Cueto with the Kansas City Royals
|San Francisco Giants – No. 47|
February 15, 1986 |
San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic
|April 3, 2008, for the Cincinnati Reds|
(through 2016 season)
|Earned run average||3.23|
|Career highlights and awards|
Johnny Cueto Ortiz (Spanish: [ˈkweto]; born February 15, 1986) is a Dominican professional baseball pitcher for the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball (MLB). He previously played for the Cincinnati Reds from 2008 through 2015 and the Kansas City Royals in 2015. He was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season, where he won the 2015 World Series over the New York Mets.
Cueto made his major league debut in 2008, delivering an outstanding performance, but struggling with consistency in his rookie year and 2009. By 2010 though, Cueto began to become a more consistent starting pitcher, and by 2011 he had emerged as the ace of the Reds pitching staff and one of the top pitchers in the National League. He won 19 games in 2012, finishing fourth in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award and helping lead the Reds to the NL Central title. In 2014 he won 20 games with a 2.25 ERA and tied for the NL lead in strikeouts with 242, finishing as the runner up for the Cy Young. In 2016 he won 18 games with the San Francisco Giants while posting a 2.79 ERA, helping lead them to the postseason, where they lost in the NLDS. He was an MLB All-Star in 2014 and 2016, and was chosen as the starting pitcher for the 2016 MLB All-Star Game. Since 2011, Cueto has the second lowest ERA of all pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched (behind Clayton Kershaw), accumulating a 2.73 ERA in over 1,100 innings across the past six seasons.
- 1 Minor league career
- 2 Major league career
- 3 Background and influences
- 4 Pitching style
- 5 World Baseball Classic
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Minor league career
Cueto was in the Minor Leagues for three seasons, and has excelled at many levels, but really turned heads during the 2007 season. Cueto started his career for the Gulf Coast Reds of the Rookie Gulf Coast League, posting a 5.02 ERA, before being promoted to the High-A Sarasota Reds of the Florida State League, where he finished his 2005 season. Johnny has had progressively better seasons since. In 2006, Cueto was placed in Low A Dayton, blasting out of the gates, and posting a 2.61 ERA, and a 0.88 WHIP. While with Dayton, on May 13, 2006, he threw a rain shortened no-hitter against Wisconsin. He was later promoted back to Sarasota, where he finished his season for the second consecutive year. Poised for a breakout 2007, Cueto was placed, once again, in Sarasota. He pitched 14 games in Sarasota, before going on a hot streak, and advancing through three levels in one season. He burnt through AA Chattanooga, and AAA Louisville throughout the rest of his 2007 campaign. He was named the Reds' Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Major league career
Cincinnati Reds (2008–2015)
2008: Rookie season
Cueto made his Major League debut on April 3, 2008, for the Reds at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he carried a perfect game through five innings before surrendering a home run to Justin Upton in the top of the sixth inning. The home run was the only baserunner he allowed, striking out 10 in 7 innings. Cueto was credited with the win in his debut, as the Reds hung on to win 3–2. Cueto was the first Red since 1900 to throw ten strikeouts in his Major League debut. He was also the first MLB pitcher to have 10 strikeouts and 0 walks in his debut. He was the third in MLB history to have 10 strikeouts and give up only 1 hit. For the game, Cueto's ERA was 1.29 on 92 pitches. Despite his impressive debut, Cueto was inconsistent for the most part on the season. At the end of the 2008 campaign, he finished with a 9–14 record with an ERA of 4.81. While he pitched only 174 innings, Cueto struck 158 batters, good for a K/9 ratio of 8.17, the eighth best in the National League.
Cueto started 2009 as the Reds #4 starter. Cueto's ERA was initially one of the best in the majors, leading the NL at one point at 2.17. His BB/9 lowered as the 2009 season progressed. He found the strike zone more often, resembling the 2008 performance of his teammate Edinson Vólquez. On July 6, 2009, Cueto suffered the worst defeat in his young career. Taking the mound against the Phillies, he was shelled; Cueto allowed 9 earned runs on 5 hits, walking 3. To top it off, all this happened in the first inning, and Cueto was taken out of the game after only recording two outs. The Phillies scored 10 runs that inning. Cueto would finish the season with a record of 11–11, and an ERA of 4.41 in 30 starts. In 171⅓ innings, Cueto struck out 132 batters, but still walked 61 batters, resulting in a lower K/BB ratio than his rookie season (2.32 versus 2.16).
Cueto started the 2010 season as the Reds' third starter. After getting off to an average start, Cueto delivered arguably his best performance since his debut on May 11, pitching a one hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He struck out eight, walked none and hit one batter, leading the Reds to a 9–0 victory.
On August 12, Cueto was suspended 7 games for what Major League Baseball described as his "violent and aggressive actions" in a bench-clearing brawl in the first inning of the Reds' August 10 game against the St. Louis Cardinals. While pinned to the backstop, Cueto began kicking wildly at various Cardinals, injuring Chris Carpenter and Jason LaRue. LaRue suffered a severe concussion in the brawl, and was forced to retire after the season.
Cueto finished the 2010 season with a 12–7 record and a 3.64 ERA in 31 starts, pitching 185⅔ innings, striking out 138 batters, but giving up only 56 walks, 19 home runs and 181 hits. In Game 3 of the NLDS, he allowed 2 runs (1 earned) in 5 innings and took the loss as Cole Hamels pitched a shutout. Following the 2010 season, the Reds and Cueto agreed to a 4-year, $27 million contract.
Cueto began the season on the disabled list and returned on May 8. Since he missed a lot of starts from being on the disabled-list, he didn't become eligible for the ERA race until his start against the San Francisco Giants on July 31, where he pitched a 3 hit, complete game shutout. He then took the Major League Baseball lead with a 1.72 ERA. He lost eligibility, twice, due to lack of innings since, but retook the National League lead in ERA after throwing 7 innings of shutout ball against the Colorado Rockies on August 11. As the season progressed, Cueto began incorporating more and more of a turn to his windup. At the start of the season, his windup featured a conventional step, keeping his body pointed at third base before delivering to the plate. However, by late July, Cueto's torso faces second base and he pauses for a brief moment. Many people have compared this turn to Boston Red Sox great Luis Tiant's famous turn. As of August 25, he was tied with Jered Weaver for the best ERA in all of Major League Baseball at 2.03. On August 28, Cueto struck out a career-high 11 batters against the Washington Nationals, receiving a no-decision as he threw seven innings of two-run ball.
Cueto's bid for the ERA title and season came to end after he strained a muscle in his back on September 15, while pitching vs the Cubs. On September 20, the team decided to shut down Cueto for the year without risking further injury. Cueto finished the season with a 9-5 record and a 2.31 ERA in 156.0 innings across 24 starts – only 6 full innings short of qualifying for the ERA title. Cueto struck out 104 batters, and gave up just 123 hits, 47 walks and eight home runs.
Cueto started on Opening Day for the Reds and went on to win 19 games against only 9 losses with a 2.78 earned run average in 33 starts, giving up 205 hits and 15 home runs across 217 innings and striking out 170 batters, while walking just 49. Cueto also threw two complete games. In his first one, on May 4 against the Pirates, Cueto allowed just one run on seven hits, striking out four and giving up no walks. Cueto threw another complete game against the Cleveland Indians on June 12, giving up just one run on six hits, with seven strikeouts and no walks. During an eleven start stretch between May 30 and July 28, Cueto threw 81⅓ innings without allowing a home run, a stretch in which he posted an 8-3 record with a 2.27 ERA. His streak came to an end on August 2, when Eddy Rodriguez hit a home run off Cueto in a game versus the Brewers. Cueto threw 23 quality starts, and ranked third in wins and ERA, fourth in complete games, fifth in innings pitched, eighth in hits allowed and ninth in winning percentage in the National League, while breaking his career bests in all of those categories. Thanks to Cueto's brilliant season, the Reds clinched the NL Central Division title for the second time in three years, and the second best record in baseball (97-65) behind the Washington Nationals.
Cueto started game 1 of the National League Division Series against San Francisco, but had to leave after only eight pitches because of a strained muscle in his back. After the Giants won Game 3, forcing a fourth game of the NLDS, the Reds replaced Cueto on the playoff roster with Mike Leake, who was their fifth starter during the season and would go on to pitch the fourth game of the NLDS. Cueto finished fourth in the voting for the National League Cy Young, behind winner R.A. Dickey, Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez.
Cueto suffered from a variety of injures in 2013, limiting him to only 11 starts on the season. In those 11 starts, Cueto had a record of 5–2 with a 2.82 ERA and 51 strikeouts over 60⅔ innings, holding opponents to a .209 batting average. He gave up no more than three earned runs in ten of his 11 starts, and no more than one earned run in eight of them.
