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What does Max Scherzer's contract mean for Johnny Cueto?

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Max Scherzer got PAID by the Nationals. With Johnny Cueto's free agency looming, what should we expect his next contract to look like?

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

This article is late considering the fact the Max Scherzer news, press conference, and much of the analysis was done last week.  I got caught up in the 10th anniversary of Red Reporter, and I sincerely apologize.  If you hadn't heard, Max Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals for 7 years and $210 million dollars.  That's a ton of money.  The Nationals did structure the deal so it doesn't effect their payroll as much.  Technically, the Nationals will pay Max Scherzer $15,000,000 per year for 7 years.  Then, they will pay him $15,000,000 a year for another 7 years he isn't with the club, effectively making the deal a 14 year $210,000,000 deal.  Anyway you shake it, it's still a ton of money and a huge commitment.  If you'd like to read more on the structure of the deal, I'd suggest this Fangraphs article.

How does this affect the Reds?  Well, if you've been paying attention, you'd know the Reds have had some preliminary talks with Johnny Cueto's agent about an extension.  Apparently, talks went pretty much nowhere.  That's not really surprising.  The Reds have already signed Joey Votto to a $200 million contract, and have a lot money on the books in the next couple years to several players.  How much do they have left to pay Cueto?  Is it enough?  With the 4 year extension of Devin Mesoraco have they already moved on?  Who freaking knows.

I'm not here to argue whether or not the Reds should throw money at Cueto.  My big question is whether or not Johnny Cueto deserves to be paid like Max Scherzer.

When you look at Cueto and Scherzer in a nut shell you are looking at two of the top five starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.  Scherzer won the AL Cy Young in 2013, and in any other season (or if Clayton Kershaw didn't exist) Johnny Cueto would have run away with the NL Cy Young in 2014.  Being a Reds fan, and watching primarily only Reds games, Johnny Cueto put up one of the most dominant pitching seasons I've ever watched.  Being 26, I haven't watched a ton of baseball.  Just a lot.

Both players broke into the league in 2008 as high ranking prospects for their respective teams, and they've both played parts of seven seasons for those teams.  The difference in total innings pitched in their careers is 31 in favor of Scherzer.  Both, have only thrown over 200 innings in a season twice.  Scherzer did it in 2013 and 2014, while Cueto did it in 2012 and 2014.  If we want to compare their WAR, Fangraphs puts it at at 27.0 for Scherzer and 17.0 for Cueto.  When it comes to Cueto, and pitchers in general, I prefer to use Baseball Reference because it values what happens on the field more than Fangraphs will. That gives more strength to Cueto's numbers, who consistently out performs his FIP, a lot of times by more than a full run.  Baseball Reference puts Scherzer at 23.5 and Cueto at 22.1.  To each their own on which system you prefer.  They both have their plus and minuses.

This is where the similarities end, but by no means proves that either player is drastically worth more or less.  A good way to gauge value is by the durability of a pitcher.  With the volatility of pitcher contracts, you hope they can stay on the mound.  In the past five seasons Max Scherzer has pitched 195.2, 195.0, 187.2, 214.1, and 220.1 innings.  He isn't a player that is unaccustomed to the disabled list, but his last two seasons were his most durable and what you would expect from an ace.  Cueto hasn't quite been the same story with 185.2, 155.0, 217.0, 60.2, and 243.2.  Cueto has shown that he can pitch 200 innings, even 240 innings, but his career has been riddled with injuries from year to year.  In 2011, Cueto spent spent a quarter of the season on the DL, he was lost for the playoffs in 2012, and only played a quarter of the season in 2013.  2014 is probably his only completely full, healthy season, and he was unstoppable.

Outside of durability, Cueto and Scherzer are two completely different pitchers.  Both, came up as flame throwing righties and Scherzer has found his success in that mold.  He controls the strike zone, recording high strikeouts and low walk rates.  In the past four seasons, his K/BB ratio has been above 3.0, and in the past two above 4.0.  That is taking control of the game on the mound.  Who needs a defense? Those are numbers that Fangraphs and fWAR love.  He has a low FIP, but not necessarily one that his ERA matches.  The cause is most likely having the Detroit defense playing behind him.  If for a chunk of your career you had Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Jhonny Peralta backing you up, you better hope to strike out a bunch of batters.  Scherzer has done that with a K/9 not falling below 10.0 the past two seasons.

