Is Johnny Cueto That Much Of A Mystery?

by Brendan Panikkar | Posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
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Johnny Cueto

Is Johnny Cueto that much of a mystery?

When the Kansas City Royals made a massive splash to get Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline, the Royals thought they were getting a guy who they could count on start in and start out. After all, Cueto was spinning a gem of a season with Cincinnati with a nifty 2.60 ERA (3.20 FIP, 3.57 xFIP) and an fWAR of 3.0. Cueto came to the Royals and the American League where he proceeded to make 13 starts. In those starts, Cueto posted a 4.76 ERA (4.06 FIP, 4.13 xFIP) and an fWAR of 1.1. He wasn’t the same dominant Cueto that Reds fans had grown accustomed too.

Come playoff time, Cueto started Game  2 against the Houston Astros and Cueto wasn’t exceptionally sharp but he got through 6.0 innings allowing 7 hits, 4 runs while walking 3 and striking out 5. In Game 5, the dominant Cueto showed up. He threw 8.0 innings allowing 2 runs and had 8 strikeouts. In Game 3 of the ALCS, Cueto got absolutely rocked. He only managed to throw 2.0 innings allowing 8 earned runs. Cueto’s final start of the post-season was by far his best. He threw a complete game against the New York Mets, only allowing 1 run. Enough reciting Cueto’s starts. He was simply quite inconsistent, and the majority of his regular season starts with Kansas City that were on the road weren’t particular pretty. Cueto at Kauffman Stadium was quite good, however.

Johnny Cueto is currently a free agent and many believe he will not be returning to Kansas City. He is expected to cash in for a long term deal worth likely north of $20 million per season. But who is the real Johnny Cueto and what should teams expect from the right hander? Is it the dominant Cueto from Game 2 of the World Series or is he an injury risk waiting to happen? Cueto had 2 starts pushed back in the regular season. Though it may not have been injury related, it seems rather fishy. Or is Johnny Cueto a really good starter who can buckle on the road like we saw in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays?

Cueto started his career as a full time starter in 2008 with Cincinnati. Each season after, Cueto got better and better and better. His best season to this point 2012 where he threw 217.0 innings with a 2.78 ERA (3.27 FIP, 3.65 xFIP). In 2014, even though it wasn’t his best season by WAR, it is very possible 2014 was his best season when you look at what he did. In 243.2 innings, Cueto had a sparkling ERA of 2.25 (3.30 FIP, 3.21 xFIP). He also added 242 strikeouts to go along with that and walked 6.8% of batters faced.

For his career, Johnny Cueto has an ERA of 3.30 (3.82 FIP, 3.85 xFIP), 19.9 K%, 7.0 BB%, a BAA of .239, and WHIP of 1.13. Those are some pretty good career numbers. There is no denying that Cueto has a ton of talent. The main question that teams will have when they sign him is what Cueto they will get. The one who melted in Toronto or the brilliant Cueto that showed up in the World Series.

There is one really telling stat that is heavily in Cueto’s favour. From 2010-2015, Cueto’s ERA- is tied for 3rd best with Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom at 73. Ahead of them is Matt Harvey at 70 and Clayton Kershaw at 60. For those who aren’t familiar with ERA-, it is a stat that can tell you how well a player has performed versus league average. League average is 100. Unlike hitters and wRC+, with ERA-, the lower the number is better.

Going to a statistic that many are familiar with in fWAR, Cueto from 2010-2015 is the 16th best starter in the majors with an fWAR of 19.7 over that time span. There are some names ahead of him who obviously are not free agents or are not close to what they used to be during that time frame. Regardless, you can make the argument that for the past 6 seasons, Cueto is a top 15 starter in the game, maybe even top 10.

The free agent crop of top tier starting pitchers include David PriceZack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann, and Johnny Cueto. It is rich. There are also numerous second tier guys that could be more than viable options for teams like Jeff SamardzijaMarco EstradaMike LeakeIan KennedyDoug Fister, and Yovani Gallardo. There are numerous names on the board to pick from.

Based on the crop of free agents, who signs Cueto? If you’re a team that needs an ace and can lead your team into the playoffs, Cueto fits the bill just as well as Price and Greinke, and probably at a cheaper cost than Price and Greinke. If you ask me, you can all but throw away the concerns those may have over his playoff meltdown or rough 2nd half with Kansas City. Cueto is a top talent. The only reason to tread with caution is his elbow. If he is healthy, Cueto is not a mystery. He is an ace.

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Brendan Panikkar
About the Author

Brendan Panikkar is a graduate of Brock University's Sport Management program. Currently, he is the Vice-President, Customer Service at North Aware. He loves all sports but baseball and football take precedent over hockey and basketball. Teams: Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, San Francisco 49ers, Toronto Raptors

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