Johnny Cueto’s first game

A look at Johnny Cueto’s big-league debut using PITCHf/x data.

Johnny Cueto is a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher from the famous Dominican baseball city of San Pedro de Macoris. He was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 2004. He pitched in Rookie ball and A-ball in 2005 and 2006, and in 2007 he shot through the Reds’ system, starting 14 games at Sarasota (A-ball), 10 games at Chattanooga (Double-A), and four games at Louisville (Triple-A). Among the three stops in 2007, he compiled a 12-9 record with a 3.07 ERA in 161.1 innings. He allowed 146 hits and 34 walks and recorded 170 strikeouts.

This spring, Cueto joined the big-league team for spring training and earned a spot in the major league rotation behind returning anchors Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo and alongside newcomers Josh Fogg and Edinson Volquez. For his first major-league start, he faced off Thursday afternoon against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Doug Davis.

His debut performance was stellar. In seven innings of work, he allowed only a single baserunner—a home run by Justin Upton to lead off the sixth inning. He struck out 10 and walked none, and he threw 68 of 92 pitches for strikes.

What was Johnny Cueto throwing that so baffled the Diamondbacks? Let’s take a look at the PITCHf/x data from the game. Doug Gray of RedsPitchfx.com brought to my attention that the PITCHf/x data collected from this game appears a little skewed. Nonetheless, I believe I was able to properly identify the pitches that Cueto threw. For a good primer on Cueto’s stuff, read the scouting report that Kiley McDaniel posted at Saber-Scouting last week.

His main pitch on Thursday was a four-seam fastball running 94-97 mph (48 pitches). He also threw a slider 87-90 mph (20 pitches), a change-up 85-92 mph (16 pitches) and a two-seam fastball 96 mph (one pitch). PITCHf/x data is missing for seven pitches. Against right handers, Cueto relied on mainly on his fastball (64 percent) and his slider (23 percent). Against left handers, he split his pitches between fastball (38 percent), change-up (33 percent) and slider (25 percent).

Cueto never went to a three-ball count, and he went to 2-0 only three times in 22 hitters. He mixed his pitches fairly well at all counts. He didn’t throw his slider when he was behind in the count, but since that only happened eight times, it’s hard to say whether that’s a real trend.

He got six strikeouts on the fastball, one on the change-up, and one on the slider. The strikeouts of Eric Byrnes and Mark Reynolds in the second inning came on a pitches not recorded by PITCHf/x, but Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic indicated those pitches were a slider and a fastball.

Where did Cueto locate his pitches?

Fastball Location Chart
Against the left-handed hitters—Orlando Hudson, Stephen Drew and pinch hitter Jeff Salazar—Cueto preferred to throw his four-seam fastball mostly on the inside edge, where he got several foul balls. Hudson put two fastballs into play, one a fly ball to left field and the other a ground ball to first base.

Against the right-handed hitters>—Chris Young, Chris Burke, Byrnes, Reynolds, Upton, Robby Hammock and pitcher Davis>—Cueto pounded the zone with his fastball, particularly the outer half of the plate, to very good results. He threw 28 of 39 (72 percent) of his fastballs to right handers for strikes, including an impressive eight swings and misses. Only three right handers put his fastball in play: Robby Hammock flied out to center field, Upton homered to left field, and Byrnes grounded out to the shortstop.

Change-up Location Chart
Cueto’s change-ups to left-handed hitters were mostly out of the zone down or away. Nonetheless, he garnered a couple swinging strikes, fooling Jeff Salazar on back-to-back pitches. Drew drove a change-up to deep left field that was caught by Adam Dunn in the fifth inning. To right-handed hitters, he mostly kept the change-up in lower part of the strike zone.

Slider Location Chart
He only threw a few sliders to left-handers, who didn’t have much luck with them. To right-handed hitters, he targeted the outside corner with the slider. Right handers managed to put four sliders into play. Chris Burke hit a fly ball to center and popped up to the second baseman, Reynolds lined out to left field, and Hammock grounded back to the pitcher.

Two-Seamer Location Chart
Cueto only threw one two-seam fastball, at least among the pitches for which we have detailed data. It was the first pitch to Hudson in the first inning, and Hudson swung and missed.

I mentioned some of the pitches put into play by the Diamondbacks against Cueto. Here is the full chart.
Balls in Play Chart

Obviously, Johnny Cueto pitched an excellent game, and Reds fans must be excited about his future. They hope his career will be a long one filled with more excitement, and I hope you enjoyed this quick look into his pitching repertoire.

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