NL Cy Young Race: Johnny Cueto vs. Clayton Kershaw

by Brendan Panikkar | Posted on Saturday, August 16th, 2014
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Johnny Cueto has had a sensational 2014 season which will put him in Cy Young talks

Johnny Cueto has had a sensational 2014 season which will put him in Cy Young talks

The 2014 season has seen some pretty spectacular seasons from starting pitchers. A large number of starters are truly experiencing dominating seasons and the AL Cy Young race is pretty wide open from guys like Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Jon Lester, and Chris Sale. In the NL, the race for the Cy Young is definitely more defined. In my mind, Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto is the biggest challenger to the Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw in the race for the award. Let’s delve into the magnificent seasons both are having.

Clayton Kershaw:

Quite frankly, Kershaw is in his own tier when it comes to ranking the best pitchers not only in the NL, but the entire MLB. Kershaw is having an absolutely remarkable season and is clearly the front runner for the Cy Young award.

When you examine Kershaw’s stats you notice that even though he has hit the disabled list and missed some time, he is actually having a better season than 2013, when he won the award. Currently he is throwing up a sparkling 1.78 ERA which is lower than his 1.83 ERA of last season. His FIP agrees that the ERA is where it should be as it is at 1.75, even lower than his ERA while his xFIP is still a superb 2.01. The level he is pitching on ERA and FIP wise are quite amazing. The ERA has been a very true indicator as to how dominant Kershaw has been in 2014.

If Kershaw is to keep up his current pace, he would establish a new career best in K% with 31.8%. He would also establish a new career low (best) in BB% of 3.7%. He leads the MLB in K% and is tied for 6th in BB%. He is pounding the strikezone with his 92.8 average fastball velocity, a filthy slider, great changeup, and slow curveball. What has added to the dominance of Kershaw is the additional pitch in his arsenal. He added a sinker this season and he has come close to already mastering the pitch. He is getting groundballs at a 55.0%.

The 2014 Kershaw now can get you out with groundballs, strikeouts, and the fact he hardly walks a batter. Opposing batters are hitting a miniscule .199 against Kershaw. Kershaw is truly the best pitcher in the MLB. He has averaged 7.2 innings in his starts this season while the entire rest of the MLB is averaging 6.0 innings. He is tied for average length in his starts with Johnny Cueto.

Johnny Cueto:

The Cincinnati Reds have a healthy Johnny Cueto to count on to take the mound every fifth day in 2014. Last year, he was plagued by injuries and just could not establish himself as his usual self as he only made 11 starts.

2014 has been completely different for Cueto. He has made 26 starts and has averaged 7.2 innings in those starts. He is on pace to likely set a new career high in innings pitched as he sits at 187.2 innings thrown. He needs to surpass 217.0 to set a new career high and with likely another six or seven starts left in the season, I would imagine he sets that new high.

Cueto has been the closest competitor to Kershaw for the NL Cy Young race. Cueto has thrown an ERA of 2.06 but his FIP and xFIP don’t exactly agree with that ERA. His FIP is 3.19 and xFIP is 3.13. Despite the fact that his FIP and xFIP are over a whole run higher than his ERA, don’t look away from his dominance in 2014. He has been as good as that 2.06 ERA in my mind.

Like Kershaw, Cueto is on pace to set a career best in K% with 25.5% and is walking batters at a 6.7% rate, which would be his second best total of his career. One thing that is masked by all the innings Cueto has thrown is that the home run ball is still beating him. He has allowed 16 home runs so far in 2014, which is already one higher than 2012 when he allowed 15 in 217.0 innings pitched. If Cueto cut down on the home runs he allowed it is reasonable to think that his ERA would be near the level of Kershaw.

The reason I think his ERA would be at Kershaw levels is because he is allowing batters to hit for a lower average against him than Kershaw. His WHIP is 0.91 which is 4th in the MLB and only 0.05 higher than Kershaw but he has allowed batters to hit an unworldly .181 against him. That .181 average against Cueto is best in the majors.


Kershaw still take home the Cy Young award. He has thrown a no hitter in 2014 and the Dodgers are currently in a playoff spot while the Reds sit 6.5 back of first place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and 3.0 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second NL Wild Card spot.

The only thing the voters may take into consideration is that Kershaw has missed time in 2014 with his early season DL stint. Cueto has made every turn in the rotation and has been dominant in nearly every start. Despite that fact, Kershaw has been the better pitcher but Cueto should make things interesting in the Cy Young race as the season winds down, especially if the Reds sneak into the playoffs.

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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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  • Shawn

    Don’t forget to take into account their home parks. I’m sure that Cueto would allow far fewer home runs if he pitched in Dodger’s stadium for half his starts instead of the band box the Reds have.

    Not to mention that both the Padres and Giants have excellent pitchers parks as well.

    • Brendan

      Thanks for the read and comment! I was going to use ERA- which takes into account ballpark factors but it isn’t a stat too many are familiar with just yet so I left it out to not throw too many confusing statistics at people.

    • Bip tracks the average park factor a pitcher faces over a season. A park factor of 100 is neutral, while lower favors the pitcher and higher favors the hitter. GAB is 99-100 and Dodger Stadium is 96-97, so they aren’t too different. However, looking at the specific parks each pitcher has pitched in this year, Cueto’s average park factor is 98.1 and Kershaw’s is 98.6, which is effectively the same, so you can’t really say Kershaw has benefitted substantially from park compared to Cueto.

  • Bip

    I don’t agree that the AL race is wide open. Felix is running away with it right now.

    Secondly, Kershaw doesn’t throw a sinker. He has an occasional changeup which he rarely uses, but he mainly just has one fastball. His fastball actually nearly has the most rise in baseball, so if anything, it’s an anti-sinker. He can sometimes vary the amount of cut and ride on it, but it never sinks.

    As for how he gets those ground balls, he is pretty good at keeping the ball down in the zone. His two-strike approach is almost totally centered on low breaking balls, so if a batter manages to make contact, they are hitting it into the ground.

    I also don’t really see why you speculate what Cueto’s numbers would be like if he allowed fewer home runs. His home run per fly ball ratio is basically average. If anything, maybe speculate what his numbers would be if his ridiculous .225 BABIP was closer to average.

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