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Reds Series Preview: Scouting Johnny Cueto

Could Johnny join the Royals rotation before too long?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

With the Reds hovering below .500 at 18-20, they could become sellers at the deadline if they can't climb into the pennant race by July. If they do become sellers, one asset that will be coveted by many teams is starting pitcher Johnny Cueto. Cueto, an impending free agent this winter, won 20 games last year, leading the league in strikeouts and finishing second in Cy Young balloting. Cueto has proven his improvement in the strikeout department is no fluke, carrying his success into this season. The Royals could be very interested in the right-hander as a trade target this summer, and this outing could serve as an important scouting opportunity.

The 29-year old Cueto has a very effective fastball that sits in the low-90s, as well as a wide assortment of secondary pitches. He has allowed a few more flyballs than usual this year, and has also seen his home run rate go up a bit, but he remains an effective pitcher and is 18th among all pitchers in fWAR this year. The Reds have struggled overall this year in the pitching department, giving up the fifth-most runs per game in the Senior Circuit. Longtime veteran Jason Marquis spent all of last year in the minor leagues, and hasn't put up an ERA+ of 100 since 2009, but will make the start on Wednesday.

Cuban closer Aroldis Chapman and his 100-mph fastball have been awesome this year, with an ERA of 1.04 and 29 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. However the rest of the Reds bullpen has been disappointing, and they are dead last in the National League in overall bullpen ERA. Despite the awful ERA, they are eighth in the league in fWAR, and third in strikeouts per nine innings. Right-hander J.J. Hoover has a decent 2.81 ERA, but has walked nine in 16 innings. Former hot prospect Tony Cingrani has a 2.93 ERA but has walked 11 in 15 1/3 innings. Burke Badenhop has been awful, with an ERA of 9.95, allowing hitters to hit .375/.400/.500 against him.

The Reds are slightly below the league average in runs per game with just over four runs per contest. They are second in home runs with big boppers like Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, and Jay Bruce, but are just sixth in slugging due to a low team batting average of .240. The Reds are aggressive on the bases, leading the Majors in stolen bases with 43 in 49 attempts. Speedster Billy Hamilton has the bulk of those swipes with 17 stolen bases, but five other players have at least three stolen bases this year. Cincinnati leads the National League in Baserunning Runs with 5.1.

Catcher Devin Mesoraco has been injured much of this year with a hip injury, and while the club may look to get him back into action as a designated hitter, he may not be healthy enough to see action. The Reds have a very thin bench filled with journeymen like Skip Schumaker and Brennan Boesch. Former Royals catcher Brayan Pena has filled in well as the backstop in Mesoraco's absence.

The Reds have been a pretty good defensive team this year, and are third in the National League in Defensive Runs Saved with +12. Their infield rates very well with Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips nominated for Gold Gloves last year. Centerfielder Billy Hamilton was also nominated for a Gold Glove, and he leads the team with +4 Defensive Runs Saved. His corner outfield mates are much worse defensively however, with rightfielder Marlon Byrd playing as one of the bigger defensive liabilities in any Major League outfield. Brayan Pena has never been considered much of a glove man behind the plate, and he has allowed 15 out of 18 basestealers reach successfully.

The Royals are 9-8 against the Reds all-time, last facing them in 2010. The Reds have some good talent on their club, but also have some major holes the Royals could exploit. Cueto poses a tough matchup problem in the series opener, but if the Royals keep it close, they may be able to take advantage of immobile Reds corner outfielders in that spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield.