This off-season, the list of top 100 Reds (found somewhere on the left-hand sidebar) will not be adding any new names, although the order will certainly shift a bit again, due to the active players already on the list. Before we officially re-arrange the pantheon, however, let's first spend some time over the next couple weeks celebrating the currently-rostered players who are on the next level of historical import.
Also, briefly, a barely-related footnote: the Reds are in striking range of a distinction not applicable since after the 2000 season. If Cincy wins 83 games or more in 2012, they will possess a rolling 5-year winning percentage above .500. The stench of the Horrid Decade is nearly completely behind us now, and the quantity/quality profile of players is good enough to complain about, which is miles better than our previous position of Severe Indifference.
Anyways, on to the show.
I don't have a list of the greatest pitching debuts in Reds history, but if I did, Cueto would have to be on it. April 3, 2008: Cueto scattered one hit across seven innings while striking out ten. He actually began the game by retiring the first 15 hitters, and cruised through the 7 frames in just 92 pitches. Not bad for a 22 year old rookie.
As an aside, 2008 doesn't feel like that long ago, but here was the lineup from that marvelous entrance, which the Reds did win: Freel - Keppinger - Griffey - Phillips - Dunn - Encarnacion - Hatteberg - Bako - Cueto. You've come a long way, baby.
At any rate, those kinds of debuts will get a fan base excited, but perhaps Cueto was not quite ready for prime time. By the end of that first month, his ERA was well above 5, and it hovered near that level throughout the rest of the season, with the young pitcher showing a particular proclivity to the long ball: 29 surrendered in just 174 innings.
Since then, Cueto has been quite the study in trending patterns. His HR/9 rate has fallen each year, and his BB/9 rate has basically done the same (2010 and 2011 walk rates were virtually identical). Similarly, his hits allowed per inning have followed the same progression. So, naturally, has his effectiveness: ERA+ rates of 92, 95, 112, and 169. It's that last one that has people jazzed up. A 169 ERA+ ranks as the 13th highest single-season mark in Cincinnati history. Could this be the ace long desired?
One season is never enough to label a star, and so it is with Cueto. Questions remain. In particular, Cueto's breakthrough 2011 was also home to his lowest innings output (on the shelf in April and the last half of September) and strikeout rate (steadily falling along with his other peripherals). Is he fragile? Losing the ability to miss bats? One suspects that 2011's curiously low hit rate is unsustainable, but even with some regression, Cueto is easy to project visions of long-term quality upon. Signed through 2014, we will find out together, for good or ill.
In his four year career, Cueto holds a 41-37 record, with a 3.83 ERA (109 ERA+). His most recent season has pushed him just above the threshold for ‘honorable mention' status, currently ranking as the #246 player on the all-time list.