Pitcher preview: Johnny Cueto

Elsa

Good pitcher, good hair.

For an offense that had trouble scoring runs against Kansas City, it won't get any easier when they travel north to Cincinnati to face the Reds' ace, Johnny Cueto.

I'll admit, I don't watch a lot of national league games, and before prepping myself for tonight, I didn't have the right idea about him at all. I remembered a young Johnny Cueto, who threw hard and got some press for it, but whose results never quite matched up. He was firmly in the second (or third depending on your definitions) tier of pitchers.

Well, Cueto has gotten better with age. His xFIP (and SIERA, if you prefer to consider batted ball types) has steadily decreased in every season, and his 3.23 xFIP from last season thinks that the 2.82 ERA wasn't that much of a fluke.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Other than the fact that it's very hard (the two-seam and four-seam fastballs both averaged over 93 mph), there's not actually that much special about Cueto's fastball. It's movement is decidedly ordinary. But there are other ways to keep hitters from squaring up your fastball than big movement. One is command, and I have no knowledge about whether or not Johnny Cueto consistently hits his spots (his career 7.5% walk rate is neither very good nor very bad, although you can't evaluate command purely by looking at a walk rate).

The other way to keep hitters from being able to figure out your fastball, is to mix together several different types with different movements, and Cueto, especially recently, has done that very well. There is a decent range of motion between his four-seam and his two-seam fastball. Like most pitchers, he's more likely to use the four-seamer against opposite-handed hitters, and his two-seamer against same-handed hitters. But the biggest change in Cueto's approach for 2013 was that he used his cutter dramatically more often (21% overall, 37% against left-handed batters according to Brooks Baseball). As you can see, Cueto's cutter has dramatic pitch separation from his other fastballs, and it's still pretty hard, averaging 89 mph. It's the type of cutter that makes everything else Cueto does play up.

Cueto's changeup falls off the table, and he'll use it to put away both righty and lefty batters. His slider is more of a weapon against righties. Both average 83 mph. Perhaps on account of the quality of his changeup and his cutter, Cueto has a very small platoon split, so don't expect the Rays' lefties to tee off today.

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