Hype machine: Johnny Cueto

After the debut Johnny Cueto had and all the articles about it around the blogosphere, I wasn’t going to pen one myself. However, there are some things to be cautious/worried about, so I felt it right to do so.

If you are in a league with me where I own Mr. Cueto, please be advised that he is the next Pedro Martinez. Don’t feel the need to keep reading. If you’re not in such a league, I strongly advise you to read on.


2005	RK	GCL	19	13	6	43	8.0	1.7	56%	0.353
2006	A	MDW	20	14	14	76.1	9.8	1.8	53%	0.254
2006	A+	FSL	20	12	12	61.2	8.9	3.4	36%	0.268
2007	A+	FSL	21	14	14	78.1	8.3	2.4	47%	0.302
2007	AA	SL	21	10	10	61	11.4	1.6	38%	0.326
2007	AAA	IL	21	4	4	22	8.6	0.8	34%	0.317

Cueto is obviously good. Even at just 21 years of age, he logged 161.1 innings across three levels in 2007. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him pitch 180 or 190 innings in 2008. Another positive is his control. It has been fantastic, especially at Double-A and Triple-A. After these, though, there are some things to consider.

First is the strikeouts. He certainly can get them, but the only time he posted an elite strikeout rate was in Double-A last year after having just an 8.3 K/9 earlier in the year at High-A. Not exactly what we would expect to see, and this inconsistency has to make us pause, at least for a moment, when evaluating him for 2008.

The major problem with Cueto, though, is the ground ball rate. They were great at the lower levels, but fell off and were somewhat inconsistent from High-A on. In Double-A and Triple-A, they were downright bad. For most pitchers, this isn’t a huge deal if they have strikeout and walk rates like Cueto does. What makes Cueto different is the team he belongs to and the home park he will play in. Great American Ballpark inflates home runs by 28 percent, the third highest figure among all major league parks.

That could spell trouble for Cueto. All it will take is a little bad luck for him to appear to be greatly struggling, especially if his K/9 is under 8.00 or so. Even with neutral luck, homers will be a problem if he can’t get that ground ball rate up. Given the irrationality the Reds tend to display at times, they could even demote Cueto if he starts to struggle.

Cueto will one day be a very good pitcher. I’d just like you to temper your expectations for this season. If you currently own Cueto, now might be a good time to sell high.

Trade value

He received a lot of buzz after earning a rotation spot out of spring training over the likes of Homer Bailey. Now, after his seven-inning, one-hit, 10-strikeout, no-walk debut and all the positive write-ups about him, his value is sky high. Be very active over the next few days talking to the other owners in your league, gauging interest. Don’t trade him for the sake of trading him—he is a quality pitcher—but if you can get a good, proven commodity, jump all over it.

This advice goes double if a pitcher like Manny Parra or even Cueto’s teammate Edinson Volquez is still available on the waiver wire to replace him.

In keeper leagues, it really depends on the situation. I currently own him in a keeper league and will likely hold onto him. But if someone offers me another young, proven, quality player, I’d be foolish not to consider it.

Also, I’ve run into one person who was worried about the effect Dusty Baker would have on Cueto, possible working him too hard. If you run into someone like that, simply direct them to this article. As long as they are open to logic, their fears should be alleviated.

Further reading

Mike Fast, a recent addition to the THT team, wrote a very interesting analysis of Cueto’s first outing using PITCHf/x data. It’s currently being featured at THT Live; here’s a link if you’d like to check it out. It’s a good read.

Kiley McDaniel at Saber-Scouting also had a nice writeup of Cueto’s arsenal last week.

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