Cueto for Cy Young?

Historically the Cincinnati franchise has not been known for elite pitchers. That is not the case this season as their rotation has close to lowest ERA in the National League. Leading the way is ace Johnny Cueto who is bidding to become the first Red to ever win a Cy Young award.

It sounds a bit strange to discuss Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto for NL Cy Young because no Reds pitcher has won the award since, well, never. Pete Schourek finished second in the voting in 1995. Danny Jackson had a Cy Young caliber year, but it coincided with Orel Hershiser's historic season in 1988. Outside of that no Red has received more than 13 vote points since Mario Soto in 1983 and during that span only five Reds pitchers have received any votes at all. Even though the franchise is not known historically for pitching that is not the case this year. Reds hurlers have a combined ERA of 3.35 which is only 0.08' behind NL leader Washington. Cueto has led the way.

The right-handed Dominican would have been in the conversation more last season had injury not reduced his action. After coming off the DL in May he finished 2011 with a 2.31 ERA which would have put him in second place, 0.03' behind the leader, had he pitched enough innings to qualify. He's currently in second place in that stat in 2012 while pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly venues in the league. He's tied for the league lead in wins with fifteen and Sabremetricians would give him the nod with a wins-above-replacement (WAR) of 5.3 which is 18% more the second highest NL pitcher. His WAR actually rates him third in the NL's list of players overall.

That's not to say there isn't a long list of candidates and with a quarter of the season left to play the honor is still up for grabs. Following is a list of other contenders:

1. R.A. Dickey, Mets: 15-4/2.89 ERA/1.040 WHIP/4.61 K/BB

2. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: 14-5/2.91 ERA/1.112 WHIP/ 4.12 K/BB

3. Cole Hamels, Philies: 13-6/2.91 ERA/1.106 WHIP/ 3.85 K/BB

4. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: 15-6/3.29 ERA/1.144 WHIP/ 2.82 K/BB

5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: 13-7/2.97 ERA/1.008 WHIP/ 4.69 K/BB

6. Matt Cain, Giants: 11-5/ 2.99 ERA/1.033 WHIP/ 4.48 K/BB

7. Ryan Vogelsong, Giants: 10-6/2.72 ERA/1.167 WHIP/ 2.20 K/BB

8. Kyle Lohse, Cardinals: 12-2/2.72 ERA/ 1.114 WHIP/ 3.31 K/BB

9. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: 11-6/2.90 ERA/1.014 WHIP/ 3.93 K/BB

10. A.J. Burnett, Pirates: 14-4/3.32 ERA/ 1.186 WHIP/ 2.83 K/BB

It appears that Cueto's main competition right now is Dickey, Strasburg, and Hamels. Dickey will benefit from the New York media, but he and Hamels are not on a team in the pennant race. Kershaw and the San Francisco pitchers all benefit from playing in ball parks rated among the NL's most pitcher-friendly. It's a difficult estimation because the offensive numbers are influenced by talent of the players a franchise puts on the field, but right now Burnett pitches on the second most pitcher-friendly field in the NL. Though it may not be fair, Gonzalez and teammate Jordan Zimmerman might be overshadowed by being in the same rotation as the 2009 top overall pick Strasburg. Cardinal fans might feel that Lohse is due more credit than he is receiving. He's taken over in their rotation after injury sidelined workhorse Chris Carpenter as his team remains in the hunt for postseason to defend their World Series championship.

Cueto also has competition from within his own rotation. Since moving into the closer role Aroldis Chapman has been outstanding anchoring the back end of their bullpen. He's sitting on a 1.26 ERA with 28 saves in 32 opportunities (87.5%). Incredibly the season is now in mid-August and he has not allowed a single earned run outside of a two and a half week struggle in June. With no clear cut favorite among the starters, ballots from voters more sympathetic to reliever contribution may raise him high in the final tally. Incredibly he's struck out 106 of 216 (49%) batters faced this season. The list of mind-boggling stats goes on: K/BB ratio of 7.57; WHIP=0.684; etc. If one did not know better they might question whether or not he was actually facing MLB hitters. He is working on a season that might be too much to ignore.

Meanwhile Cueto continues to excel while he enjoys pitching for a team with a seven game division lead and the second best record in the major leagues. Thus far the 26 year-old's six year MLB resume has been absent any big accolades. If he does manage to bring home the NL Cy Young it would make him the first winner since Greg Maddux in 1993 to get the award without being named to the all-star team. As long as he keeps it up it's only a matter of time before the hardware comes.

News from the Farm:

Louisville allowed two in the seventh and another one in the eighth in a 5-3 loss at Charlotte. The Bats' bats managed only five hits. Nick Masset got another rehab start and allowed one run in two innings. Chad Reineke gave up three more on six hits in five innings for the loss.

Pensacola allowed four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 4-2 loss at Mobile. Ryan LaMarre had two hits for the Wahoos. Tony Cingrani was sharp. He allowed five hits without a walk over five shutout innings. He left early because he ran up his pitch count by striking out ten Bay Bear hitters. He also contributed two hits to the offense. Brian Pearl came in to pitch the eighth and allowed three runs (two earned) to blow the save and take the loss.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

Hamilton edged closer to the record with two more steals last night. He led the game off with a walk and once again turned it into a "virtual triple" by swiping second and third during the next at-bat. His total is up to 141 SB in 115 games.

Bakersfield fell behind early and never threatened in a 9-1 loss at San Jose. Steve Selsky had two of their five hits. Jamie Walczak got the start and the loss after he was lifted in the third, allowing four runs on seven hits and five walks.

Dayton was shut out at home by Lake County, 7-0. The Dragons were limited to five hits. Jacob Johnson was roughed up for six runs (five earned) in four innings and took the loss.

Billings took a one-run lead into the eighth and added on five in an 8-2 home win against Idaho Falls. Carlos Sanchez had two triples and drove in two for the Mustangs. Daniel Pigott and Taylor Wrenn also added two hits. Sal Romano got the win by allowing two runs (one earned) in five innings. He allowed five hits without a walk while striking out nine. The Mustangs' 13-4 record tops the Pioneer League.

The AZL Reds allowed three in the second and two in each of the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings in a 9-5 loss at the AZL Giants. Adam Matthews had three hits including two triples and drove in two. Jhimmy Lopez and Brayan Arias added two hits each. Jose Williams allowed three runs on two hits and four walks in three innings for the loss.

The DSL Reds took a three run lead in the third inning. After the visiting DSL Twins cut it to one in the seventh before they added two more en route to a 6-2 win. Kevin Garcia and Oviel Flourentino had two hits each for the Reds. Eury Cantalizo had an outstanding start and allowed two hits and one walk over six shutout innings while striking out five. He's now 6-2 with a 1.65 ERA.

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