Saturday, December 24, 2011

Be Cautious in Tabbing Cueto an Ace, Yet

By now most people around baseball consider Johnny Cueto to be the ace of the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff. With his low-mid 90's fastball, tantalizing curveball and unpredictable changeup, he's a challenge to any opposing hitter that steps in the box against him. The only real threat between him and winning a Cy Young Award at this point appears to be bad chicken wings.

However, it must be noted that many of these same people once considered Edinson Volquez to be ace material as well (as recently as eight months ago). After a masterful 2008 campaign in which he was not only named an All-Star, but also finished fourth in the league's Rookie of the Year balloting, expectations were high for the promising flamethrower from the Dominican. In fact, the Reds believed in him so much that he got the nod for both game one of the NLDS in 2010 and the start on Opening Day to begin 2011.

Volquez once held the promise that
Cueto now currently holds w/the Reds
After three injury-riddled years since then, the club finally cut their ties with the right-hander and shipped him to San Diego in the trade that brought Mat Latos. With Volquez gone, and a stellar showing in 2011 by Cueto, Cueto is now the guy Cincy sees as their anchor at the top of the rotation for many years to come. But if the team has learned anything from their experience with Volquez, shouldn't they attempt to curb their enthusiasm and expectations for Cueto?

I must admit, personally I'm still a little leery about dubbing Cueto an "ace" just yet. I guess I'm just being ultra-conservative after buying into the Volquez hype for several years. With that said, there is no denying that Cueto is going to help this team win ball games in both the short and long-term. But expecting him to post an ERA of 2.31 or better again in 2012 may be somewhat optimistic.

It's important to remember that he missed nearly eight starts to begin the year due to shoulder inflammation, which didn't help him in his innings pitched or wins total, but certainly helped him stay fresher for longer -- which in turn definitely aided in keeping that ERA of his lower. He also benefited from pitching against a rather soft schedule during the second half of the season. Of the 11 starts he made after the All-Star break, only 2 of them were against teams with a winning record. And the fact that the Reds had to shut him down again in mid-September due to a strained right lat muscle is worrisome too.

I realize this perspective may not go over well with some Reds fans and that is okay. Siding on the error of caution from time-to-time is not a bad thing at all. Cueto could very well cement his place among baseball's pitching elite with Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum in due time, but until then let's not jinx him like the organization did with Volquez. The 25-year old Cueto still has plenty of time to earn his stripes as the team's ace.

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