Despite his limited season, Cueto was chosen to start the 2013 NL Wild Card Game against longtime division rival the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cueto was met by a raucous, loud Pittsburgh crowd who had not seen a playoff game in 20 years. The Pirates fans chanted Cue's name loudly the entire game, attempting to rattle him. After already giving up a second-inning home run to Pirates outfielder Marlon Byrd, Cueto, who was having his name mockingly chanted by over 40,000 people, dropped the ball off the mound, much to the delight of the Pittsburgh crowd. On the very next pitch he threw, Cueto gave up another home run to Pirates catcher Russell Martin, giving Pittsburgh an early 2–0 lead. Cueto would end up giving up 2 more runs, and was pulled after 3.1 innings, having already given up 4 earned runs on 8 hits. The Reds would show little resistance the rest of the way, and the Pirates won the game 6–2, advancing to an NLDS series with other division rival the St. Louis Cardinals. Cueto took the loss in the game, which ended the season for both Cueto and the Reds.
After a disappointing finish to an injury-riddled 2013 season, Cueto opened the season in excellent fashion. In his first nine starts of the season, he pitched at least seven innings, giving up no more than two earned runs and five hits per outing. On April 16, Cueto threw a complete game, three-hit shutout versus the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out a career-high 12 batters without issuing a single walk. Cueto threw another complete game versus his Pirates in his next start on April 22, followed by another shutout versus the Padres (his third complete game of the season) on May 15. In his first fifteen starts of the season, despite compiling only a 6-5 win-loss record, Cueto had a 1.92 ERA across 108 innings, with 111 strikeouts against only 26 walks, good for a WHIP of 0.83, while limiting opponents to a .169 batting average.
In July Cueto was selected to his first All-Star Game. At the time, Cueto was second in the NL in ERA (2.13) and strikeouts (141) and first in innings pitched (143⅔) and opponents batting average (.181). Cueto was named National League Player of the Week for August 4–10 after recording a 2–0 record with a 2.12 ERA, and 15 strikeouts in 17.0 innings pitched. After his first twenty-five starts, Cueto had a 14-6 record with a 2.05 ERA, having already established career highs in strikeouts, complete games and shutouts.
On September 28, 2014, Cueto recorded his 20th win of the 2014 season, becoming the first Cincinnati Reds player to achieve 20 or more victories in a season since Danny Jackson achieved the feat in 1988. The final score of the game, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, was 4–1. Cueto pitched a total of eight innings of one-run ball and was allowed to bat in the 8th inning instead of a pinch hitter, with the game tied 1–1 and a runner on third base. Cueto hit a go-ahead single and Aroldis Chapman picked up the save for the game in the 9th.
Cueto finished the 2014 season with a 20-9 record and a 2.25 ERA in 34 starts (29 quality starts), giving up only 169 hits and 22 home runs across 243⅔ innings pitched, recording 242 strikeouts (tied for the most in the NL with Stephen Strasburg) against just 65 walks, an opponent batting average of .194, an opponent on-base percentage of .261, an opponent slugging percentage of .313, an opponent on-base plus slugging of .584, and an 0.96 WHIP. He also pitched 4 complete games (2 shutouts), never pitched less than 5 innings in any outing, pitched 6 or more innings in 29 of his 34 starts, 7 or more innings in 23 starts, and 8 or more innings in 15 starts. Cueto gave up 2 earned runs or fewer in 27 starts, gave up 7 hits or fewer in all but one of his starts, struck out 8.94 batters per nine innings, and gave up fewer hits per nine innings than any other starting pitcher in the majors (6.24 H/9). On November 12, 2014, Cueto finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting to Clayton Kershaw.
On April 6, Cueto recorded the 1,000th strikeout of his career in a 5–2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cueto finished his fourth consecutive Opening Day start with 10 strikeouts across 7 scoreless innings, a personal Opening Day high. Cueto struggled with inflammation in his elbow in May, but only missed a pair of starts and continued to assert himself as one of the top pitchers in baseball. At the end of June, Cueto had a 2.98 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP while limiting opponents to a .204 batting average. Cueto was a candidate for the Final Vote on the NL All-Star ballot, but lost to Carlos Martinez. On July 7, Cueto had his best outing of the year against the Nationals, throwing a complete game two-hit shutout, striking out 11 batters and walking only one. Despite Cueto's success, the Reds' continued to plummet in the NL Central, and ultimately chose to trade Cueto to the Royals days before the Trade Deadline. In 19 starts with the Reds, Cueto went 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA, striking out 120 batters across 130⅔ innings (good for a K/9 ratio of 8.27), limiting opponents to a .196 batting average, and posting a WHIP of 0.93.
