Last season, Johnny Cueto seemingly found the fountain of youth with the Chicago White Sox. The veteran right-hander logged over 150 innings for the first time in six seasons, and became a major contributor for a White Sox club in need of pitching depth. After a strong 2022 season, the two-time All-Star parlayed that strong campaign into a one-year deal with the Miami Marlins. It’s a curious move for Miami, a team that already possesses plenty of talented starting pitchers in its rotation.
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A Look at Cueto
It’s remarkable to see what RHP Johnny Cueto was able to accomplish with the White Sox in 2022. After a rough 2020 campaign with the Giants, the righty did bounce back in his final season in the Bay Area in 2021. Cueto recorded a 4.08 ERA over 114.2 IP that campaign, before an even better run with Chicago last season.
Cueto pitched to the tune of a 3.35 ERA over 158.1 IP. That inning total marked the most the 36-year-old threw in a season since 2016, when Cueto won 18 games for the Giants. The former White Sox’s K/9 (5.8) was a career-low, but his strong BB/9 (1.9) marked a return to form for the two-time All-Star. The righty was among the game’s better control pitchers for most of his career, but struggled in that category from 2019-2020. Cueto recorded a 4.0 BB/9 during that span, a departure from his career BB/9 of 2.5.
In addition to re-gained control, the right-hander also made liberal use of a cut fastball. Used only just 1.5% of the time in 2021, Cueto used it 19.7% of the time this past season. No, Cueto’s cutter didn’t miss many bats, as it had just an 11.7% Whiff% rate. Plus, batters did hit .313 off of it. However, it did generate a fair amount of weak contact. Per Statcast, Cueto induced 62 instances in which batters made poor contact off of his cutter. That total ranked 31st in all of baseball.
Cueto proved to be a crafty right-hander last season. While his average exit velocity and Hard Hit% rates were not particularly good, the 36-year-old did manage to record an above-average Chase% rate and limited walks. Plus, Cueto kept hitters guessing with an arsenal that includes a sinker, changeup, slider, and the aforementioned cutter. Now, it’s time to see if the 2015 World Series champion can perform an encore in South Florida.
What it Means
Miami continues its modest offseason, by adding another veteran to a relatively young baseball team. Just a few weeks prior, the Marlins picked up infielder Jean Segura off the free agent market. Now, Miami adds Cueto to a young, but inexperienced and vulnerable rotation.
Now at first glance, the move to acquire Cueto could lead some to believe that the Marlins are more than interested in dealing one of the team’s arms to pick up a controllable bat. RHP Pablo López, in particular, is a name that has been talked about in trade rumors for quite some time. Given that the Marlins have just two years of control left on López, the righty could be the one to watch.
However, it’s also fair to think of this move as an insurance policy on the Marlins rotation. Aside from reigning NL Cy Young award winner Sandy Alcantara and the aforementioned López, much of Miami’s rotation last season dealt with injuries. Young LHP Jesús Luzardo (3.32 ERA, 10.8 K/9) pitched quite well last season, but only logged 100 innings due to a forearm strain. LHP Braxton Garrett (88 IP) and RHP Edward Cabrera (71.2 IP) were also limited last season, and RHP Sixto Sanchez didn’t see the Majors again in 2022.
It’s not to indicate that injuries will plague the Marlins yet again in 2023, but it certainly helps to have a veteran with good pitchability and command that can fill the role as an innings eater. And should Cueto prove to be a valuable arm this upcoming season, the righty could be an asset at the Trade Deadline should Miami struggle.