Was Johnny Cueto Really the Cincinnati Reds’ MVP in 2014?


Sep 28, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) hits and RBI single as Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Chris Stewart (19) is hit by the bat in the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

At Redsfest on Friday night, the Cincinnati Reds announced team award winners for 2014, and Johnny Cueto got the nod as both Pitcher of the Year and Most Valuable Player.  It was an ugly summer on the Riverfront, and Cueto was one of the few bright spots, but was he really the team MVP, above all of Cincinnati’s everyday players?  

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Well, the competition for team MVP in 2014 really came down to three players: Cueto, third baseman Todd Frazier and catcher Devin Mesoraco.

As good as Mesoraco was in his breakout year, he managed to play in just 114 games in 2014, and only 109 of those were starts at catcher. That left the Reds having to cover the toughest position on the diamond in 53 games, nearly a third of the season. So, even with his 26 home runs and 4.8 WAR — remarkable in only 440 plate appearances — Mesoraco just can’t measure up to the other two candidates.

That leaves us with Cueto and Frazier.

Looking just at WAR, Cueto wins the “value” argument hands-down, 6.4 to 4.3.  But WAR can’t tell the whole story by itself, especially when we’re comparing pitchers to hitters, so let’s dig deeper.

In the first half of the season, Cueto looked to be headed for a Cy Young award with a 2.13 ERA, his 10-6 record reflecting a bit of bad luck.  His peripherals included a 0.891 WHIP, 8.8 K/9 and 4.03 K/W.  He also pitched in 143+ innings over 20 starts, and I didn’t think there was any way he could keep up his pace.

I was wrong.

In the second half, despite the team falling apart around him, Cueto went 10-3 with a 2.43 ERA and backed that up with a 1.060 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 and 3.37 K/W.  Despite suffering through an injury-plagued season in 2013, Cueto finished 2014 as the league leader in starts, innings, strikeouts and hits per ning innings (6.2).

Meanwhile, Frazier led the team with 29 homers, 80 RBI and a .273 batting average.  He also swiped 20 bases and provided plus defense at the hot corner.  He even filled in for 43 games at first base when Joey Votto went down.

But while Cueto was excellent all season long, Frazier joined his teammates in the second-half deep freeze.  After his heroics in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis, Frazier managed just 10 homers in the second half and watched his OPS plummet from .853 to .707.

In short, Frazier’s fall-off down the stretch was a big part of the Reds’ overall problem in scoring runs.  You can’t blame it all on him, of course, but he got cold at just the wrong time.

For his Cy Young-caliber season, and for his consistent excellence from the beginning of the season to the bitter end, Cueto was a fitting choice as the Cincinnati Reds’ MVP for 2014.