If you'd like to peruse some of Scherzer's numbers without opening another window look below.

Season Team W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2011 Tigers 15 9 0 33 33 195.0 8.03 2.58 1.34 .314 73.7 % 40.3 % 12.6 % 4.43 4.14 3.70 2.6
2012 Tigers 16 7 0 32 32 187.2 11.08 2.88 1.10 .333 76.5 % 36.5 % 11.6 % 3.74 3.27 3.23 4.5
2013 Tigers 21 3 0 32 32 214.1 10.08 2.35 0.76 .259 74.4 % 36.3 % 7.6 % 2.90 2.74 3.16 6.4
2014 Tigers 18 5 0 33 33 220.1 10.29 2.57 0.74 .315 77.2 % 36.7 % 7.5 % 3.15 2.85 3.12 5.6

After a bumpy first three seasons, Cueto had to reinvent himself.  He wasn't striking out enough batters, walking too many, and giving up too many hits and home runs.  Working in the band box that is GABP, this could be a hard thing to do.  Plenty of pitchers have had their careers ruined by that place.  However, Cueto did just that and became one of the most efficient pitchers in the game.  His walk rates the last two years have stayed in the 2.0-2.5 BB/9 range, and his HR/9 rate has been below 1.00 outside of 2013.  Cueto originally started working with pretty low K numbers start in 2009 to 2011, then they started to gradually climb until 2014 when he hit 8.94.  Not too shabby.

We can talk about Cueto's changes as a pitcher until we are blue in the face.  A lot of it has to do with him and the progressions he has made as a player.  It also has to do with playing behind a defense that has ranked near the top in the NL the past 4 years or so.  For example, in 2014 the Reds UZR/150 was +7.1, while the Tigers was -6.9.  Cueto uses that to his advantage, keeping the ball low, batters off balance, and trying to coerce ground balls.  This has caused a GB% that has hovered around 50% the past four seasons, and kept his H/9 much lower than Scherzer's.  Coupling that with a HR/9 rate that will help you survive in GABP, it has allowed him to keep an extraordinarily high LOB% which was above 80% in 2013 and 2014.  Below are some of Cueto's stats.

Season Team W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2011 Reds 9 5 0 24 24 156.0 6.00 2.71 0.46 .249 76.4 % 53.7 % 5.8 % 2.31 3.45 3.90 2.6
2012 Reds 19 9 0 33 33 217.0 7.05 2.03 0.62 .296 78.8 % 48.9 % 7.9 % 2.78 3.27 3.65 4.5
2013 Reds (A) 1 0 0 2 2 8.0 9.00 0.00 0.00 .318 85.7 % 1.13 1.34
2013 Reds 5 2 0 11 11 60.2 7.57 2.67 1.04 .236 81.5 % 50.9 % 17.1 % 2.82 3.81 3.23 0.6
2014 Reds 20 9 0 34 34 243.2 8.94 2.40 0.81 .238 82.5 % 46.2 % 10.3 % 2.25 3.30 3.21 4.1

Both are great pitchers, but if you are looking at who has produced better numbers on the field it is Cueto.  Cueto hasn't posted an ERA above 3.00 since 2011, while his FIP says he should be a 3.50 pitcher.  Scherzer has constantly put up better FIPs, but his ERA rarely, if ever, matches it.  Since 2011, Scherzer has only posted one season with a sub 3.00 ERA season and that was his Cy Young season in 2013.

I almost forgot to mention, when Cueto is a free agent he'll be 29.  Max Scherzer was 30.

I know I've thrown a lot of numbers around, but hopefully it has shown you the differences between Scherzer and Cueto.  They are vastly different, but have put up very similar numbers.  To me, they are almost equal depending on how you value a pitcher.  One thing there is no argument about is if the Reds want to keep Cueto around they'll have to spent a ton of cash.  So, what do you think?  Let me know in the poll.

*Apologies for the graphs not lining up, or having to scroll to line them up.  I'm bad at that stuff.