Why Everyone Should Get Over Johnny Cueto

At the Winter Meetings, Johnny Cueto‘s agent, Bryce Dixon, acknowledged that his client would be open to going to the Cardinals. Dixon told MLB Trade Rumors:

“He’s expressed regret over it in the past. He loves pitching in the NL Central. He’s the best pitcher of our era in the NL Central. It would be a good marriage [between] Johnny and the Cardinals. I think once the fans got past the fight and they saw what a gamer Johnny is and what he could bring to the team, I think they would be able to embrace him now, though I don’t think that they’ll do that overnight.”

While I don’t agree that Cueto was the best pitcher in our era in the Central (c’mon, Wainwright), I do believe he’s a good fit with the team.

Cueto is 96-70 for his career in the Majors, with a 3.53 ERA and 3.77 FIP. He’s been worth 22.8 wins. He owns a 7.42 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, and 0.92 HR/9 while generating ground balls 44.9% of the time. While the K/9 is a little low for an ace, his home run numbers are intriguing. A majority of him games were played in Great American Ballpark; if you look at the park factors for his career there, you’ll see it’s generally more of a hitters park.
Great American Ballpark

The 5 year average for homers is 1.332, which is very favorable to hitters. Move Cueto to a park like Busch, which averaged 0.870 over the same span. Fewer flyballs would fly out of Busch than Great American Ballpark.

That 2.60 BB/9 could also conceivably decrease since Busch has a 5 year average of 0.974.

If people are worried about his move to Kansas City, there are multiple reasons why he struggled. Pitching coach Dave Eiland noticed Cueto was opening his front shoulder while pitching; something changed in his mechanics after the trade. After Eiland point this our, Cueto had 2 more bad starts, then 4 good starts to finish the regular season. He then has 2 good, 1 OK, and 1 bad start in the post-season.

Then you could look at the numbers. His batting average on balls in play shot up; it was .234 with Cincinnati, then .343 after the trade. There are 2 things in this.

First off, his defense failed him. It’s hard to use this as the reason though. When you look at the basic fielding stats, the Reds and Royals had the same fielding percentage for the season (the Reds had 2 additional errors in 17 more chances). If you go into the advanced stats, the Royals have a better UZR (50.9 to -9.0), Defensive WAR (56.9 to -18.0), and Double Play Runs (46.0 to -10.0); in fact, the Royals led baseball in all 3 (for more on UZR, check out Fangraphs.

Secondly, his stuff wasn’t as sharp as previously in the season. Christina Kahrl noted that he wasn’t getting as much spin on his slider and changed the amount he was using his pitches. Some of this is tied to the mechanical issue Eiland found.

The main hangup people will have will be “the kick”. Cueto will always be remembered as the guy that ended Jason LaRue‘s career. The whole affair was ugly and Cueto has said that he regretted his actions.

It’s time for people to move on. LaRue was a backup catcher who had been with the team for 3 years; people act like Cueto did it to Stan the Man. I’m not defending the man; in fact, violence like that has no place in the game. But it happened; not only that, but it’s been 5 years since it happened. If fans want a winning team, they’ll be willing to forgive him and move on.

Another plus to signing Cueto is he’ll cost less than David Price would have; Cueto already rejected a 6 year, $120M deal from the Diamondbacks. At the time of the offer, no pitchers had signed and Cueto and his agent correctly judged the market. Now he could probably get closer to 6 years, $150-180M. That’s still less than the 7 years, $195M the Cardinals offered Price and allows the Cardinals to pay a little more for a bat.

Cueto would cost more than most of the other options out there; if the team wanted to spend more on a bat, they could focus on Mike Leake or Doug Fister. They could go the innings eating route and sign Mark Buehrle. But the best option for the team is Cueto.

Eugene is also a writer and podcaster for Nyrdcast, where he talks pop culture; you can also find him on Twitter or email him here.

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