Kansas City Royals (2015)
In his home debut with the Royals, Cueto threw a 4-hit complete game shutout against the Detroit Tigers, striking out eight batters without issuing a walk. This gave him his first win in a Royals uniform.
After a promising start, Cueto struggled down the stretch, posting a 4-7 record and a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts after joining the Royals. After a mediocre performance in game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, Cueto returned to form in game 5, pitching eight dominant innings, striking out 8 and retiring his final 19 batters. The only hits he allowed came on back-to-back pitches: an infield single by Evan Gattis and a home run by Luis Valbuena. The Royals went on to win 7–2, eliminating the Astros and securing a spot in the ALCS for the second straight season. In the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, Cueto took the loss in game 3 after giving up eight earned runs in two innings as the Royals' series lead shrunk from 2 games to 1.
Cueto started in game two of the World Series, pitched a complete game and only gave up two hits and one run to give the Royals a 7–1 victory over the New York Mets and a 2–0 series lead. Only Lucas Duda recorded a hit (with 2), becoming the difference maker between Cueto and a no-hitter. Cueto became the first AL pitcher to throw a complete game in the World Series since Minnesota's Jack Morris in 1991. The Royals went on to win the World Series in 5 games to give Cueto his first championship ring.
In 32 starts between the Reds and Royals, Cueto went 11-13 with a 3.44 ERA, striking out 176 batters across 212 innings, allowing just 194 hits and 46 walks, while pitching 2 complete game shutouts.
San Francisco Giants (2016–present)
On December 16, 2015, Cueto signed a six-year, $130 million contract with the San Francisco Giants with a club option for 2022. Cueto can opt out of the contract after two years. Slotting alongside longtime giant Madison Bumgarner and the acquisition of Jeff Samardzija, the Giants were predicted to be one of the strongest and most durable starting rotations in all of baseball heading into the 2016 season.
Cueto made his Giants debut on April 5 against the Milwaukee Brewers, pitching seven innings of one-run ball. On April 26 at AT&T Park, in a 1–0 complete game shutout over the San Diego Padres, his first with the Giants and the seventh of his career (thirteenth complete game), Cueto won his 100th career game on 119 pitches. He is the twelfth Dominican-born pitcher in Major League history to win one hundred games. Cueto struck out 11 batters over the ball game, giving up just seven hits while issuing just one walk. Cueto threw his second complete game of the season, against the Padres at Petco Park on May 18, giving up just one run on four hits, striking out eight batters and walking just two. On May 23, Cueto pitched another 1–0 complete game shutout, the fifteenth complete game and eighth shutout of his career, at home against the Padres, giving up just two hits and striking out six without issuing a walk. Cueto was named National League Player of the Week for the second time in his career for May 23–29, going 2–0 with a 0.60 ERA (1 ER in 15.0 innings pitched), giving up just eight hits and striking out 11.
On July 6 Cueto was selected to his second All-Star game. At the time, Cueto had 12 wins against just one loss, having won nine straight decisions, compiling a 2.57 ERA across 122⅓ innings, and notching 107 strikeouts against just 23 walks, while giving up only six home runs. In his final start before the All-Star break on July 6, Cueto threw another complete game, his fourth of the season, at home against the Colorado Rockies. He allowed just one run on five hits, walking only one batter and striking out eight, retiring 17 of the final 18 batters he faced, his Major-League leading 13th win on the season. After making the All Star team, Cueto was selected by Manager Terry Collins to start the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game for the National League. He started with his battery mate, Buster Posey who was the starting catcher for the National League, but ended up receiving the loss, as the NL lost 4-2.
Cueto struggled at first following the All-Star Break, posting an 0-2 record with a 4.84 ERA in his first six starts following the All-Star break. during which opposing hitters batted .284 against him and slugged six home runs, as many as he had given up before the All-Star break. Cueto won his first game since the All-Star break on August 19 against the Mets, pitching seven innings of one run ball to improve his record to 14-3. Across his final seven starts of the season following his first post All-Star win, Cueto went 4-2 with a 2.35 ERA, averaging a strikeout an inning and holding opposing batters to a .228 batting average. Cueto threw another complete game, his fifth of the year, against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 15, giving up one run while striking out seven batters, during which he surpassed 200 innings pitched for the fourth time in his career (and in the last five seasons). On September 20, during a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cueto exited the game after 5⅓ scoreless innings due to a groin strain (he received the victory, allowing just eight hits and striking out six), causing him to miss his next start. Cueto finished the year on a high note on September 29 against the Colorado Rockies, in his final start of the regular season, pitching seven strong innings in which he gave up just two runs and struck out 11 batters, as the Giants won the game 7-2.
