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Updating the Top 100: Johnny Cueto

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A gingerly written profile, so as to not injure anything.

I hate when these two are next to each other.
I hate when these two are next to each other.
Joe Sargent

For the fifth consecutive year, Johnny Cueto lowered his career ERA. I suppose that's worth something. On the other hand, Cueto battled side injuries all year long, scattering three separate trips to the disabled list among 60 innings pitched.

What do you write about a player who you could have missed if you had blinked this season? That's not entirely true, of course. Every fan watches the first game and the last game of the year, and Cueto threw in both. He dazzled the Angels in game 1 (in a game the team lost) and looked bewildered in game 163 against the Pirates. The length of the season is demonstrated by just how long it's been since you felt the Cueto confidence.

Alas, the injury bug-to a pitcher, especially-is confidence shaking. Cueto pitched well enough, rate-wise, for 2013 to fit in with the last couple years, but the two Cueto images burned into the national consciousness are him walking gingerly off the mound after facing one Giants batter and him dropping the ball on the PNC mound. Two totally different circumstances and not even blame-worthy, but I'd be willing to bet American dollars that your perception of the guy is a whole lot different than it was 14 or 15 months ago.

Ironically, Cueto's career stats suggest a workhorse of sorts, with 964 innings pitched over six seasons. The typical career pattern might be a gradual ramp-up of innings, say 100 total over the first two seasons followed by season after season of 215 innings per. Instead Cueto's topped 190 innings in a season only once, and his relatively high innings total is as much a function of being used regularly as a raw 22 year-old. There certainly hasn't been the high degree of correlation between innings volume and innings quality as one would otherwise expect. Which is a bit frustrating, and also suggests more than a bit of fragility to Cueto's frame.

Is this fair? Probably not, since Cueto did log 217 amazing innings of awesomeness just one year ago. He has missed a fair number of starts in two of the last three campaigns, however, and there's the ongoing speculation that it's his very pitching motion which is causing the breakdowns.

I know that it breaks the rules to make player comparisons which cross racial lines, but it dawns on me that the most likely Bronson Arroyo replacement is Cueto himself. Cueto isn't indestructible like Arroyo is, but they do both tend to emphasize craftiness and cunning over sheer power. The last three years, Cueto has roughly posted a 150 ERA+; if the team pulled back on the throttle a bit, thought of Cueto more like a #5 starter instead of a #1, skipped a start or two throughout the season, pulled him after 5 or 6 innings instead of hoping for 7 or 8...would that help keep Johnny healthy into September or October? From a game theory perspective, would you lock in 150 innings of vintage Cueto next year or take your chances in the hopes he could give you 220?

Or at the very least, maybe Bronson could leave a few of his nutritional supplements behind?

In six seasons with the Reds, Johnny Cueto has started 160 games, thrown 964.2 innings, and logged a record of 65-48. His ERA of 3.53 has translated to an ERA+ of 117. In an abbreviated season, Cueto has climbed from #153 to #146 on the all-time Reds list.