This week’s respondents are Nick Doran, Nick Carrington, the inimitable Mary Beth Ellis, and Chad Dotson.


Our Daily Reds Obsession: Who is the best Reds pitcher of the last 40 years (since 1977)?

Nick D: In my mind it comes down to Jose Rijo versus Johnny Cueto. I loved me some Mario Soto back in the day and he was the shining light on some brutal teams, but looking at his numbers now, he doesn’t quite stack up to Rijo or Cueto. Soto had a career 3.47 ERA and 108 ERA+. Rijo had a career 2.83 ERA and 138 ERA+ with the Reds. Cueto had a career 3.21 ERA and 126 ERA+ with the Reds. Rijo also pitched more games and more innings so I will take Jose by a smidge over Johnny. In fact you could say these two are not only the best pitchers of the last 40 years, but the best the Reds have ever had, period. (If you remember, I actually wrote an article debating the best Reds pitcher ever a while back. Guess who I picked?)

Nick C: Johnny Cueto. From 2010 through half of 2015, Cueto just dominated opposing hitters with pinpoint command and an unfair changeup. He never looked overpowering, but Cueto seemed to have control over every at bat. His 25.2% K% and 6.8% BB% in 2014 was outstanding, and he even completed four games that year. I’m not sure the Reds have had four since. Mario Soto certainly has a case, and I loved Jose Rijo as a kid. But Johnny Cueto is the most dominant Reds pitcher I’ve seen with any real sample.

Mary Beth: Aaron Harang.

I say this not because he has particularly impressive statistics or is an instant-access candidate for the Reds Hall of Fame, but because he was the Reds starter on Opening Day, 2007, and had the immensely easy task of looking good in the wake of mayor Mark Mallory’s ceremonial first “pitch.” I do not remember this game. I do not remember who won. I barely remember Aaron Harang. But his name shall live forever more as the one who was asked to jog out to the mound and follow that embarrassment of unsports, and my friends, he looked magnificent.

Then again, so would I.

Chad: Only one Reds pitcher of the last forty years is in the baseball Hall of Fame. That’s Tom Seaver. So he wins this by default, right?

Not quite. Really, there are only three names in this discussion: Jose Rijo, Mario Soto, and Johnny Cueto. In terms of career value, you probably have to say Rijo (36.5 WAR, 97-61, 2.83 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 138 ERA+), although Cueto wasn’t far behind (25.6 WAR in 67 fewer games, 92-63, 3.21 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 126 FIP).

If you look at individual seasons, however, you’ll notice that Soto has two (1982 and 1983) of the top four single-season performances for a Reds pitcher in the last four decades, by bWAR. Rijo has three of the top ten individual seasons since 1977 (1993, 1990, 1992), and Cueto has two (2014, 2012); Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, and Seaver have the other three.

But to answer the original question: Jose Rijo. But if you’re asking about my favorite pitcher since 1977, that’s Soto. He was the first Red I was obsessed with as a child. You can’t imagine my excitement when an issue of The Sporting News arrived with Soto on the cover. (I was a strange kid.)

Blame Chad for creating this mess.

Chad launched Redleg Nation in February 2005, and has been writing about the Reds ever since. His first book, “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds” is now available in bookstores and online, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. You can also find Chad’s musings about the Cincinnati Reds in the pages of Cincinnati Magazine.

You can email Chad at chaddotson@redlegnation.com.

Join the conversation! 42 Comments

  1. Overall: Jose Rijo
    Best Starter, season: Danny Jackson, 1988
    Best Reliever, season: Rob Dibble, 1990
    Best Starter, game: Tom Browning 09/16/1988 – perfect game vs. Dodgers
    Best Reliever, game: Drew Storen 04/18/2017 – immaculate inning vs. Orioles
    Best Pitcher, moment: Tom Browning, 07/07/1993 – in full uniform, across the street from Wrigley Field on the rooftop bleachers during a Reds-Cubs game.

