Johnny Cueto has become the staff ace for the Cincinnati Reds and in 2012, is enjoying his best season to date. With his win on Saturday, Cueto is now sitting on a 16-6 record for the season and is on pace to set career highs in strike-outs and innings pitched to go along with his career-best win total. His start to the season has Cueto sitting near the top of the heap in any discussion regarding the National League Cy Young Award, and, perhaps unfairly, his team’s success may be enough to push him past the likes of R.A. Dickey when the votes get tallied.
At 26-years-old, and with 5 seasons under his belt already, Cueto is showing an impressive ability to learn and get better, perhaps using the fall of Edinson Volquez in Cincinnati as his motivation. For 5 straight seasons, his BB/9 have gone down, from 3.5 in his rookie season in 2008 to 2.0 this season. With that, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) has made a similar plunge, from 4.90 as a rookie to 3.04 in 2012.
But Cueto’s ability has always been there. He has gotten off to some stellar starts in the last couple of seasons. Prior to 2012, his greatest problem has been getting over the bump and closing out that solid start. From 2009 to 2011, Cueto has owned the following stat-line in the first half:
21-11, 3.10 ERA, 6.3 K/9, 2.96 BB/9
However, the second half has been a mystery for Cueto, as he reverts to the following slash-line:
11-12, 4.07 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 2.78 BB/9
The funny thing is, his peripheral stats actually improved during those years, as he saw an uptick in strike-outs and lowered his walks. However, he got hit around significantly more and the end results were minor steps forward.
So when Cueto got off to the fast start in 2012, many pundits immediately starting asking what Johnny Cueto would show up after the All-Star break. However, 2012 has been a different story.
While Cueto was indeed lights out in the first half of the season, he has been just as steady in the second half:
First Half: 10-5, 2.39 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 2.02 BB/9
Second Half: 6-1, 2.55 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 1.83 BB/9
The evolution has been outstanding and the Cincinnati Reds are reaping the benefits of it. And from their perspective in their lofty place atop the National League Central, the Reds are happy to have Cueto guarding their path to the postseason.