Cueto 4th in Cy Young Voting

Johnny Cueto has established himself as one of the top pitchers in baseball and a couple of unearned runs in his regular season finale prevented him from becoming the first Red to win 20 games since 1988. His success was rewarded by writers with a top four finish in NL Cy Young voting. He maintains one of the best ERA's in the league despite pitching in Great American Ball Park.

Cincinnati continues to get recognition as awards are announced for this past season. Tuesday Todd Frazier learned that he was third in the voting for NL Rookie of the Year. The next day it was announced that Dusty Baker was runner up for NL Manager of the Year. Next came Johnny Cueto who finished fourth in the balloting as he vied to become the first Red to win the NL Cy Young award. It was the highest finish for a Cincinnati pitcher since Aaron Harang finished fourth in 2006. There were multiple contenders and though Cueto finished fourth, the 75 votes received were the most by any Red in history (It should be noted that earlier selections had fewer voters with simpler ballots awarding only one point to their top choice). Three Reds have finished runner-up for award: Pete Schourek in 1995, Danny Jackson (1988), and Mario Soto (1983).

Cueto's 19 wins were the most by a Reds pitcher since Jackson in 1988 and he had the lowest ERA in franchise history since Jose Rijo in 1993. The 2.76 ERA is even more impressive when considering it was the third lowest in the league despite pitching home games in one of the more hitter-friendly venues. Cincinnati took a chance on the then-24 year old when they signed him to an extension two years ago keeps his services under team control through 2015 and escalates up to $10M/year at the back end. The right-hander has rewarded them by becoming the ace of their rotation and pitching at a level on which the Reds have not enjoyed from a pitcher in a long time.

There were multiple contenders for the honor, but the Mets' R.A. Dickey received all but five of the first place votes making him the first knuckleballer to win the award. He and third place finisher Gio Gonzalez were the only two NL pitchers to win 20 games in 2012. The lowest ERA was achieved by 2011 winner Clayton Kershaw who finished second in this year's balloting. For those looking at more advanced stats, Kershaw led the league with a 6.2 WAR, ahead of Cueto (5.8) and Dickey (5.6).

Cueto was a workhorse this season. He and teammates Mat Latos and Homer Bailey were three of the twelve pitchers who tied for the NL lead with 33 games started. One high-visibility pitching stat absent his name was strikeouts where his 170 K's were not enough to finish in the top ten. Oddly enough when looking at Cueto's career his overall effectiveness improves as his strikeout rate declines. Lack of pitching in 2008 probably caused them to skip him over AAA and rush him to the majors too early when he was only 22 years old. He whiffed 8.2 batters per nine innings that season while walking 3.5 per nine and putting up an ERA that was barely below five. As his strikeout rate declined so did his walks and this year he fanned 7.1/nine while walking only two. Relying on the solid Reds defense to make plays behind him gave a more efficient use of his pitch counts and he pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his five year career.

Earlier some speculated that Aroldis Chapman might figure into the voting while he was having a phenomenal season out of the Reds bullpen. The Cuban lefty received only one fifth place vote. Baker gave him some idle time late in the season to help recovery from shoulder fatigue and he finished with a 1.51 ERA over 68 appearances and converted 38 of 43 save opportunities. What was most impressive was striking out 122 of 276 batters faced (44%) while walking only 23 (K/BB=5.3) and a 0.81 WHIP.

The Reds and Nationals rode pitching staffs that tied for the lowest ERA in the NL en route to the two best records in the league. Obviously neither Cueto nor Gonzalez was a lone gun on staffs that were so successful. Right behind them with a nearly identical ERA was the Kershaw-led Dodgers. Meanwhile Dickey recorded 20 wins for the Mets which turned out to be over one quarter of the teams' win total. It's been an improbable story for the journeyman who had a couple of unimpressive seasons for the Rangers in 2003-4. After that he did not pitch more than 30 MLB innings in a season until he resurfaced in Seattle in 2008. He cracked the Mets rotation in 2010 and this year made his first All-Star appearance and won the Cy Young at the age of 37.

It was the second consecutive season for Cueto among ERA leaders. His 2.37 in 2011 would have left him around the best in the league had not an injury to start that season prevented him from pitching enough innings to qualify. It's a lot to ask anyone to continually be at the top of the list year after year, especially when they pitch half their games in Great American Ball Park. On the other hand, someone will be leading the pack and the top candidates will be the ones that have already been there in the past. Cueto just received one of the top Cy Young finishes in Reds history and don't be surprised if he comes in higher in 2013.

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