Johnny Cueto’s Changeup Leads to Cy Young Caliber Season

The past 46 starts of Johnny Cueto‘s career have been absolutely incredible. Between last year and this year, the Reds’ ace has posted a 2.41 ERA in 302.2 innings. Cueto was a big regression candidate after posting a 2.31 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 3.93 SIERA last season, but he has followed that impressive season up with an even better year on the mound. While his ERA has jumped up a tick to 2.52, his FIP of 3.05 and SIERA of 3.70 are career lows, and despite pitching in an extremely hitter friendly ballpark, Cueto has allowed just 15 home runs over the past two years.

While he may have been a tad bit more lucky than good last year, he has improved his peripherals with the increased usage of his change up. The pitch was a solid secondary offering over the past few years, being thrown between 9-11% of the time, but he has upped the usage of his change up to 19.1% this season as he has reduced the reliance on his fastballs and slider.

Cueto also has not been afraid to attack right-handed hitters with the change up. Last season, he threw just 43 change ups to right-handed hitters. This year he has already thrown 120 change ups to righties, good for 12% of his pitches to right-handed batters. With the added frequency against right-handers, his whiff rate is up to 10.8% — the highest of any of his pitches — ┬ácompared to last year’s 2.3% whiff rate, which was the lowest of any of his offerings. And not coincidentally, where Cueto has derived most of his value this season has been against right-handed batters, who have just a .236 wOBA against him this season compared to lefties who have a .325 mark.

Even though lefties have hit him well this year, Cueto has still relied upon his change up to improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is now 3.44 against lefties compared to a career ratio of just 2.10. He has actually done better in terms of strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties this year than righties, but his BABIP has jumped to .360 and caused his results to decline. It is not entirely incorrect to say he has pitched better against lefties than righties this year but has simply received worse results. Change up usage jumping to 24.5% against lefties with a 11.6% whiff rate is a large reason for the improved strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his results against left-handed batters should improve if he continues to pitch as well as he has this season.

As you can see from the three above .gifs from his most recent outing, with the top .gif being of his fastball and the bottom .gifs being of his change up to a left-handed and right-handed hitter, his change up does have a vast amount of fade and solid arm action when compared to his fastball. Cueto’s change up is not one of the top pitches in the league, but in combination with a very nice fastball, it is an extremely useful pitch which he is continually getting more comfortable with.

While many called for a regression this year after last year’s performance in relation to his peripherals, Cueto has improved on the mound and has been able to maintain a similar level of success in terms of runs allowed. Without the increased usage of his change up against both right-handers and left-handers, those calling for a regression may have been right. Instead, Cueto is having a Cy Young caliber campaign and is the best pitcher on arguably the best team in baseball.

Thanks to Chad Moriyama for the .gifs.



Print This Post



Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
David
Guest
David
3 years 9 months ago

The 2nd gift is actually a Slider.

David
Guest
David
3 years 9 months ago

*.gif sorry.

CabreraDeath
Member
CabreraDeath
3 years 9 months ago

I was thinking the same thing. The bottom .gif is a really nasty pitch. His arm action is remarkably similar on his FB and CH.

Good stuff.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 9 months ago

I’m not so sure. I suspect he throws a different changeup to right handed hitters. I pitched in college and can tell you that it is easy to make a changeup fade or cut. Same grip, 180 degree wrist difference. It could be a slider, but it has very little horizontal movement and happens to be the same speed as his changeup in gif 3.

David
Guest
David
3 years 9 months ago

Major League pitchers don’t cut their changeups, I used to pitch as well (college) and while it’s true that you can cut your changeup, the modification in the finish/ arm action would be too noticeable, that’s a slider, I’m 100% certain of that, I’ll look the PITCHfx data for that game.

alphadogsball
Guest
alphadogsball
3 years 9 months ago

that’s definitely a changeup.

Nayr Mit
Guest
Nayr Mit
3 years 9 months ago

I thought it was a slider the first time I saw it but I am pretty sure it is a changeup… It just doesn’t have as much arm side run as the other changeup because it is thrown to the glove side of the plate.

GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
Guest
GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
3 years 9 months ago

“the best pitcher on arguably the best team in baseball”

This made me swoon a little.

Some of the more SABR-oriented Reds fans are still not convinced Cueto is this good, considering his out-performance of his peripherals, but that sample size is no longer small.

He’s the real deal, and I don’t care how he does it.

