Johnny Cueto bolsters Cy Young case with eight scoreless innings

49 Comments

Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto didn’t make the NL All-Star team, but he might well be the league’s Cy Young Award winner this season.

Cueto threw eight innings of three-hit ball and combined with Aroldis Chapman on a shutout of the Cubs on Sunday, giving him his 15th victory of the season.

Cueto is now tied with the Mets’ R.A. Dickey for the NL lead in wins, and he’s third with a 2.45 ERA, putting him ahead of Dickey at 2.72. The two pitchers ahead of him in ERA, Ryan Vogelsong (2.27) and Jordan Zimmermann (2.35), have 10 and nine victories, respectively, leaving them with an uphill climb if they hope to figure into the Cy Young race.

Cueto doesn’t measure up with others in the dominance stats. He ranks 17th in the NL with 127 strikeouts, and his 1.16 WHIP is 12th. Still, from a performance standpoint, he matches up pretty well with anyone in the league right now. A big reason: he’s given up just eight homers.

Despite being on a pace that would put him well above his career high for innings, Cueto thus far has managed to avoid his typical second-half slump. In each of his previous four major league seasons, he had a higher ERA after the break than before. That still holds true this year, too, but he’s currently 5-1 with a 2.61 ERA in the second half after going 10-5 with a 2.39 ERA in the first.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images
11 Comments

The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.