Mets went down swinging against improved Johnny Cueto


The Mets and their fans have had twenty-four hours to think about the fact that the offense somehow managed only two hits against Johnny Cueto in Game 2 of the World Series. Both hits came off the bat of Lucas Duda, a dribbler and a flare that both would have likely been outs without the shift. Not a recipe for success against the surging Kansas City Royals.

Cueto has been up and down since his trade from the Reds, cratering in a terrible start against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. Yet he looked superhuman against the Mets. Was he really that good or did the Mets make him look good by laying an egg on the big stage? Comparing Game 2 of the World Series with Cueto’s start against the Blue Jays in the ALCS helps answer that question.

First, it’s never been a question of velocity for Cueto, whose fastball against the Mets sat in the 93 MPH range, which is his average for 2015 and the same reading he had against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. He relies more on fastball movement and his slider to keep hitters off balance.

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Looking at Cueto’s player card from Brooks Baseball (Johnny Cueto Player Card), we can see that he did have more run on his fastball against the Mets than he did during the regular season.  However, he had even more fastball movement against the Blue Jays. Before we chalk it all up to a superior Toronto offense, consider Cueto’s slider stats below:

Against the Jays his slider was flat and quickly abandoned. That left the Jays hitters to zero in on that fastball regardless of its movement. Against the Mets Cueto was able to rely on the good slider more often, keeping them off balance.

To make matters worse for the Mets, Cueto also located his fastball much more effectively than he did against Toronto. Coming into Game 2 it was clear the Mets right-handed hitters would have to do damage, but Cueto was able to effectively run the fastball inside on them:

Based on the Mets’ swing rates above they were clearly looking for those inside fastballs. They were swinging and they were even making contact. Amazingly, for all of the fuss the FOX broadcast made about Jacob deGrom and the Mets pitchers not missing bats, Cueto got THREE swinging strikes out of 122 pitches. The Blue Jays swung through more of his pitches in only two innings in the ALCS.

So, if the Mets were not swinging through Cueto’s pitches, why only two hits? Looking back at the above chart, it’s obvious the Mets helped Cueto by expanding the zone inside. They jammed themselves and did not force him to bring the ball back over the plate often enough. Looking at a similar chart from his start against the Jays, Cueto was not nearly as effective getting his fastball in on the Blue Jays right-handed hitters. And, when he left it out over the plate, the Jays were attacking:

The fourth inning of Game 2 summarizes the Mets struggles and shines a light on the lack of contribution from their right-handed hitters. As they have done throughout the postseason, Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson did a good job of working the count and in this case both drew walks from Cueto.

Unfortunately, when the right-handed bats then stepped in against him they failed to deliver. Duda would manage an RBI single in the inning, but it was sandwiched by a weak Yoenis Cespedes grounder to third on a pitch that was in his happy zone and a weak flyout to right by Travis d’Arnaud. They were too trigger happy inside and not opportunistic enough when the ball was out over the plate.

Cueto clearly had better stuff and better control in Game 2 than he did earlier in the playoffs. As a result, the Mets had fewer opportunities than the Blue Jays. When the Jays did get a ball out over the plate, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Edwin Encarnacion they took advantage. The Mets did not.

Cueto deserves credit for limiting the opportunities the Mets had. This put the pressure on the Mets hitters, specifically their struggling righties, and they were unable to rise to the challenge. Going into Game 3 it’s obvious the Mets have to have the bats warm up to have a chance. They don’t win unless Yoenis Cespedes, Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright come to life no matter who is on the mound.