Over at FanGraphs, August Fagerstrom took a look at the perplexing yet logical tendency for Johnny Cueto to lose hitters after getting them into 0-2 holes. Boy howdy, does that sound like a frustrating thing to watch, but Fagerstrom reminds us that the reason Cueto is so good in the first place is that he's a nibbler. He uses the corners and edges of the strike zone as well as anyone in baseball. Think Livan Hernandez, but with his fastball intact.
The article included GIFs like this one:
So close, with a solid frame attempt by Brayan Pena almost stealing the strike.
What if it had been a great frame attempt, though? You geek out on your thing, I'll geek out on this: Johnny Cueto has worked with a great pitch-framer just once in his career, and I'm looking forward to him working with Buster Posey. Giddy with anticipation, even. Like a dork.
Start with the truism that Buster Posey is one of the best pitch-framers in baseball. No one disputes this. Using StatCorner's metrics, he's been one of the best catchers at stealing strikes in every full season he's played. While some catchers bounce around the rankings, like you might expect from hitters who have freaky, fluky seasons with batting average, Posey is always at the top.
With that established, let's look at Cueto's career. In 2010, he worked with Ramon Hernandez almost exclusively (28 starts out of 31). Ryan Hanigan was the better framer according to the metrics, but Hernandez was something of a personal catcher. He was slightly above average, so it wasn't a big loss.
In 2011, though, Hernandez started to slip, even if he kept hitting dingers, but Cueto kept using him as a personal catcher. Hanigan repeated his framing performance, establishing himself as one of the better strike-stealers in the league. Even though we weren't paying attention to that back then.
In 2012, Cueto switched over to Hanigan, and he had a breakout season, finishing fourth in the Cy Young vote. And, hold on, I have something coming in from my producer over the headset, something about "Ryan Hanigan" and "2012", give me just a moment to figure this out ...
Oh, right, right, sorry. That was a close one.
Cueto's 2013 was injury-marred, and Hanigan was gone for the 2014 season, which is Cueto's masterpiece so far, so this is an important Internet reminder that correlation doesn't indicate causation. Brayan Pena handled most of the catching duties for Cueto in '14, and even though Pena's framing numbers were average, it was a magical season for the right-hander. This would indicate that Cueto doesn't need a strike stealer to succeed.
But it certainly can't hurt. And in Cueto's career, he's worked with a plus-plus framer just once. Last year, Pena's numbers slipped, and when Cueto went to the Royals, all of their catchers had negative framing numbers. They should fix that if they want to go anywhere, if you ask me.
It's lazy to suggest that Cueto will be better just because he'll be under the calming, golden protection of Buster Posey, just like it's lazy to suggest AT&T Park will make him a million billion times better. But what if you mash Posey and AT&T Park and one of the better defenses in baseball together? Seems like that's more "good science" than pure laziness. It's, at the very least, slightly less lazy.
If you think of a pitcher who could benefit from a catcher who is merciless and deceitful around the fringes of the strike zone, though, it's Cueto. If you think of a catcher who fits that description, while saying "golly" a lot and obfuscating his thieving, it's Posey. Add it all up -- along the MRIs and medical reports that made the Giants comfortable enough to spend $120 million -- and I'm really eager to watch Cueto's slithery dance around the strike zone this year. Hopefully, he's found the right catcher to help him.
And, uh, hopefully, they'll use Andrew Susac or Trevor Brown as someone else's personal catcher.
In conclusion, this is Johnny Cueto.
Thank you for your time.