Remember Cueto?

Back at the beginning of the season we didn’t know a whole lot about the Cincinnati Reds. Dusty Baker had taken over as team skipper and opted to go with Corey Patterson in centerfield over top prospect Jay Bruce. Adam Dunn had shown consistency in being a three true outcomes player, Ken Griffey Jr. had some home run milestone on the horizon, and Aaron Harang had shown himself capable of carrying a pitching staff, but to those outside of Cincinnati the team likely looked no different than Reds teams of the past; teams with some nice pieces that wouldn’t win.

After the first couple weeks of the season, however, it appeared they had found themselves a great young pitcher in rookie Johnny Cueto. The media went nuts over this guy and analysts did their thing with regard to his repertoire and what made him effective. Heck, why wouldn’t they? Through his first two starts he had gone 13.1 innings, surrendering just six hits and three earned runs, while walking nobody and fanning eighteen.

From there he turned inconsistent, mixing some quality starts with a few resulting in five or more earned runs, and lost his spot as the emerging Reds rookie pitcher to Edinson Volquez. In fact, Volquez’s performance thus far has made many forget about Cueto; not necessarily forgetting he exists but rather that he was highly touted as recently as two months ago.

For the season, Cueto has a 4.90 ERA, 4.78 FIP and a 1.36 WHIP. He fans a good deal of hitters, 8.27 K/9, but walks 3.37 per nine innings. Additionally, his 1.61 HR/9 ranks as the 4th worst in the senior circuit and he has been a bit below average in stranding runners. The HR/9 may be a function of his ballpark, however, as teammates Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang literally rank right behind him in that category. Since this is his first season we don’t have much reliable data to gauge his true talent level, so I’ll resort to this season’s numbers for the time being.

He seems to throw three different pitches—a heater, slider, and changeup—with the occasional curveball mixed in. His fastball, however, clocks in at around 93.4 mph according to the BIS data here and even looks a bit faster in the Pitch F/X data. Actually, that 93.4 mph ranks third in the NL in heater velocity, a slight tenth of a mile per hour ahead of teammate Edinson Volquez. It appears Cueto has some good “stuff” and that the lack of luck he received early on has tended to even out, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on him. How many of you lauded his first two starts and then largely forgot about him? And what do you see moving forward from those who watch him more often?

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

12 Responses to “Remember Cueto?”

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  1. Eric In Boston says:

    eric i think you hit the nail on the head.. those outside cincinnati don’t care about cincinnati.

    i had recalled cueto’s name toward the end of last season along with homer bailey’s but felt that they probalby wouldnt get a chance to “arrive” at the big league level with the leadership in place running that organization.

    i thought the hamilton/volquez trade went virtually unoticed (i was able to draft hamilton in the 6th round of my fantasy draft).

    it seems to me that cueto and volquez are, from an outsiders perspective, the same guy. they can be easily confused for one another.

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  2. Rick says:

    I think you forgot perhaps the most important 2 facts we need to consider regarding Cueto’s development:
    – He’s 22.
    – He started 2007 in A+ and had just 88 IP in the upper minors coming in to the season.

    His HR/FB is at 14.9%. His HR/9 was 0.85 in the upper minors and his BB/9 rate was under 2.0. It’s extremely likely that this is as bad as Cueto will ever be. He’s gotten a bit over-excited at times and has overthrown, leading to his stuff coming up in the zone and being a tad wild. As he matures emotionally, I think you’re going to see both of those numbers come down. (Consider that on 6/11 he walked 8 Cardinals. He’s not walked more than 3 outside of that appearance)

    He’s got really good stuff, but not quite what Volquez has. I’d say he’s easily going to be a solid #3 and that if he learns to control his emotions a bit better and not overthrow as much, could be a strong #2.

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  3. Nate says:

    The last couple starts I’ve seen Cueto using his fastball more as a strikeout pitch, to pretty good effectiveness. I think he and Volquez both tend to rely on their (devastating) changeups, and forget that their fastballs regularly hit 94 and 95.
    Both pitchers have extremely bright futures, and Cueto is three years younger. Cut down on the walks and these guys are both superstars, even in GABP.