    • I remember watching the game of Browning on the rooftop with my Dad. At first we thought it was someone posing as Browning. Took us (and the announcers) a little to figure out that it was actually him. Hilarious

  2. I would have to go with Cueto.
    If we went back a little bit, I would also mention Don Gullet.

  3. Aroldis Chapman.

  4. The Old Cossack lines up exactly with Chad. Jose Rijo was the best in the post BRM era but my personal favorite was Mario Soto and his wicked circle change. I can vividly remember (a major task and accomplishment for the Old Cossack) dwelling on the ‘what if Soto had pitched on a decent team’.

  5. Tom Seaver, who also owns an awesome little winery in California.
    Tom Browning.
    Mario Soto.
    Johnny Cueto.
    Jose Rijo.
    Man, what a heck of a rotation that would be.

  6. I would say the pitcher of the last 41 years who had the potential to go down as a great pitcher was Don Gullett who in seven years with the Reds had five seasons of double figure wins. His Reds career ended at age 25 due to injuries and was traded to the Yankees.

    • I thought he sign as a FA with the Yankees, not traded.
      That is my they traded Tony for poor pitching.

    • I am glad someone remembers Gullett. He was my favorite until Chapman.

      • Gullet, Gary Nolan, Wayne Simpson in 1970 heck of a young guns group at age 19, 22, 21. Injuries derailed them all.

    • Actually, Gullett signed as a free agent with the Yankees after the 1976 season, but arm trouble ruined his career a couple of years later. He could have been the best Reds pitcher of all-time if he had played another 5-6 years with the Reds. Another great pitcher ruined by arm troubles was Gary Nolan. He was also a phenom who started fighting the Tefs the year after graduating from high school, but he he threw his arm out in spring training the next year and never really got all the way back. Then there was Wayne Simpson. And Ross Grimsley was traded too soon.

  7. Tom Hume!

  8. Mario Soto is number 1, He did what he did in large part on teams with offense as bad as the Reds pitching has been the last several years. He was on a high wire with no safety net.

    Rijo is a close second; but he pitched for some pretty good offensive teams which gave him a larger margin of error to work with,

    Cueto ditto the environment Rijo worked in plus a bit more.

    Seaver got his no hitter as a Red but he isn’t in the Hall for his body of work while a Red.

    • I get what you are saying, but Seaver’s body of work with the Reds was still very impressive. Seaver ended up 75-46 with the Reds.
      Seaver (w/Reds): Cy Young Award finishes of 2,3 and 4. 3 All Star games.
      Soto: CYA finishes of 2, 5, 6 and 9. 3 AS games.
      Rijo: CYA finishes of 4 and 5. 1 AS game.
      Browning: CYA finish of 6. 1 AS game.
      Cueto (w/Reds): CYA finishes of 2 and 4. 1 AS game.
      Soto and Seaver were the most accomplished.

      • Agree Seaver was most accomplished. Obviously, Seaver had his prime and majority of his hall of fame career with the Mets before he came to Cincinnati. Amazing, what Seaver did in his short stint with the Reds. He came to Cincinnati shortly before the trade deadline in ’77 and had about 1/3 of ’81 season eliminated because of the strike. He had an awful year in ’82 in which he went 5-13. If you eliminate the ’82 season, his record was 70-33 (.679 winning percentage) with a 15.8 WAR in a little over 4 full seasons with the Reds. Could’ve easily won the Cy Young in ’77 and should’ve won the Cy in ’81 but he lost out to “Fernandomania”

  9. Chad,

    I’m with you in that I was both obsessed with Mario Soto & a strange kid coming up. Tom Seaver’s book “The Art of Pitching” contains a frame by frame photo breakdown of Soto’s motion which I practiced in a mirror throughout my little league “career.” I even sparked a few near brawls for throwing at people who got hits of me because I figured that’s what Mario would have done – shoutout to Claudell Washington & George Hendrick!

  10. Mary Beth could be on to something here. What if the question isn’t who was the best pitcher that played for the Reds in the last 40 years, but rather which Reds pitcher is the best example of the Reds or simply of Reds pitchers since 1977.

    Someone who looked pretty good, who gave you hope in the preseason, who struggled at times but would get it together now and again, maybe injured for stretches, but gosh dang it, in the end, they weren’t quite as good as you hoped, and while they fought the good fight, they ended up losing more than they won. But had one year in the middle when they went wire-to-wire.

