In case you had been to sit down down and make a listing of one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2010-16, you’d be hard-pressed to not embody Johnny Cueto in some capability. The 2-time All-Star completed among the many prime six in Nationwide League Cy Younger voting 3 times in that stretch, together with a runner-up end to Clayton Kershaw in 2014. He obtained not less than one down-ballot MVP vote in all three of these seasons as nicely. From 2010-16, Cueto turned in a 2.86 ERA, a 20.6% strikeout charge (at a time when that quantity was far more spectacular than it’s in 2022) and a terrific 6.2% stroll charge. Cueto was considered as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, and rightly so. He ranked fourth out of 228 certified beginning pitchers in ERA throughout that point, and his 1,294 2/3 innings had been the Sixteenth-most in baseball.
Contemplating that context, it’s no shock that Cueto hit the open market as one of the crucial in-demand free brokers within the recreation following the 2015 season. He’d struggled a bit following his commerce from Cincinnati to Kansas Metropolis, however Cueto’s last impression on the Royals was a two-hit, one-run full recreation in Sport 2 of the World Collection, which the Royals gained 7-1. Not a foul option to set out into free company for the primary time.
Cueto’s six-year, $132 million contract with the Giants made him the third-highest-paid pitcher of the 2015-16 offseason, trailing solely David Price and Zack Greinke’s pair of $200 million-plus offers (and beating MLBTR’s expectations by a yr within the course of). For the primary yr of Cueto’s contract, the signing seemed fairly sturdy. Cueto hurled 219 2/3 innings of two.79 ERA ball, made the All-Star workforce, and loved each Cy Younger and MVP votes in his first yr with San Francisco. The Giants’ “even-year” dynasty was reduce quick at three years (2010, 2012, 2014) — however not for any fault of Cueto’s. He made one look within the playoffs that winter and took a brutal complete-game loss that noticed him enable only one run on three hits and no walks with 10 strikeouts in opposition to the eventual champion Cubs.
Cueto missed a handful of begins in 2017 as a consequence of an ongoing blister situation and wasn’t at his greatest when wholesome. His 4.52 ERA that yr was his worst since his rookie marketing campaign again in 2008, and it was a very poorly timed droop, as Cueto might’ve opted out of the ultimate 4 years of his contract and examined the market a second time, had he turned in one other wholesome season of Cy-caliber outcomes. Ankle and elbow accidents wound up hobbling Cueto in 2018, and by August of that season, he was headed for Tommy John surgical procedure. Cueto returned late within the 2019 season and tossed 16 pedestrian innings, and his work within the shortened 2020 marketing campaign was the worst of his profession (5.40 ERA, career-high stroll charge).
Expectations for Cueto had been mild heading into the 2021 season, then, which made his rebound effort with the Giants one thing of a nice shock. Cueto missed almost a month with a lat pressure and was on the IL for a lot of September with an elbow pressure. The latter of these two accidents is especially regarding, since we didn’t see a lot from Cueto after he hit the IL. He made a lone rehab look within the minors (1 2/3 innings) and pitched 2 1/3 innings of aid within the majors on Sept. 30.
It’s not an excellent word on which to finish a season, however Cueto’s 92-mph velocity in that last outing was proper in keeping with what he’d achieved all through the season. And, when he was wholesome, Cueto was one of the best model of himself followers and opponents had seen in years. No, this wasn’t Cy Younger runner-up Cueto, however it was a really serviceable model of the quirky right-hander, who slotted properly into the fourth spot in a deep San Francisco rotation.
At 35 years outdated, Cueto wasn’t the fireballer he was earlier in his profession, however his 91.9 mph common fastball velocity was the best mark he’d posted since that excellent 2016 marketing campaign. His 6.1% stroll charge was additionally his greatest mark since that ’16 effort, and Cueto’s 9.7% swinging-strike charge and 31.4% opponents’ chase charge had been his greatest marks since 2017. Cueto’s common exit velocity, hard-hit charge and barrel charge had been all higher than the league common, and his stroll charge was within the 81st percentile of MLB pitchers.
