BY CHRIS HAAS
Johnny Cueto has been lights out through the first quarter of the MLB season. The Reds pitcher is leading the MLB in nearly every relevant statistic: ERA (1.25), WHIP (.71), Strikeouts (76), and Innings Pitched (72). Wins Above Replacement is an all-encompassing statistic that culminates all aspects of a player’s performance into one single value. Cueto has been worth 3.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) so far in 2014. For some context, Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs has the second highest WAR for a pitcher at 2.3. Samardzija has an ERA of 1.45, so it’s not as if he’s been a slouch on the mound either. Last year, Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw took home the NL MVP and NL Cy Young for his dominant pitching performance. He threw 236 innings with an ERA of 1.83. It was one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher in the modern era. Kershaw ended the year with a WAR of 7.9. Cueto is on pace to pitch 288 innings for a WAR around 14, which would give him the best season by a starting pitcher in the modern era of baseball. And like Secretariat’s famous finish, second wouldn’t be close. Of course, Cueto’s current pace would be nearly impossible to sustain for the duration of a season, but its fun to think about nonetheless.
Homer Bailey hasn’t been lights out in the early going. He has a 4.72 ERA and is currently allowing a 1.5 walks/hits per inning (WHIP). In his defense, Bailey’s high .337 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) suggests he may be the victim of some bad luck. Conversely, Cueto’s extremely low BABIP .157 isn’t sustainable. But sabermetrics aside, Cueto has produced and Bailey hasn’t so far in 2014. Period.
Bailey and Cueto’s early-season numbers are magnified by the fact that Bailey received a very generous contract extension over the offseason and Johnny Cueto did not. Bailey’s six-year 105 million dollar contract is a substantial investment for the mid-market Reds. They are not the Yankees after all. They can’t extend every starting pitcher they have groomed over the last few years. Johnny Cueto is set to be a free agent after the 2015 season. Needless to say, the guy is going to get paid by someone, but with Bailey’s new contract I don’t envision that someone being the Reds. Which begs the question, did the Reds make the right decision extending Bailey over Cueto? It may be a more difficult decision than the early season results have suggested.
Factors to consider in a long term contract:
Age/Arm Mileage: Draw
Johnny Cueto: 28 Years old/ 1036 Innings Pitched
Homer Bailey: 28 Years old/ 900 Innings Pitched
Johnny Cueto: He is in the midst of the best start to a MLB season in over a century. Enough said.
Homer Bailey: Read above. It’s worth noting that Bailey does have two no-hitters to his name, which isn’t a bad indicator of upside in its own right. But…“in over a century,” this one goes to Cueto.
Johnny Cueto: Cueto’s small frame (5’11) may have contributed to his inability to pass the 200 innings pitched threshold. Cueto has only surpassed 200 IP once while only pitching 60 innings in 2013.
Homer Bailey: Bailey is 6’4 and built like a workhorse. He gets easy velocity and hasn’t missed time in 3 seasons running, pitching 200+ innings in 2012 and 2013. With the Tommy John epidemic taking ahold of baseball, durability is a valuable skill, and Bailey appears to possess it.
Pitching Profile in Great American Ballpark: Draw
Johnny Cueto: Cueto has a slightly better groundball to flyball ratio than Bailey. This is important in the homerun haven known as GABP.
Homer Bailey: Bailey has increased his strikeout ratio over the past few years and posted an exceptional 8.57 strikeouts per 9 innings last year. Cueto is typically around 7 strikeouts per 9 innings. Strikeouts are important in hitting friendly environments.
Baseball is a marathon not a sprint. Let’s not call the Bailey extension a bad decision only a few weeks into May. However, if Cueto throws 288 innings with an ERA of 1.25, Walt Jocketty can go ahead and pre-order Johnny’s new pinstripe attire.