How Johnny Cueto Has Become No-Brainer 2014 Cy Young Favorite

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How Johnny Cueto Has Become No-Brainer 2014 Cy Young Favorite
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Johnny Cueto continued his historic start to the season with another gem on Thursday afternoon, tossing a three-hit shutout against the light-hitting San Diego Padres.

With his third complete game and second shutout of the season, Cueto has only padded what was already the best stat line of any National League starter, and he looks like the clear front-runner for NL Cy Young honors here in the early going.

Cueto, himself, now believes he is the best there is in MLB, according to John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

It goes beyond him just being the best pitcher in the National League and perhaps all of baseball right now, though, as he has made history with his dominance through nine starts.

He has indeed been brilliant each time out so far this year, as he has put an injury-plagued 2013 season in the rearview mirror.

He has had the benefit of facing some below-average offenses in the Pirates, Mets, Rays, Braves and Padres, but he also kept the league's best offense in the Rockies at bay. But regardless of the opponents he's faced, his numbers have been very impressive.

Johnny Cueto 2014 Game Log
Date (Opponent) IP H ER BB K
Mar. 31 (STL) 7 3 1 1 8
Apr. 5 (NYM) 7 5 2 3 9
Apr. 11 (TB) 7 5 2 4 6
Apr. 16 (PIT) 9 3 0 0 12
Apr. 22 (PIT) 9 3 1 3 4
Apr. 27 (ATL) 8 3 0 3 11
May 3 (MIL) 8 3 2 1 10
May 9 (COL) 8 5 2 1 8
May 15 (SD) 9 3 0 2 8

Baseball Reference

He already led the NL in ERA, WHIP and batting average against entering his latest start, and his shutout effort only furthered his lead in those categories. Here are his numbers, followed by his next-closest competitor in each category:

  • ERA: 1.25 (Jeff Samardzija, 1.45)
  • WHIP: 0.73 (Tim Hudson, 0.81)
  • BAA: .135 (Jose Fernandez, .188)

Part of the reason for his success this year has been a spike in his strikeout rate, as he entered the season with a 7.0 K/9 mark but has been fanning batters at a 9.5 K/9 pace so far this year with 76 punchouts in 72 innings of work.

As a whole, his stuff has been great, but it's his sinker that has been the difference-making pitch. He's throwing it slightly more than he had in the past, and it's been significantly more effective.

Pitch Efficiency Numbers
Pitch 2007-13 2014
Sinker 20.1%, .284 BAA, .128 ISO 27.0%, .110 BAA, .041 ISO
Fastball 35.9%, .251 BAA, .179 ISO 23.0%, .162 BAA, .162 ISO
Cutter 7.2%, .265 BAA, .082 ISO 18.6%, .208 BAA, .302 ISO
Changeup 11.6%, .227 BAA, .151 ISO 15.9%, .081 BAA, .108 ISO
Slider 21.4%, .234 BAA, .128 ISO 12.3%, .350 BAA, .450 ISO
Curveball 3.7%, .237 BAA, .111 ISO 3.0%, .500 BAA, .000 ISO

Brooks Baseball

The NL remains a pitching-heavy league, so winning the Cy Young will be no cake walk, but there is no question Cueto has put himself at the head of the class through the first quarter of the season.

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
Despite missing the first month of the season, Clayton Kershaw is still a serious NL Cy Young contender.

Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright finished 1-2 in the voting last season, and both are prime candidates once again. Wainwright continues to be a workhorse atop the Cardinals staff, while Kershaw has picked up right where he left off after missing the first month of the season with back problems.

Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez finished third in balloting last year and was off to a brilliant start again this season, but an elbow injury has forced him to the sidelines and he'll be lost for the season to Tommy John surgery.

Behind those three, veterans Tim Hudson and Ervin Santana have both been great with their new teams, trade-rumor magnet Jeff Samardzija is still winless on the year for the Cubs but has great peripheral numbers, and Tom Koehler has quietly been a stud for the the Marlins.

Then there are up-and-comers like Andrew Cashner, Wily Peralta and Julio Teheran, who are all off to hot starts as well, as they look to establish themselves as some of the league's top arms. 

NL Cy Young Candidates
Name 2014 Stats
Johnny Cueto, CIN 4-2, 1.25 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 18 BB, 76 K, 72 IP, .135 BAA
Clayton Kershaw, LAD 2-0, 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 1 BB, 25 K, 20.2 IP, .263 BAA
Adam Wainwright, STL 6-2, 2.11 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 15 BB, 56 K, 64 IP, .203 BAA
Tim Hudson, SF 4-2, 2.09 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 4 BB, 38 K, 60.1 IP, .206 BAA
Ervin Santana, ATL 4-0, 1.99 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9 BB, 43 K, 40.2 IP, .221 BAA
Jeff Samardzija, CHC 0-3, 1.45 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 16 BB, 45 K, 56 IP, .215 BAA
Tom Koehler, MIA 3-3, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 22 BB, 30 K, 49 IP, .195 BAA
Andrew Cashner, SD 2-5, 2.35 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 17 BB, 47 K, 57.1 IP, .236 BAA
Julio Teheran, ATL 2-3, 2.20 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 16 BB, 46 K, 61.1 IP, .199 BAA
Wily Peralta, MIL 4-2, 2.05 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10 BB, 39 K, 52.2 IP, .240 BAA

MLB.com

That's just a brief overview of the NL Cy Young picture, and there are probably another dozen starters worthy of mention here, but my main point is that everyone is clearly chasing Cueto at this point.

Even with a fourth-place finish in the voting back in 2012, when he went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, Cueto is still rarely talked about as one of the game's premier starters.

Maybe a catchy nickname could help get him some national attention.

Teammate Zack Cozart, the Reds' starting shortstop, agrees that Cueto deserves more publicity than he has received to this point.

"I think it's about time he starts getting recognition nationally," Cozart told John Fay of the The Cincinnati Enquirer. "We know how good he is when he's healthy. For him to start getting some pub is pretty cool. We think he's the top pitcher."

If he keeps pitching like he has so far, the 28-year-old won't fly under the radar for long. He's been huge for a Reds team that has been bit by the injury bug and battled some offensive inconsistency.

Were he playing in a larger market he'd likely be the talk of the baseball world, but regardless of the attention he's received, he's the current clear-cut favorite for NL Cy Young honors. 

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