When you think of the great pitchers in Major League Baseball, certain names instantly come to mind. Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and several others, are all quickly brought up in conversations about the game's elite.
One pitcher who consistently goes unnoticed in this conversation is Johnny Cueto.
Going back to the start of the 2011 season, here's a blind look at the stats of Cueto and the five pitchers I consider the best in baseball:
If you follow baseball as closely as I do, you may be able to guess who a few of these guys are.
Player B, although last in games started and wins, is third in quality start percentage, had the most wins lost by the bullpen and suffered two tough losses and 10 no-decisions. He also has the best ERA among the six starters, the fourth best WHIP and third best batting average against.
It may come as a surprise, unless you guessed from the nature of the article, that player B is Johnny Cueto. Player A is Roy Halladay, C is Justin Verlander, D is Clayton Kershaw, E is Felix Hernandez and F is CC Sabathia.
Of all the statistical categories listed above, the only ones that Cueto is consistently beaten in are K/9, BB/9 and K/BB. Though these ratios are significantly lower than the other five pitchers, they come solely from a lack of strikeouts.
Johnny Cueto is not a strikeout pitcher and he'd be the first to tell you that.
When he came up with the Reds, Cueto threw much harder and was thought of as a strikeout pitcher in the minors. Since then, he's re-tooled his pitching mechanics and decreased his velocity across the board.
His average fastball, slider and change-up velocities in 2008 were 93.2, 85.0 and 84.6 miles per hour, respectively. In 2012, those same pitches average 91.0, 81.9 and 83.9 miles per hour.
This has allowed Cueto to be much more efficient with his pitches. Through the first five starts of 2012, Cueto is starting batters off with a first pitch strike 61 percent of the time. Thirty percent of batters faced have seen an 0-2 count.
Cueto is getting ahead of batters and putting them in very favorable pitcher's counts.
He also keeps the ball on the ground, which is a must when you make half of your starts at Great American Ball Park. Just averaging out percentages over this season and last, Cueto induces ground balls 49.25 percent of the time.
Last year, Cueto had a ground ball percentage of 53.7 and a fly ball percentage of 30.1. He also allowed just .59 HR/9 last year.
In his first five starts, Cueto is 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, 1.052 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and seven walks in 32.1 innings pitched. Cueto's made quality starts in four of those five starts and is receiving just 3.9 runs in support of his starting efforts.
Johnny Cueto has proven over last season, and the start of this season, that he belongs in your next conversation about who the game's best pitchers are.