definitive as it applies to pitchers. Per dictionary.com:

a very skilled person; expert; adept:

And in 2014, we witnessed Johnny Cueto approaching ace status even more. No question he’s been the Reds top pitcher for a few years now, but he is constructing a road that leads to him being an ace as it pertains to the above definition.

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  • A couple of years ago, I ran across a post on Beyond the Boxscore entitled “Defining the Ace Label with Statistics”. So often we tag a pitcher an ace because he has that look of an ace. In some ways, he passes an eye test, but post author Stuart Wallace takes the discussion/topic to another level and utilizes various stats. I like to dabble in numbers, so in reading that post, my eyes lit up like your neighbors assortment of Christmas lights now beaming into your front window.

    Wallace defined three areas which he dissected in looking for aces. I’ve used his post as a background on a couple of other occasions here, but since I was away from a year, I wanted to being it back and use this as a test for Cueto’s 2014.

    There are three areas Wallace defines: plus pitches, FIPness, and Going the distance. Let’s put Cueto’s 2014 under Wallace’s test.

    1. Plus pitches

    Where would you go to get this? Head to the player page on Fangraphs and scroll down to the Pitchf/x Pitch Value per 100 section. There you will get the necessary info. Here’s what the pitch values were for Cueto this past season.

    [table id=29 /]

    Only one pitch, the slider, rated as a negative value. That’s fantastic as we see that for 2014 Johnny Cueto had five plus pitches. Wallace states the minimum as three, so Cueto “passes” this test rather easily.

    2. FIPness

    There are four stats brought into play here: K%, BB%, HR/FB%, and SwStr%. These all makes sense. Your ace should post a decent number of strikeouts (K%), walk few batters (BB%), not permit a lot of home runs as they pertain to the number of fly balls he allows (HR/FB%), and possess the ability to make opposing batter swing and miss (SwStr%).

    Cueto’s 2014 stats in these areas.

    [table id=30 /]

    So what are we looking for here? Here are the “requirements”:

    K% > 18.8%
    BB% < 7.4%
    HR/FB% < 10.7%
    SwStr% > 8.6%

    Again, Cueto passes these tests, but he did come a bit close in HR/FB%.

    3. Going the distance

    This one isn’t too hard to see either. It requires that a pitcher hurl 200 innings. But there is a secondary test in play here, and we’ll look at that. Wallace sets forth a formula as follows:

    IP – xIP >= 0, where xIP=GS*7

    We know Cueto tossed 243.3 inning in 2014, clearly topping the 200 IP requirement. And if you’re going to the formula, here’s the result.

    243.2 – 238 = 5.2

    Cueto started 34 games this past season and taking that multiplies by 7 is how 238 came about.

    So Cueto clearly passes all of the tests that Wallace set forth, but I found a couple of other interesting trends that adds a little more to this discussion.

    Ever since 2009, Cueto’s SIERA and xFIP have fallen in each season.

    [table id=31 /]

    And in every year, Cueto has increased his stand rate, or LOB%, meaning that when Cueto allows baserunners, they are scoring at a lesser rate.

    [table id=32 /]

    In fact, Cueto’s 82.5% for this past season was topped only by Washington’s Doug Fister (83.1). That’s not only for the National League, but for all of baseball. Yes, Cueto did have a stats where he was better (and take that for what you will ) than Clayton Kershaw.

    As you can see, Johnny Cueto was an ace for the 2014 season. Now to find a way to keep his talents in the Queen City beyond 2015 and witness more ace seasons from the righty hurler.