Last year, I was constantly reminding people to take Johnny Cueto’s ERA with a grain of salt. After all, his component numbers didn’t add up to an ERA that low. He was lucky and would probably come back to the pack. He didn’t, but he was hurt a lot last year, and I still really doubted that he would duplicate his performance this year.

So much for that.

I was looking at Johnny Cueto’s stats, though and I noticed something. There have been some changes since last year. Most notably he is walking fewer batters this year while still not giving up many home runs. I’ll talk about the homers in a minute, but first, let’s do a little exercise.

________K/9         BB/9         HR/9
Pitcher A:  6.06         1.95            0.51
Pitcher B:  6.06         1.80            0.63

Pretty similar, huh? Pitcher A walks a few more, but Pitcher B gives up a few more homers. Pitcher A is Johnny Cueto this year. Pitcher B is Greg Maddux over the course of his career.

I make this comparison for two reasons. Neither is that I think Johnny Cueto is the new Greg Maddux. I noticed the similarities when doing research to try and figure out if it was possible to maintain the kind of home run numbers Cueto has had over the last two seasons over the course of a career. The answer, is “yes.” Or, at least something close to those numbers can be maintained.

In fact, Cueto’s recent ground ball rate is right in line with the few pitchers who do maintain this kind of low HR rate. When you add that to his lowered walk rate, you have a recipe for a really excellent pitcher.

Now, Johnny Cueto has still been lucky. He’s stranded more than 80 percent of the runners who’ve reached base this year, and that isn’t sustainable. Look it up if you don’t believe me. And that home run rate will probably go up at least little.

But that’s not the point. The point is that, though there is still some luck in the equation, it is looking more and more like Cueto has transformed himself into one of the best pitchers in baseball. It’s probably too soon to count on him keeping these kinds of numbers up forever, but I think we’ve reached the point where we shouldn’t discount them and should expect an ERA of 3.00 until we’re given evidence to the contrary.

In the playoffs, you can go to war with a pitcher like this.