Thanks to Cueto's role as a co-ace alongside teammate and fellow NL All-Star Madison Bumgarner (the two pitchers combined for a 33-14 record with a 2.76 ERA across 446⅓ innings while tallying a total of 449 strikeouts), the Giants managed to clinch a Wild Card berth, where they defeated the New York Mets and advanced to the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. In game 1 of the NLDS, in the midst of a duel with Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, after throwing 7⅓ scoreless innings, Cueto gave up a home run in the eighth inning to Javier Baez as San Francisco suffered a tough 1-0 loss to the Cubs. Despite that, Cueto still pitched a gem, allowing just three hits and the one run over eight innings in a complete game loss, striking out ten and not issuing a walk in an otherwise flawless performance as the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the series. The Cubs would go on to win the series 3 games to 1, eliminating the Giants from the postseason.
Cueto finished his first regular season with the Giants with an 18-5 record and a 2.79 ERA in 219⅔ innings across 32 starts, tallying a total of 198 strikeouts against 45 walks while giving up 195 hits and 15 home runs. Cueto ranked among the league and baseball leaders in all major categories. He was third in the NL in wins (18), fifth in ERA (2.79), second in win percentage (.783%), third in innings pitched (219⅔), eighth in games started (32), first in complete games (5), second in shutouts (2), fifth in hits allowed (195), fourteenth in batting average against (.238), fourteenth in H/9 allowed (7.99), second in HR/9 allowed (0.61), eighth in WHIP (1.09), eighth in opponent OBP (.284), seventh in opponent SLG (.350), seventh in opponent OPS (.637), third in BB/9 allowed (1.84), sixth in strikeouts (198), twelfth in K/9 ratio (8.11), fifth in K/BB ratio (4.40), third in FIP (2.96), third in batters faced (881), fourth in quality starts (22), fourth in number of pitches thrown (3299) and second in number of batters picked off (5). Cueto was one of only six pitchers in the National League to pitch at least 200 innings during the 2016 season, and pitched more innings per game than any other qualified pitcher in the National League, averaging 6.865 innings pitched per start. Cueto pitched at least five innings in all but one start, at least six innings in 26 starts, at least 6⅔ innings in 21 starts, at least 7 innings in 19 starts, at least 7⅓ innings in nine starts and at least 8 innings in seven starts. Cueto also recorded three (four counting his only postseason start) double digit strikeout games (11 vs. the Padres (4/26) and the Rockies (9/29) and 10 vs. the Phillies (8/3)), recorded at least 9 strikeouts in seven starts, at least 8 strikeouts in 12 starts, at least 7 strikeouts in 14 starts, at least 6 strikeouts in 19 starts and at least 5 strikeouts in 23 starts.
Background and influences
Cueto's road to the Major League was a trying one because many teams were wary of his small stature. "Some told me I was too short, others thought I was in fact older than the age that appeared in my papers", said the right-handed fireballer. He is listed at 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m), but some believe he is closer to 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 m). However, rather than give in to the criticism, Cueto looked to another undersized Dominican pitcher, Pedro Martínez, for inspiration. "Pedro has been my inspiration, the person for whom I decided to stop playing outfield to become a pitcher", Cueto said. "One of my biggest dreams is to be able to meet Pedro in person, shake his hand and tell him that he has been my hero and my role model."
Cueto throws a variety of pitches, although his main ones are a four-seam fastball (91–95 m.p.h.), a two-seam fastball (92–95 m.p.h.), and a slider (81–86 m.p.h.). He also has a changeup (82–84 m.p.h.), a curveball (78–80 m.p.h.), and a cutter (87–90 m.p.h.). Cueto only throws his changeup to left-handed hitters, and he rarely uses his curveball. He often likes to use his slider with two strikes. Cueto's distinctive wind-up, which begins by spinning back towards second base so that his back faces the batter, has been compared to that of Luis Tiant and Hideo Nomo. Cueto's unorthodox delivery led Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to question its legality during and after Cueto's shutout of the Tigers in August 2015. Ausmus argued to umpire Joe West during the game and to reporters after the game that Cueto sometimes stops in his wind-up, thereby making those pitches illegal.
World Baseball Classic
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