SF Giants Biggest Disappointments: Right-handed Starter Johnny Cueto
When the 2020 season began at the end of July, Johnny Cueto had been nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery. In fact, Cueto had the surgery performed in the first week of August in 2018.
He worked exceptionally hard to return in 2019 as he was noticeably thinner while making a handful of starts down the stretch. In those starts, the right-handed hurler posted a 5.06 ERA (5.71 FIP) with 13 strikeouts across 16 innings. Perhaps, the fact that he allowed three home runs should have been a red flag.
However, he was healthy and was a positive sign for the Giants and baseball.
When he entered the 2020 season, I do not think anyone expected him to be the workhorse he was earlier in his career. The hope was they he would soak up some innings in each start while keeping the Giants in ballgames.
While he did eat up 63.1 innings in 12 starts, he struggled to keep the Giants close. On the year, he posted a 5.40 ERA (4.64 FIP) with a 20.2 percent strikeout rate against a 9.2 percent walk rate. However, the 1.3 HR/9 rate is a trend that has increased in recent seasons and suggests that hitters are barreling him up with more regularity.
Furthermore, he induced a ground ball in only 40.8 percent of his batted ball events, which is one of the lowest marks of his career. Hitters were able to get more lift on their swings than they had in prior seasons.
His 5.40 ERA was the highest among qualified pitchers in the National League. Though, the 4.64 FIP suggests he was victim to some bad luck.
The positive news is that Cueto remained healthy throughout the season. The bad news is that he struggled to find the consistency he possessed earlier in his career.
The veteran hurler has one year remaining on his six-year, $126 million deal with a team option for 2022. It seems likely that the Giants will buy out that option for $5 million.
The fact that the Giants missed the playoffs was a product of many factors, but if Cueto had performed up to expectations, San Francisco may have played October baseball.