After speculation about whether/when/for how much/for how long Johnny Cueto should/can/will be extended for, I decided to do the work (mostly) and try to come up with some numbers. What follows is my attempt to quantify his likely value through the end of his age-36 season. There is a chart. So, you know, prepare yourselves.

WHAT THIS IS NOT, for the record, is a post expressing how much they should invest in particular players with so much already tied up in Votto, Phillips, etc. That’s a post for another day.

Pitcher Aging

Pitcher aging is a difficult thing to quantify because there are two factors. First, there is a general decline in talent (though this isn’t as steep for starting pitchers as it is for hitters or relief pitchers). Second, there is the increase in jury risk. Both are contributing factors when figuring out contract values.

While attempting to come up with some kind of aging curve for Johnny Cueto, I took the following steps:

1. I figured out IP/WAR over the last three years using Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR because I do not think Johnny Cueto is correctly valued by FanGraphs. This is the one part of my analysis that is pure opinion. Feel free to disagree with me.

2. Using this article, I attempted to deduce an “expected innings” trend for Cueto. When looking at the chart it is important to note that I am not predicting that Cueto will pitch exactly that many innings. Instead, think of the innings total as representing the likelihood of an injury and the potential severity of any such injuries.

3. Using this series, I attempted calculations to account for the likely decline in Cueto’s over all performance.

4. I assumed essentially no decline for next season. HIs decline begins, using the data, with his age 30 season.

Okay, let’s look at the chart. Note that I list the innings and performance declines separately and together so that you can see all potential variations. This is especially valid, I think, because there are certain pitchers – often elite pitchers – who simply lose it all at once. That is, they are very good until they are not.

Age Anticipated
WAR with
Inning Decline
WAR with
Perf. Decline
WAR with
29 220 5.8 5.8 5.8
30 176 4.6 5.8 4.6
31 154 4.1 5.6 4.0
32 132 3.5 5.1 3.1
33 110 2.9 4.6 2.3
34 100 2.6 4.2 2.1
35 80 2.1 4.2 1.5
36 70 1.8 3.9 1.2

The question around Reds land has seemed to be (assuming the Reds should extend him) about how long they should extend Cueto, with the assumption being that he will garner $20-$25M per year depending on the length of the contract, with the most common lengths being 4 and 6 years. For contracts of that length, it is reasonable to assume a market value of $6M/WAR. Now, let’s look at Cueto’s likely value as he ages.

In order for a player to be worth $25M/year. That player must average at least 4.1 WAR/season. As the Reds already control Cueto’s age-29 season, we will start by looking at his age-30 season. A deal of at least 4 years can only be justified at $25M/year if he is completely healthy. Assuming Cueto stays fully healthy, $25M/year would be justified well past his age-36 season. Of course, that is not likely.

In order to be worth $20M/year a player must average at least 3.3 WAR/season. In that circumstance, a 6 year extension could be justified almost precisely if Cueto experiences the expected health issues, but not if it is accompanied by the expected performance decline. If both his innings and performance decline, a 4-5 year deal at $20M/year could be justified.

And so, what we see is mostly what we expect to see. A 4 year deal, in terms of fair value, is probably okay. Go much beyond that, and unless Cueto is signing for a lower average salary, things start to look much shakier.