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December 4, 2012

Western Front

Thou Shalt Not Run on Johnny Cueto

by Geoff Young

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On September 7, 2010, in the second inning of a game between the Reds and the Rockies, Eric Young Jr. stole second base. The pitcher was Johnny Cueto, who hasn't allowed a steal of second in 61 starts since then.

Cueto possesses one of baseball's best pickoff moves (he caught Young off second base in the fourth inning of the same game), and runners are 2-for-15 against him over the past two years: On June 14, 2011, Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon swiped third base against Cueto. On July 3, 2012, Dodgers third baseman Luis Cruz stole home.

Otherwise, since Young's success, 12 men have tried to steal second against Cueto; all have failed. Several more were picked off first base (they weren't all necessarily trying to steal). Some were picked off first and caught stealing. Here are his victims:

Date: June 4, 2011 (box)
Runner: Andre Ethier (career 19-for-37 in stolen base attempts at the time, 51.4 percent)
Type: Pickoff
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez (he was a bystander, but we'll list the catcher on pickoffs anyway)
This was a crazy game. Cueto left after seven innings with a 7-2 lead, but the Dodgers came back with five in the eighth and four in the 11th to win, 11-8.

But we're interested in what happened much earlier. With two out in the top of the first, Ethier grounded into a 1-6 force play. He then got picked off first with a 1-2 count on Matt Kemp.

Taking the bat out of Kemp's hands was a good idea. His grand slam in the eighth off Logan Ondrusek tied the game, and his RBI groundout in the 11th brought home Aaron Miles for the Dodgers' final run.

Date: June 9, 2011 (box)
Runner: Andres Torres (48-for-63, 76.2 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Cueto spun seven shutout innings at San Francisco, as the Reds won, 3-0. Torres led off the bottom of the first with a four-pitch walk. On a 2-1 pitch to Miguel Tejada, Torres broke for second and was thrown out on ball three. Tejada then doubled to left.

The Giants had other opportunities. They got the first two men on in the fourth and a man to third with one out in the sixth, but couldn't score. The Reds got all they needed in the eighth, when Joey Votto scored on an Eli Whiteside passed ball.

Date: June 28, 2011 (box)
Runner: Sam Fuld (18-for-26, 69.2 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
This time Cueto worked into the eighth. He held a 2-1 lead going into that inning at Tampa Bay, but gave way with two on and two out to southpaw Bill Bray, who served up a two-run double to Johnny Damon that gave the Rays the lead. The Reds tied when Jay Bruce led off the ninth with a home run to center off Kyle Farnsworth and then lost when Evan Longoria returned the favor against Ondrusek in the home half.

Before that, way back in the third, Fuld drew a one-out walk. On a 1-0 pitch to Reid Brignac, Fuld was caught stealing, though he didn't go down without a fight. The play was scored 2-6-3-4-6, so kudos to him for the extra effort and to the Reds for getting four players in on the fun. Brignac then struck out swinging to end the inning.

Date: July 4, 2011 (box)
Runner: Jon Jay (7-for-13, 53.8 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Cueto was the tough-luck loser, dropping a 1-0 decision to Chris Carpenter. Both men worked eight innings, with the lone run coming when Mark Hamilton—pinch-hitting for Carpenter—drove home Colby Rasmus on an infield single with two out in the eighth. Irrelevant but amusing fact: Cueto did not register any strikeouts, marking the fourth and final time in 2011 that a pitcher worked at least eight innings without any strikeouts.

In the fourth, Cueto had trouble finding the plate. He issued two of his three walks that inning and went to a three-ball count on another batter. Jay led off with the first of those walks, then was caught stealing on a 3-1 pitch to Matt Holliday, who himself drew a walk. Cueto escaped undamaged.

Date: July 15, 2011 (box)
Runner: Ryan Theriot (108-for-150, 72.0 percent)
Type: Pickoff
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
The Reds won this one on a Brandon Phillips two-run walk-off homer with two out in the ninth. They had to come from behind because the previous inning, Aroldis Chapman coughed up a two-run blast to Albert Pujols. Before that, Cueto had a 2-0 lead entering the seventh but couldn't hold it.

In the sixth, while Cueto was still cruising, he gave up a ground-ball single up the middle to Theriot with one out. Cueto got out of the inning with just one more pitch, picking off Theriot and then getting Rasmus on a grounder to first.

Date: September 14, 2011 (box)
Runner: Marlon Byrd (49-for-69, 71.0 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Smartly, nobody tried to run on Cueto for two months. Then in the second inning of this one, Byrd decided to tempt fate. After singling to center with one out, he ran on a full-count pitch to Darwin Barney, who swung and missed. Byrd was retired, 2-4-3-6.

The Reds won, 7-2, although Cueto did not get the decision. He departed with two out in the fourth because of a strained right lat muscle. The offensive star? That would be Hernandez, who doubled, homered, and drove in three runs.

