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The likely last hurrah of Johnny Cueto

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Good Giant.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Next on our run of 2021 San Francisco Giants player reviews is right-handed pitcher Johnny Cueto.

2021 review

22 games, 114.2 innings, 4.08 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.369 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, 30 walks, 1.5 fWAR, 0.8 rWAR

Johnny Cueto has always been easy for me to believe in.

Perhaps it’s the former success: he’s a multiple-time All-Star who once finished runner-up in Cy Young voting to Clayton Kershaw in a year where Kershaw won MVP.

Maybe it’s the entertainment value: his shimmies, shakes, and wry smiles while on the mound make it clear that he’s a special pitcher; it’s only natural for your brain to take leaps to have the results match.

Or it could be that he’s just so easy to root for. He’s likable. He’s fun. His teammates adore him. He’s relatable, or at least as relatable as elite athletes with nine figures in career earnings can be.

So when Cueto started the season by turning the clock back to 2016, I found myself starting to believe. Through three games he pitched 20 innings and allowed just 13 hits, 4 walks, and 4 earned runs, while striking out 18.

We’ve seen so many career revivals in the black and orange over the last few years; Cueto was just next.

And then he left that third start with an injury, and didn’t return for nearly a month. He gave up 5 earned runs in his return, and struck out just 2 batters.

The rest of his season wasn’t as bad as that start, but it was closer to it than to the brilliance to start the year. It culminated with missing nearly all of September with another injury, and being left off the postseason roster.

I’m still clinging to those three starts, just as I’m still clinging to his 2016. It’s so easy to believe in Johnny Cueto, even when you shouldn’t.

Role in 2022

The Giants declined Cueto’s option for 2022, making him a free agent. Were he a free agent coming from another team, I’d say he had “Giants” written all over him; what a dreamy reclamation project! But he’s had two years with this coaching staff, and been unable to get an ERA or FIP to start with something lower than a “4” in either year.

In all likelihood, it’s time for both parties to move on.

Grade: C