Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cueto among several aces around league searching for more support

Cueto is one of many aces who are struggling
to find run support in 2012
Think quick. What do Clayton Kershaw (LAD), Cliff Lee (PHI), Justin Verlander (DET), Felix Hernandez (SEA), Ryan Dempster (CHC), Clayton Richard (SD) and Johnny Cueto all have in common? Well, the obvious similarity between them is that each one is the ace of their respective team. What may not be so obvious, however, is the fact that all seven of them rank near the bottom in run support average this season -- which presents a troublesome trend indeed.

In Cueto's case, the relative lack of run support hasn't hurt him as much as it has others. Of course, boasting the majors' lowest ERA (2.23) certainly helps. As does recording the third-most quality starts of any NL pitcher with 16. Add it all up and you've got an ace with a 12-5 record. Only two pitchers in the league have notched more wins than Cueto's 12 -- New York's R.A. Dickey (13) and Washington's Gio Gonzalez (13). It's also important to note that Dickey and Gonzalez rank 11th and 12th in the NL, respectively, in support. More after the break...

Run support is a statistic often overlooked or unaccounted when comparing pitchers around the league. Entering play on Friday, only two pitchers in MLB had received less runs per nine innings pitched than Cueto's 4.73. They are Verlander of Detroit (4.28) and former Red and current San Diego Padre Edinson Volquez (4.07). By comparison, Angels SP Jered Weaver (13-1, 2.26 ERA) has enjoyed an average clip of 9.18 runs per nine innings pitched. That's nearly twice as many as Cueto and can often spell the difference between a win and a loss beside a pitcher's name in the box score. Furthermore, you can count the number of instances on one hand in which the Reds have scored more than five runs in any of Cueto's 20 starts this year (4). And they've mustered an average of just 2.2 per game in his last five starts.

So, what is a starting pitcher to do in an unlucky situation such as Cueto's? The answer: nothing. All he can do is continue to throw zeros up on the scoreboard and hope his club can scratch a few runs across. If there's one thing Cueto can take solace in, it's the realization that he's not the only ace faced with this lack of assistance. This begs the question as to why offenses around MLB seem to struggle when their aces are on the hill.

One educated guess could be that their ace is also squaring off against another. With that said, the likelihood of this being true is slim. Outside of the first couple weeks of the season, and the first week succeeding the All-Star Break, teams rarely find their no. 1 matched-up with their opponents. This either comes by choice, scheduling, off-days or others variables. So, to accept this excuse as a valid one would be unwise.

Another theory could deal with mentality. Let's face it. By now the Reds have gotten pretty used to Cueto producing quality starts and in turn, could feel less inclined or motivated to plate as many runs as possible during a game with which he starts. The same goes for Verlander with the Tigers, Kershaw with the Dodgers and so on. Simply put, an offense may not put its best lineup on the field (nor best effort) when their best hurler pitches every fifth day.

Whatever the case may be for this lack of help, it's concerning. The inability to provide enough run support for a particular guy could eventually lead to frustration, among other things, which could lead to poor performance. Cueto won't always be able to keep the opposing offense from scoring, and when he fails to, it's crucial for his offense to pick him up.

They'll certainly have an excellent opportunity to do just that tonight at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Aside from the thin Mile High air, Cincinnati hitters have to be salivating at the thought of facing Colorado pitching. The Rockies enter the series dead last in the league in ERA (5.27), quality starts (24), BAA (.293), homers allowed (127), and WHIP (1.56). If there was ever a time to bet on Cueto receiving more runs in his start than normal, it would have to be this one.

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