Date: April 5, 2012 (box)
Runner: Emilio Bonifacio (80-for-105, 76.2 percent)
Type: Pickoff
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
Cincinnati's season opener featured Cueto and Mark Buehrle, a baserunner's worst nightmare (there were two pickoffs and one caught stealing in the game). Cueto worked seven scoreless and the Reds won, 4-0.

Bonifacio led off the top of the fourth with an infield single to shortstop. With a 2-2 count on Hanley Ramirez, Cueto picked off Bonifacio. After Ramirez struck out swinging, Giancarlo Stanton grounded to third to end the inning. Cueto and Hanigan later caught Jose Reyes trying to swipe third on a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play with Ramirez at bat to end the sixth.

Date: April 11, 2012 (box)
Runner: Daniel Descalso (3-for-5, 60.0 percent)
Type: Pickoff
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
The Reds won, 4-3, although Cueto did not get the decision. He allowed three runs in five innings, leaving with the score tied. Chris Heisey singled to left-center with one out in the ninth off Fernando Salas, driving home Votto to give Cincinnati the walk-off victory.

Meanwhile, back in the second, Descalso singled to right with two out. With Tyler Greene at the plate, Cueto caught Descalso napping to end the frame.

Date: May 4, 2012 (box)
Runner: Jose Tabata (39-for-56, 69.6 percent)
Type: Both
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
Cueto went the distance, as the Reds won at Pittsburgh, 6-1. With two out in the fifth, Tabata reached on a fielder's choice and was picked off first while Alex Presley stood at the plate with a 1-0 count. The play was scored 1-3-6.

Date: June 6, 2012 (box)
Runners: Andrew McCutchen (88-for-117, 75.2 percent), Josh Harrison (7-for-8, 87.5 percent)
Type: Pickoff (McCutchen), caught stealing (Harrison)
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
The Reds jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and held on to win, 5-4. Cueto worked into the eighth and earned the victory, victimizing two Pirates baserunners in the process.

With one out in the fourth, McCutchen drew a walk. With a 1-0 count on Garrett Jones, Cueto picked McCutchen off first. Jones then singled, but Matt Hague struck out swinging to end the frame.

The next inning, Harrison came on to play shortstop as part of a double switch. In the top of the sixth, he was hit by Cueto's first pitch. On a 3-2 pitch to Presley, Hanigan gunned down Harrison.

Date: June 12, 2012 (box)
Runner: Michael Brantley (36-for-51, 70.6 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
Ho hum, another complete game for Cueto. The Reds beat their cross-state rivals, 7-1. The Indians jumped out to an early lead, with Cincinnati tying it in the third. The score remained 1-1 until the fifth, when the Reds pushed ahead on a Bruce sacrifice fly.

With the score still 2-1, Brantley led off the top of the seventh with a ground-ball single up the middle to extend his hitting streak to 19 games. Damon popped out to short, bringing up Casey Kotchman. On a 1-1 pitch, Brantley broke for second. I can't find a good description of the play, but he was caught stealing without the catcher being involved, Cueto throwing to shortstop Wilson Valdez for the out. Kotchman then struck out swinging to end the inning.

Date: June 23, 2012 (box)
Runner: Josh Willingham (31-for-38, 81.6 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
Cueto worked seven shutout innings, as the Reds cruised to a 6-0 victory against the Twins. Leading off the top of the second in a scoreless tie, Willingham singled to center. Running on a full-count pitch to Trevor Plouffe, he was thrown out as Plouffe fanned. Ryan Doumit then struck out to end the frame.

Cueto also drove in two of his team's runs without the benefit of a hit. Those were his first two RBI since July 19, 2010, when he had two RBI in a game against the Nationals. Cueto hasn't driven in a single run in a game since May 8, 2009, against the Cardinals.

Date: June 28, 2012 (box)
Runners: Melky Cabrera (81-for-110, 73.6 percent), Buster Posey (4-for-6, 66.7 percent)
Type: Both (Cabrera), pickoff (Posey)
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
And then someone got the bright idea of trying more than once in a game again. Not that it mattered, as Madison Bumgarner one-hit the Reds en route to a 5-0 win. Hanigan's ground-ball single up the middle to start the top of the sixth was Bumgarner's only blemish. That and two walks to Drew Stubbs (how does one do that?) are all that kept him from perfection.

Both of Cueto's pickoffs came in the fourth. Cabrera led off with a single to center, then was retired 1-3-6 with the count full on Posey, who proceeded to walk. After Angel Pagan flied out to center for the second out, Posey was caught off the bag to end the inning while Pablo Sandoval stood at the plate with a 1-1 count.

Date: July 17, 2012 (box)
Runner: Willie Bloomquist (130-for-175, 74.3 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
The Reds won, 4-0, on the strength of six scoreless from Cueto and a Ryan Ludwick three-run homer off Trevor Bauer in the third. With one out in the top of the fourth and his team trailing, 4-0, Bloomquist grounded a single to left field. On a 2-0 pitch to Aaron Hill, Bloomquist took off for second and was nailed. The decision may have cost Arizona, as Hill drew a walk and Miguel Montero reached on a Scott Rolen error before Justin Upton grounded out to end the threat.