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  4. Simmy says:

    Cueto is on my fantasy team, I have seen every start he has made and he has define inconsistency. He will tantalize you with a great game, then walk the ballpark the next time (he had an 8 walk game iirc). And within games too, he will have a stretch of 8 retired with 6 strikeouts or something, then implode.
    It seems like the reds’ rotation has a quite bright immediate future, even sans the enigmatic Bailey.

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  5. Choo says:

    I drafted Cueto in a pair of deep leagues and have watched a few of his starts. The first thing that caught my attention during his first regular season start was the sound his fastball made when it hit the catcher’s glove. It didn’t *pop* or have the heavy *thud* you get with a hard-sinker. It literally made a loud *crack* sound on impact. I later confirmed it with a friend who was at the game. He and a few others in his section noticed it as well, and they were nowhere near the field of play. I wondered if it had to do with the catcher having a tight pocket, which isn’t unusual early in the season, but I still hear it when I watch him pitch, albeit not as often.

    I also distinctly recall Cueto being aided with a generous strike zone during his early-season dominance of the D-Backs. To his credit, Cueto effectively expanded the bottom of the zone, gradually working his way further and further outside/inside, similar to the way Maddux & Glavine used to do back when the NL strike zone was virtually laying on its side.

    Since those early season starts, however, Cueto’s pitches have been up in the zone more often and over the heart of the plate more often. That’s the bottom line. He’s just a kid. Once he learns it isn’t necessary to overthrow – that under-throwing can be a more effective and conservative alternative – Cueto could settle into a fine career as quality #2 with slight #1 undertones.

    His physical build, throwing motion and fastball remind me a lot of a young Tom Gordon. Replace Gordon’s gravity-bending curve with Cueto’s plus change and two are nearly identical. That may not be a good thing however, because Gordon’s frame wasn’t able to withstand a consistent workload as a starter.

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  6. philosofool says:

    Cueto is the genuine article. Obviously, injury is always a worry for a pitcher his age and Dusty Baker isn’t very careful with his arm: he average 99 pitches per game and there have been several occasions on which he’s cracked 110. That’s not horrible, but I always worry with a 22 year old. Baring injury, we’ll see him around in the next few years.

    Cueto obviously has the skills to strike batters out, and I see no reason to think he won’t improve his (already acceptable) control.

    The biggest problem in his game is a high fly ball rate: 37.8% isn’t going to make him a star pitcher, especially in Great American. (Okay, it’s possible to be a star with a ground ball rate like that, but you have to pitch like Johan Santana to do it.)

    If Cueto can pull a John Danks (Danks has improved his GB% by 10% this year), Cueto can be a legitimate star. But until then, he’s a No. 2/3 pitcher.

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  7. Eric Seidman says:

    Guys, thanks for all your takes on it, it’s definitely beneficial to note. Yeah, most will forget he’s only 22 and if he can harness his raw tools he should make for a great #3 starter, perhaps even better in a few years. Cutting down on walks isn’t necessarily a given for him, however, just like it isn’t a given for all pitchers who initially struggle with them. Look at Daniel Cabrera: he throws hard and his 4.16 BB/9 right now is the best of his career.

    Not to say he is Cabrera but just that it shouldn’t be set in stone that he, in fact, is an automatic lock to cut back on walks.

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  8. dan says:

    Cueto is also on my fantasy team, and I refuse to sit him. He’s better than this, I’m just waiting for it to turn around. His minor league career shows great control, so that will probably get better with time.

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  9. Mark Runsvold says:

    At the start of the season until early June, Keith Law was adamant that Cueto had a brighter future than Volquez. His argument was that Cueto had better command of stuff that was almost as good, and I really think the numbers bear that out.

    Volquez’ sample size of performance at this level is growing, but he hadn’t shown any indication he could pitch so well prior to this year (outside of 51 AAA innings in 2007). His past is littered with command troubles and with his BB/9 at 4.33 even in this break-out season, I think a little caution is warranted.

    I’ve kept my eye and Cueto all along and still think he has a pretty good chance to make us all forget about Volquez in 5 years or so.

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  10. Eric Seidman says:

    Yeah, I agree Mark, we’re going to flip-flop between these guys for quite some time.

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  11. Doug S. says:

    Agree with last comment–Cueto will be the REDS best pitcher the next 5 yrs. if he stays healthy.

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  12. susan roberts says:

    . I think that female DJs can be just as good and even better than men at djing. What do you think?

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