    Aaron Harang IS the existential answer.

    At least for the first 6 innings, then he’d give way to Scott Williamson, JJ Hoover, and Manny Sarmeinto.

    • I really liked Aaron Harang; but, I always thought at times, he seemed to be competing against his ideal of perfection rather than the guy at the plate or game situation; and, his (and the team’s) results suffered for this. Seaver was a bit the same but seemed to be more attuned to the game situation.

      • Harang was great until some stupid manager let him go back out after an Hour rain delay. Never the same from then on.

        • Harang was rarely great. For a Reds starter he sure seemed that way, but years of SP1s that wouldn’t qualify a SP5s on half the MLB teams kind of skewed our perecption of “greatness”.

    • I’M (accidentally) RIGHT ABOUT SOMETHING

  11. Rijo.

  12. A.- Mario Soto, José Rijo, Jhonny Cueto.
    B.- Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, Randy Myers
    C.- Tom Browning, Danny Jackson, Aroldis Chapman

  13. In terms of pure dominating “stuff” I have to go with Aroldis Chapman. His numbers from 2014 are unbelievable. His career BAA is .160.

    • You never saw Jim maloney pitch but he was great. Dualing with Drisdale and Kofax were great games and he stayed right with them.

      • Actually I do remember Jim Maloney very well. And you are right! Maloney was great but he was pitched before 1977 and Chad was asking about pitchers since 1977. Maloney had the misfortune of being great in an era of Drysdale, Koufax, Marichal, and Gibson. I believe Joe Nuxhall said Maloney threw as hard as any pitcher he had ever seen.

  14. It is though to limit it to the last forty years because that effectively, rules out not only Gullett but also Jim Maloney. Then when you ask “best” are you talking the best stuff or the best stats, or the best results. I don’t think I can argue with Jose Rijo, but Aroldis Chapman has some of the nastiest stuff I have seen in a Reds uniform. (My apologies to the Nasty Boys).

  15. I think that Danny Jackson had the best single year for a Reds’ pitcher since 1977, in 1988.

    Tom Seaver has some great cumulative statistics.

    Cueto was always a Red, and was maybe the single most memorable Red, along with Mario Soto. You do wonder what Soto would have done on a good team. When he pitched, the Reds could compete with anyone.
    Tom Browning, another career Red. Tom’s perfect game against the Dodgers.

    Joe Rijo, like Seaver, had some overall impressive statistics. And he missed half the season in 1990, so he had a fresh arm in the playoffs and World Series.

    • Yeah, I didn’t forget Jackson, but only one year and then yuck for the Reds. I should have included him as tied for fourth with Soto I guess (Rijo, Cueto, Seaver, Soto/Jackson)

  16. Edison Volquez in 2008 had the most dominant stuff that I’ve ever seen from a Reds starter! On June 20th, he had a 10-2 record with a 1.71 era! Many guys better overall and I saw Tom Seaver but EV was ridiculous for that year! Like Soto’s best but threw harder!

  17. Jim Maloney, Joey Jay, Rijo we had had some great ones. Of course Tom Seaver.

  18. To me, it’s Seaver as a starter, and I would say Aroldis Chapman as a reliever. Both were absolutely dominant at the peak of their stays with the Reds.

  19. I say Seaver as a pitcher in total, but Rijo is best as a Red.

  20. I have to go with Rijo, MVP of the 1990 WS. He mowed down the A’s with ease. The Reds beating the A’s was a big upset & I loved it!

  21. Surprised Jason Marquis didn’t get more discussion.

  22. Rijo and it’s not close.

    Cueto a distance second

    Seaver, Browning, Soto three way tie for third.

Comments are closed.

About Chad Dotson

Blame Chad for creating this mess. Chad launched Redleg Nation in February 2005, and has been writing about the Reds ever since. His first book, "The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds" is now available in bookstores and online, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. You can also find Chad's musings about the Cincinnati Reds in the pages of Cincinnati Magazine. You can email Chad at chaddotson@redlegnation.com.

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