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 firstname.lastname@example.org.