Last year, one of the worst second-half pitchers in baseball was Jeff Samardzija. There wasn’t really a drop-off in his stuff, though, so the Giants saw enough to sign him to a big free-agent contract. Another pitcher who struggled in the second half, a bit more famously, was Johnny Cueto, but again, the Giants saw enough to now sign him to a big free-agent contract, too:
Johnny Cueto’s deal with #SFGiants is for six years and $130M with an opt out after 2 years.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 14, 2015
In Nashville, I was talking to someone in a front office, and we discussed whether Cueto would end up with more than the Diamondbacks were said to have offered him. The word is that Cueto turned down six years and something around $120 million from Arizona. The Giants are giving him a little more, and an opt-out, so Cueto’s clearly doing fine. It’s a bigger deal, in a more pitcher-friendly environment. As risky as Cueto might seem, Jordan Zimmermann might have no fewer red flags, and he got five years and $110 million. Cueto deserves the extra season.
Cueto is obviously a tough nut to crack. People don’t love his durability, but he’s cleared 450 innings the last two seasons. He comes off as a higher-maintenance sort, but his results have mostly been outstanding, and he recently worked that World Series complete game. You don’t want to believe too much in the playoff-redemption narrative — Cueto had 10 walks, 19 strikeouts, and a 5.40 ERA. But the Giants aren’t signing Cueto because of his time in Kansas City. They’re signing him because of what he did with Cincinnati, and San Francisco should provide a favorable environment. What teams care about is run prevention, and Cueto has prevented runs better than the majority of starting pitchers for the last several years.
We’ll see if he continues to beat his peripherals. Over the last six years, between the ages of 24 – 29, Cueto’s ERA- has been better than his FIP- by 15 points. Here are the biggest such differences over the last 50 years, within that age window:
- Jim Palmer, 18 points
- Johnny Cueto, 15
- Dave Stieb, 15
- Catfish Hunter, 14
- Mike Torrez, 14
- Barry Zito, 14
From age-30 on, Palmer had a difference of 15 points. Stieb, 8 points. Hunter, 4 points. Torrez, -3 points. Zito, -3 points. So that’s not super encouraging, nor is the simple presence of Zito, who has some Cueto parallels. It’s a name that sends shivers.
But Johnny Cueto isn’t Barry Zito. Johnny Cueto isn’t anyone but Johnny Cueto, and last year his stuff didn’t fall apart, and he was awesome in the National League. Now he returns to the National League, with a good team and a good coaching staff in a friendly environment. The Giants recognize and accept the risk in the pitchers they’ve signed. Higher risk doesn’t mean a higher chance of this being a mistake, necessarily. It’s just about big upside and big downside. Presented the option of going big or going home, the Giants have leaped at the chance for the former.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.