Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto Quietly the NL's Best Pitcher

Ryan NolanCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 2: Johnny Cueto #47 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during the game against the San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park on August 2, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Reds' fans are witnessing the greatness of Johnny Cueto for a second consecutive year.  The Dominican starter has firmly entrenched himself as the Reds' No. 1 starter, their true ace.  Cueto's numbers have been dazzling this season, and he's getting what he desperately needs for the Cy Young race: wins.

With a 14-5 record, Cueto shares the title of MLB's most wins along with highly praised names like David Price, Jared Weaver and R.A. Dickey.  Fourteen wins marks a career best for the Cincinnati ace and given how hot the Reds' offense has been lately, that number should only climb.

Last season, Johnny Cueto was just as impressive as he is this year.  He had a 2.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and held batter's to a .214 batting average.  Over half of the balls hit against him were grounders—crucial in Great American Ballpark, where the HR rate of 1.644/game is the second highest in the major leagues.  

While these numbers are better than his current campaign, his problem last year though was one of innings pitched—missing qualification for the ERA title by just six innings—and garnering little attention with his nine wins.

This year's the new story, the story of a healthier Johnny Cueto.  Although not quite as good as last year, his 1.21 WHIP is up there with well-established names like C.J. Wilson and C.C. Sabathia. Although batters hit .254 against him, he strands over 80 percent of his runners on base, seventh best in the majors.  Pitching in Cincinnati, he's given up just seven HRs, fourth best in the majors with the second-lowest HR/9.

Why is there no buzz about this guy?

The answer is depressingly obvious.  Cueto doesn't fit the mold of a modern ace.  Unlike his peers, his strikeout rate is pretty plain at 7.06 K/9.  His fastball averages around 92 MPH, and he's not the anomaly of a pitcher that R.A. Dickey is.  His name isn't on the trade block like Zack Greinke, he isn't getting All-Star appearances, he's playing for a small-market team and he's a relatively fresh face.

If the season ended right now and Johnny Cueto didn't win the NL Cy Young Award, MLB would have to answer some tough questions.  Cueto holds baseball's ninth best WAR and sits behind only the reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander when you shorten the list to just pitchers.  He's the clear ace of baseball's best and hottest team.  He's tied for fifth in number of quality starts, ahead of such NL fan favorites as Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw.  He also has the fourth best ERA in the NL.

Three of his five losses were tough to swallow, and none of his wins came cheap.

I can throw incredible stats about the guy at you all day.  With him on the mound, 89 percent of baserunners are caught stealing.  He hasn't thrown a wild pitch this year.  Only three qualified pitchers have earned fewer runs than him.

Where is the talk about a pitcher finding himself among the league's best in almost every category?

If Cueto continues his dominance—and there's no reason he shouldn't, his ERA going back to the start of 2011 is second only to Jared Weaver's—and tops 20 wins this season, don't just pray that he wins the Cy Young Award, expect it.