Is Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Cueto the Best Starting Pitcher in the National League?

I can already hear the chorus of all the dissenters calling out the names of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum among others.

It may come as a surprise to many baseball fans to learn that Johnny Cueto has the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher in MLB. Surprised?

After pitching a gem last night against the Washington Nationals, Cueto has enough innings pitched to qualify for the statistical leadership. That standard is based on one inning per each game the pitcher’s team has played.

That has kept Cueto off the radar for much of the season, due to his appearance on the DL at the beginning of the season. His first start was May 8 at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs.

So, roughly one or two days per week his name eclipses Ryan Vogelsong, Halladay, Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander. At a miniscule 1.89 nobody else is even close to him in that category.

Many people when thinking about Cueto visualize him practicing MMA on catcher Jason LaRue in the infamous brawl with the St. Louis Cardinals last season.

Facts are facts and numbers can not lie. In 19 starts for the Reds this season Cueto has had “quality starts” in 16. That equates to an average of 84%. In last night’s game with the Nat’s he was working on a five-hit shutout until Ryan Zimmerman lit him up on the first pitch of the ninth inning.

Is that better than Halladay’s numbers? In total number no, but in average it certainly is. Halladay has pitched 20 quality starts in 25 attempts for an even 80%.

Halladay’s teammate Lee, has only 17 in 24 for a 71% average even though he has a league-leading five shutouts.

The fact that Cueto sports a record of 9-5 should not be misleading. In the five games he has lost he has given up just 11 earned runs, five of them in one game. That was actually his only bad start of the year. The bullpen has let him down on several occasions.

Cueto, 25, has altered his delivery this season. It is now a swivel movement reminiscent of  El Tiante (the great Luis Tiant). It started out just a minor adjustment but now is a 180o pirouette toward the center-fielder.

He has only given up 92 hits in 121+ innings and carries a very respectable 1.02 WHIP. His three complete games are behind only Halladay, Lee and Dodger southpaw Clayton Kershaw.

If you were hand picking a team from scratch and could take anybody, considering age, along with everything else, is there someone else in the league you would pick? Seriously.

At the risk of sounding homerish (sic) I have to tell you that I would pick Cueto without hesitation.

Cliff Eastham is the featured Cincinnati Reds columnist for RantSports.com. For daily updates, follow him on Twitter @RedsToTheBone and join the fan page on Rant Sports MLB – Cincinnati Reds

 

 

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  • Lewie Pollis

    Johnny Cueto’s improved ERA and WHIP are the result of a .226 BABIP. Before this season, his BABIP had always fallen between .290 and .298. It’s been five years since any pitcher maintained a hit rate that low over a full season, and he (Chris Young) was a strikeout-heavy extreme flyball pitcher who played half his games in Petco Park (i.e., the opposite of Cueto).

    Why is Cueto’s low hit rate legitimate and not just good luck? What is he doing differently this year? And what makes him different from Ubaldo Jimenez and Trevor Cahill, last year’s biggest low-BABIP flukes?

    • Cliff Eastham

      I know it isn’t a technical or mechanical answer, but he is growing wiser each start and now realizes he isn’t going to strike out everybody. He is relying heavier on his defense and his placement is much better. When his first pitch to a batter is a strike, he has a BAA of .157.

      The third inning of a game is when he usually gives up the most hits. Teams are batting .260 against him then, but under .200 in innings 1,2,6 and 7.

      In the past when he would be pitching a good game, the bullpen would ruin it for him, making him feel that he had to pitch perfectly. His outlook now is better and without the defense he has supporting him, he will be good for a long time.

      Thanks for commenting.