In the coming weeks there will be plenty of retrospectives on the 2014 season. Many of them will try to answer the question, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœwhat went wrongÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in the Queen City this year. And with the Reds record, there will be plenty to write about. Yet, before we reach the end of the 2014 season, I want to focus on one of the few bright spots in our season this year: Johnny Cueto.
Yes, as regular readers, you know Johnny Cueto is not just a good number 1 pitcher, but one of the best pitchers in baseball. Cueto has not had an ERA+ below 100 since 2009, and has been above 130 four consecutive years (including an ERA+ of 171 in 2011). When we last checked in with Johnny, he was leading Clayton Kershaw in the projected Cy Young voting. Although Kershaw has emerged as the leader in both the Bill James and Tom Tango Cy Young projections, Johnny is still posting the second highest score in the league.
That should not be completely surprising. Our ace has put up an 18-9 record over 227.2 innings with a 2.33 ERA. His predictive stats also show an impressive season as well: a 3.29 FIP (3.24 xFIP), 3.18 SIERA, and 3.9 fWAR/6.1 bbRef.
CuetoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s improvement this year over last year can be found in a few stats. First, he is striking out batters at a higher rate this year (25.3%) than he ever has before (for reference, he struck out 21.1% of batters last year). He is also walking fewer batters this year (7.1%) than he did last year (7.4%). A little bit of luck and a little bit of defense has helped keep his BABIP low (.241), although he has been quite good at suppressing hits throughout his career (BABIP: .276).
A while back I saw a breakdown of Roger Clemens year with the Yankees based on how he approached every hitter in the lineup. The takeaway was that he would walk the 3 or 4 hitters when he was in trouble, but aggressively attacked the bottom of the lineup. The more times you can get the bottom of the orderÃ‚Â to commit outs, the fewer times you have to face the top of the order.
I wanted to see how effective Johnny Cueto was against each hitter in the lineup. Here are his results from 2014:
Johnny Cueto is crushing the second hitter in the lineup so badly it is almost as if he is pitching against a Dusty Baker lineup every night. Seriously, the seventh hitter has more hits than the second hitter in the lineup. This is especially impressive given that more teams are starting to move their best hitter up to the number two slot.
Yet as bad as the second hitter is performing, Cueto is pitching to the sixth hitter like they owe him money. Yes, they are walking almost as much as the number three hitter, but the number six hitter is almost never getting a hit against Johnny. This chart helps illustrate how helpless the number six slot has been against Cueto:
tOPS+ measures if the pitcher did better (below 100) than he would usually perform against each slot of the lineup. It is standardized at 100, so below 100Ã‚Â is how many percentage points better the pitcher did than his average.
sOPS+ is the same same scale but compared against the rest of the league. According to these numbers the number six hitter is 85% worse against Cueto than they are against a league average pitcher. Perhaps some of this is due to an abnormally low BABIP for this slot in the lineup (.164), but Cueto has induced one third of all his double plays from the number six hitter (4 of 12) this year.
The other interesting aspect is that Cueto is having a down year against the #3 hitter. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll carefully assert that this is evidence that a pitcher can afford to give up hits to the other teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best hitter as long as they can control the rest of the lineup.
CuetoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dominance of the bottom of the order has a lot of hidden parts that outside watchers may never understand. But just like other great pitchers, Cueto has been able to limit the number of times the heart of the order has been able to hurt him. It might not be good enough to win him the Cy Young award this year, but his brilliance on the mound should not be understated: he has been the best part of our 2014 season.