What About Cuas? What About All the Times You Said You Had the Answers?

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 10th season of Jose Cuas’ professional career, but he’s only been tagged in a FanGraphs article once before today. Back in August, he figured in Eric Longenhagen’s writeup of minor trade deadline moves when he (Cuas, not Eric) was traded from the Royals to the Cubs for outfielder Nelson Velázquez. And Eric unfortunately stepped on my two big Jose Cuas facts: First, that he used to be a position player. Second, he shared an infield at the University of Maryland with Brandon Lowe and LaMonte Wade Jr. I’ll go one step further: It was Cuas who led the team in home runs.

In their draft year, those guys combined to finish second in the Big Ten tournament; along the way they handed conference champion Illinois its first loss in months, in a game that ended at like 2 a.m. local time. You have no idea how far back “Late Night LaMonte” goes. Then, the Terps upset no. 1 overall seed UCLA in regional play and nearly made the College World Series.

Pro ball has been an absolute laugh riot for Wade and Lowe, but Cuas had a little rougher start.

Cuas hit under .200 in his first two full seasons in the Brewers system, at which point Milwaukee figured maybe this big, strong left-side infielder should give pitching a shot. Converting a college third baseman into a reliever worked for the Brewers with Lucas Erceg years later, but it didn’t take right away with Cuas, who got released in June 2018. He pitched well enough in indy ball that the Diamondbacks took a flyer on him the following summer. That went better, but in May 2020 Cuas got released again.

In May 2021, the Royals signed Cuas, and suddenly, he was nearly unhittable. By 2022 he was in the majors, where he pitched around a 13.3% walk rate, managing to hold his ERA down to 3.58 in 47 appearances. In 2023, between the Royals and Cubs, Cuas logged 72 appearances, which was tied for 10th in the majors.

On usage leaderboards, Cuas was up there with guys like Bryan Abreu and Yennier Cano, but the results were mediocre. His walk rate remained an alarming 12.0%, which is high enough that his strikeout rate — an objectively impressive 24.3% in a neutral context — looks downright meager in comparison.

Anyway, this is what we’re dealing with.

In 2022, he actually had an even more extreme side-winder delivery, with a closed set position. A little more Disco Hayes. (If you were a baseball fan in the 1980s, all Royals side-armers and submariners remind you of Dan Quisenberry. If you were a baseball blogger in the late aughts, all Royals side-armers and submariners remind you of Disco Hayes.)

We’re seen this delivery before, or at least it looks like we’ve seen this delivery before. Because for the past two seasons, Cuas has had the most extreme horizontal release point of any right-handed pitcher in baseball. Here are the 345 righties who threw 500 or more pitches last year, by vertical and horizontal release point. Cuas is the red dot.

As you might expect from someone with such an extreme side-arm delivery, Cuas started out as a sinker-slider guy, but in 2023 he made two changes to his repertoire, one before the trade, the other after.

The first: He added a four-seam fastball. Before, everything was either down and running arm-side (the sinker) or down and breaking glove-side (the slider). Cuas used his new four-seamer in the upper third of the zone, like a softball pitcher’s rise ball. It’s remarkable neither in velocity nor movement, but it forces hitters to cover the entire zone vertically, and allows Cuas to change hitters’ eye level.

The second tweak happened immediately after the trade, and could turn Cuas into a valuable high-leverage option, rather than an innings eater who’s mostly interesting to people who love cold-weather college baseball trivia.

There isn’t a pitcher out there with a delivery and release point exactly like Cuas’. But the closest thing we’ve got right now is Paul Sewald, who has the third-widest average horizontal release point among right-handed pitchers. He also throws a four-seamer in the 92 mph range. If you watched last year’s playoffs, you know this, because you watched Sewald throw a bunch of letter-high 92 mph four-seamers past some of the best hitters on the planet.

As opposed to Cuas, who throws four pitches, including a show-me changeup, Sewald throws only two: the heater and a sweeper. So when Cuas got up to Chicago, the Cubs had him change his breaking ball. The slider was getting crushed, so the Cubs had him tweak his breaking ball.

The original breaking ball was a slider with tight vertical action but very little side-to-side break. The example I’m going to show you is a whiff, but this was a hanger, and a better hitter than Myles Straw might’ve put this pitch in the lake.

This breaking ball is cute. You don’t want a cute breaking ball. You want a breaking ball that a good hitter is going to swing at even if it ends up in the opposite batter’s box. Like this one.

The slider was more of an all-purpose breaking pitch, but Cuas’ sweeper is specifically a chase pitch for right-on-right matchups. In 2023, Cuas threw his slider in the zone 30.7% of the time. He threw only 12.8% of his sweepers in the zone.

So can he locate the sweeper? Well, “locate” is probably too strong a word. But it might not matter. Because this was a tertiary pitch used by a one-inning reliever only in the final eight weeks of the season, the sample is infinitesimally small: just 39 pitches in total. But nobody can hit this sweeper.

Sweepers to RHB
In Zone Out of Zone
Total 5 30
Swing 4 9
Whiff 2 7
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Nine whiffs on 13 swings is the second-highest whiff rate of any pitch in baseball last year, minimum 10 plate appearances. And the four times an opponent hit Cuas’ sweeper amounted to one 90 mph lineout right to the first baseman, two foul balls, and a weak grounder.

The issue for Cuas is whether he can get hitters to chase. Opponents were far more likely to go after his slider out of the zone than the sweeper. But this breaking ball shape makes more sense for a pitcher whose body moves horizontally as much as Cuas’ does. Why throw the ball up and down when your arm is moving right to left?

If he harnesses this pitch, Cuas would be a nightmare for right-handed hitters. He’d still have a long way to go to become the best player to come out of the 2015 Maryland draft class, but that’s a high bar to clear.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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1 month ago

The titles are cringe, but they’re like… positive cringe? Cringe with a side of “oh good, I get to read a good article”?

How the crap are we supposed to quantify this? Baumann, you are toying with my emotions!

Anyway, my takeaway from the gifs is that Cuas should take a wider stride and land more in line with his back foot. His landing leg lands too far inside of his shoulder when he lands, and that can cause his pivot foot to come up early, which throws off his command and can influence his stuff. That can result in your release point moving wildly, which is terrible for command and consistency of break on your pitches. Idk if that’s a direct problem for Cuas, but I’d assume so. And given how poorly his breaking pitches performed last season (slider especially, and given its tendency to back up), it would make sense.

Last edited 1 month ago by EonADS