Date: July 28, 2012 (box)
Runner: Carlos Gonzalez (80-for-99, 80.8 percent)
Type: Both
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
It wasn't pretty, but Cueto worked six innings and got the decision in a 9-7 victory at Coors Field. The Rockies touched him for three runs in the first, but Cincinnati came back to tie in the third on a Stubbs home run.

Cueto gave back the lead in the bottom half when he fired the ball past Todd Frazier while trying to pick off Josh Rutledge, who advanced to second; he later scored on a Michael Cuddyer double play. In the fifth, after the Reds had retaken the lead, Gonzalez drove home Dexter Fowler on a fielder's choice to narrow the gap to 7-5. With Cuddyer up representing the tying run, Cueto picked off Gonzalez and then retired the batter to escape without further damage.

In that ugly first inning, Cueto made another errant pickoff throw, trying to catch Fowler off the second-base bag.

Date: September 15, 2012 (box)
Runner: Giancarlo Stanton (16-for-24, 66.7 percent)
Type: Caught stealing
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
This was another matchup between Cueto and Buehrle. My esteemed colleague, Zachary Levine, advises against betting on baseball games, but taking the under on stolen bases in a game between these two pitchers is probably safe. Cueto gave up three runs in the first and three more in the fifth, the final coming on a Carlos Lee two-run homer that knocked our hero from the game, as the Marlins won 6-4.

Back in the third, before things got out of control for the visiting Reds, Stanton grounded a one-out single to left. After Lee popped out to second, Greg Dobbs stepped to the plate. Stanton broke on a 1-1 pitch and was thrown out to end the inning.

Date: September 20, 2012 (box)
Runner: Starlin Castro (57-for-87, 65.5 percent)
Type: Pickoff
Catcher: Ryan Hanigan
Stop me, oh-oh-oh, stop me if you've heard this one before: six scoreless and a win. Cueto and Cubs starter Jason Berken matched zeroes for six innings. Then Manuel Corpas replaced Berken to start the seventh and did Manuel Corpas things to give the Reds a 5-0 lead.

The Cubs had a chance to get to Cueto in the second. With one out, Castro grounded a single up the middle and was picked off before a full-count pitch to Luis Valbuena, who then walked. Welington Castillo and Dave Sappelt both reached, loading the bases for Berken, who grounded out to end an inning that could have gone very differently if not for the untimely elimination of Castro.

Date: September 25, 2012 (box)
Runner: Rickie Weeks (115-for-140, 82.1 percent)
Type: Pickoff
Catcher: Dioner Navarro
Cueto allowed two runs over seven innings in a 4-2 victory over the visiting Brewers. This is the only game in our list where Hernandez or Hanigan wasn't behind the dish. And although Navarro played no part in eliminating the baserunner, he drove in two of Cincinnati's runs.

As for Weeks, with one out in the first, he singled to right-center. With the count full to Ryan Braun, Weeks was picked off for the second out. Braun then struck out swinging to end the frame.

* * *

We need a nice neat table at the end for easy digestion. Oh look, here is one now:

Date

Runner

SB%*

PO

CS

Catcher

6/4/11

Andre Ethier

51.4

x

 

Ramon Hernandez

6/9/11

Andres Torres

76.2

 

x

Ramon Hernandez

6/28/11

Sam Fuld

69.2

 

x

Ramon Hernandez

7/4/11

Jon Jay

53.8

 

x

Ramon Hernandez

7/15/11

Ryan Theriot

72.0

x

 

Ramon Hernandez

9/14/11

Marlon Byrd

71.0

 

x

Ramon Hernandez

4/5/12

Emilio Bonifacio

76.2

x

 

Ryan Hanigan

4/11/12

Daniel Descalso

60.0

x

 

Ryan Hanigan

5/4/12

Jose Tabata

69.6

x

x

Ryan Hanigan

6/6/12

Andrew McCutchen

75.2

x

 

Ryan Hanigan

6/6/12

Josh Harrison

87.5

 

x

Ryan Hanigan

6/12/12

Michael Brantley

70.6

 

x

Ryan Hanigan

6/23/12

Josh Willingham

81.6

 

x

Ryan Hanigan

6/28/12

Melky Cabrera

73.6

x

x

Ryan Hanigan

6/28/12

Buster Posey

66.7

x

 

Ryan Hanigan

7/17/12

Willie Bloomquist

74.3

 

x

Ryan Hanigan

7/28/12

Carlos Gonzalez

80.8

x

x

Ryan Hanigan

9/15/12

Giancarlo Stanton

66.7

 

x

Ryan Hanigan

9/20/12

Starlin Castro

65.5

x

 

Ryan Hanigan

9/25/12

Rickie Weeks

82.1

x

 

Dioner Navarro

Total

73.7

11

12

 

*SB% = career stolen base percentage before the play in question

**Total of 1,379 attempts

Moral of the story: If Cueto is pitching and you find yourself on first base, be careful—even if you are normally a good basestealer.

2 comments have been left for this article.

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