Doug Gray
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

In 2011, he wasn’t as good as his ERA indicated. In 2012, he is pretty darn close to it. I see a lot of people still trying to suggest that he is the same guy he was last year, but he simply isn’t. He has adapted this season and that his why his ERA is still very good.

RedsManRick
Member
3 years 9 months ago

As one of the SABR-leaning guys you might be referring to (I argued strongly about the role of luck in Cueto’s ERA last season), I think you’re missing the conditional aspect of our claims.

What those of us who made the argument said was that Cueto couldn’t repeat the ERA IF he didn’t strike out more and/or walk fewer batters. While he has maintained the ERA, his strikeouts are up 15% over last year (from 16.5% to 19.0%) and his walks are down more than 20% (from 7.5% to 5.8%). Or seen more simply, his K:BB ratio jumped from a solid 2.2 to a stellar 3.3.

The HR suppression is still very impressive and likely includes a dose of luck. Since the start of 2011, his HR/FB rate of 5.7% leads baseball, ahead of Mr. Anti-FIP himself Matt Cain (6.2%), Jered Weaver (6.4%) and Roy Halladay (6.5%). Considering he’s pitching in GABP, that’s all the more impressive. I would expect his ERA to continue to regress towards his SIERA, but obviously that’s a lower number than it has been in the past.

Marcus Turner
Guest
Marcus Turner
3 years 9 months ago

I think it’s easy to see similarities in Cueto and the Halladay, Cain and Weaver camp in that they all have fastballs with enough movement to consistently miss bats, be they cutters or two-seamers.

Add in solid secondary offerings (particularly change-ups) and it’s not hard to see why they give up few homers as they are so difficult to square up.

It’s also interesting to note that none of those guys throw particularly hard, which may mean that their mistakes that still have movement are less likely to reach the seats than 95+ offerings. I remember watching Weaver’s no-hitter and very rarely did he top 91.

Chris
Guest
Chris
3 years 9 months ago

Cueto does make me nervous because of his peripherals. How long can a guy maintain a HR/FB rate that’s almost half league average? How long can he maintain a LOB of 80%? When you look at the raw numbers, he’s not much different than he was in 2009 aside from his luck.

Having talked to Reds fans, Cueto seems to be more than the sum of his peripherals. His change up certainly looks nasty, but his home park factors and good luck still make me think that he’s due for regression in the future. Maybe he wont look like his 2009 self, but mid 3 ERA (as his xFIP predicts) is what I think we should start expecting from him.

Cecil Cooper's Love Child
Guest
Cecil Cooper's Love Child
3 years 9 months ago

Don’t forget his Tiantesque windup! I think that further helps his changeup effectiveness.

scotman144
Member
Member
scotman144
3 years 9 months ago

Ugh….Back in May I really thought it couldn’t be a better time to sell on Cueto’s low K/9 and magical ability to outperform peripherals and traded him for Anibal Sanchez…whoops.

jcxy
Guest
jcxy
3 years 9 months ago

that’s funny, i was on the cueto end of that exact deal but i thought i was selling hype for a sell high.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
3 years 9 months ago

The second pitch was a ball and called a strike.

I wonder how a catcher setting up outside and moving into the plate affects umpire perception. It is commonplace to believe that it is not good for a catcher to set up in the middle of the plate and move his glove to the outside corner just as the pitch arrives. I suppose that the “illusion” works both ways.

pudieron89
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

I already read this article when RJ Anderson wrote it

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17800

dormroomgm
Member
3 years 9 months ago

Anyone else think that should specify that he is the best STARTING pitcher on the best team in baseball? I think Aroldis Chapman could claim the title of being the best pitcher on that team… Not trying to criticize, more just an observation.

Taylor06
Member
Taylor06
3 years 9 months ago

He might actually be the best (Chapman) but you can’t say when he’s A RP at the moment. Their value just isn’t really close to a SP at the level of Cueto.

Chapman should be starting next year though. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t.

HOOSLAX
Guest
HOOSLAX
3 years 9 months ago

Duronio would probably know this article had already been written by someone else if he weren’t AWOL for relatively long periods of time. Really likes having the ‘FanGraphs’ in his Twitter description but doesn’t really like writing for FanGraphs.

UofIx3
Guest
UofIx3
3 years 9 months ago

Also has shown real skill in kicking players in the head and prematurely ending their careers.

wpDiscuz