Cueto was far more efficient by his first dozen begins of the season (3.63 ERA) than over his last 9 appearances (4.72), however maybe some late fatigue was to be anticipated. His first “full” season again from Tommy John surgical procedure, in spite of everything, was the pandemic-shortened 2020 marketing campaign. The 2021 season was the primary time since 2017 that Cueto had began the season wholesome in April and was nonetheless attempting to pitch into August and September.
The top results of Cueto’s 2021 marketing campaign was a decent 4.08 ERA and peripherals that largely backed him up (4.05 FIP, 4.27 xFIP, 4.43 SIERA). It’s not essentially a dominant profile, and projection programs are down on him by advantage of factoring in his ugly 2019-20 ends in the wake of Tommy John surgical procedure. ZiPS has him at 92 innings of 4.43 ERA ball. Steamer is extra bullish in workload (144 innings) however far more bearish in outcomes (5.05 ERA). You’re forgiven in case you are not overly optimistic for Cueto’s outlook in 2022 and past. The previous few years, taken as an entire, haven’t been nice.
A workforce that’s extra centered on Cueto’s 2021 traits — the rise in velocity over 2018-20, the upticks in swinging strikes and chases — may see issues otherwise, nevertheless. Cueto shouldn’t be penciled in for a return to his halcyon days of 200-plus innings and 33 begins, however he did make all 12 of his begins in 2020 and was more healthy in 2021 than he’s been since present process Tommy John surgical procedure. He’s not the complete-game risk and workhorse he as soon as was, however Cueto averaged 5 1/3 innings per begin in ’21 and had been averaging about 5 2/3 per outing up till the All-Star break. It’s not out of the query that he might bounce again a bit additional and make 24 to 25 begins with common or higher outcomes. At his per-start output, that clocks in someplace within the vary of 130 to 140 innings.
Perhaps 135 innings of low-4.00s ERA doesn’t bounce up and excite followers, however for the precise workforce, that’s lots beneficial. The prevailing, however typically incorrect, mentality is that each workforce possesses some guys in Triple-A who might come up and fill that function. Nevertheless, there have been solely 89 pitchers in MLB final season who pitched not less than 80 innings and posted an ERA below 4.25 — about three per workforce, on common. Bulk sources of respectable innings don’t essentially develop on timber.
Golf equipment that have already got strong choices within the prime 4 spots of their rotation might look to Cueto as a reasonably reasonably priced technique of rounding issues out. The Mets, Mariners, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs and the incumbent Giants all match that billing to various extents. A workforce in want of filling out a number of rotation spots (e.g. Twins, Nationals, Rangers) may search for a bit extra reliability, however even perhaps it might see some benefit in putting in Cueto as a steadying presence whereas awaiting the arrival of some youthful arms.
No matter Cueto’s eventual vacation spot, it’s a bit stunning that he’s develop into one thing of a forgotten man this time round in free company. There’s been nary a phrase about his market for the reason that Giants opted for a $5 million buyout over a $22 million membership possibility for the 2022 season. At a web $17 million, that possibility was by no means getting picked up, however Cueto had a good rebound marketing campaign in ’21 and doubtless must be getting slightly extra consideration as followers, pundits and groups alike contemplate the post-lockout market. He may not command greater than a one-year deal, and that comes with severe discount potential — relative to different names who’ve signed up to now, anyway.
Corey Kluber obtained $8 million from the Rays, and Cueto pitched as a lot in 2021 as Kluber has over the previous three years mixed. Jordan Lyles obtained a $7 million assure from the Orioles regardless of main the majors with 38 homers allowed final yr and main the majors in earned runs allowed since 2020. Andrew Heaney obtained $8.5 million from the Dodgers. The Pink Sox gave $7 million to Michael Wacha. This isn’t to disparage any of these offers individually. The groups paying these salaries are paying for various ranges of perceived upside, relative youth and/or bulk innings. Nevertheless, it’s onerous to see these figures and assume Cueto gained’t command one thing related, if not higher. And if he does clock in south of that vary as a consequence of issues over the late elbow situation, he has some important discount potential.
It appears foolish to name a multi-time All-Star and former Cy Younger candidate who simply completed up a nine-figure deal “ignored,” however Cueto hasn’t gotten a lot consideration even when it comes to pure free-agent hypothesis, although he simply turned in a reasonably respectable season general.