Can Johnny Cueto Help the Giants Win Another Even-Year World Series?

Cueto had his ups and downs in 2015 but heads back to the more comfortable National League for 2016.

Maybe Johnny really missed hitting. 

Yeah, that's probably why Johnny Cueto, after having tremendous success in parts of eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, including two top-five Cy Young finishes, struggled at times with the Kansas City Royals last year. Of course, his struggles weren't so bad that he didn't help the Royals win a title, and they weren't so bad that they prevented the San Francisco Giants from signing him to a six-year, $130 million contract.

The contract itself is interesting in that it contains the newest trend in free agency these days: a player opt-out. Cueto's comes after the first two years of the deal, much like the contract that allowed  Zack Greinke to leave the Dodgers this year -- and the ones signed this offseason by David Price and Jason Heyward.

In essence, if Cueto pitches well for the Giants, he will be eligible for free agency before the 2018 season. If he's injured or not effective, San Francisco will be stuck with him for six years.

It's a win-win for Cueto and a win-lose for the Giants. Such is the nature of free agency.

To say Johnny had a weird season in 2015 would be understating it. 

Team Starts W L ERA FIP WHIP H/9 K/9 BB/9
Cincinnati 19 7 6 2.62 3.20 0.934 6.4 8.3 2.0
Kansas City 13 4 7 4.76 4.06 1.451 11.2 6.2 1.9

He was his usual studly self pitching for the Reds last year, with numbers echoing his career stats. But upon arriving in Kansas City, it was a tale of inconsistency. And that inconsistency followed him into the postseason.

Postseason Game Opponent IP H ER SO BB
ALDS Game 2 Houston 6 7 4 5 3
ALDS Game 5 Houston 8 2 2 8 0
ALCS Game 3 Toronto 2 6 8 2 4
World Series Game 2 New York 9 2 1 4 3

Two clunkers and two gems, the most important of which game in Game 2 of the World Series, a complete game two-hitter. If teams are influenced by whatever they saw last, then Cueto certainly left a good impression. And now, with the Giants, he heads back to his more familiar National League.

Clearly, the Giants are looking at the larger sample size of Cueto's career rather than his half season in Kansas City. And that larger body of work shows that Cueto has been one of the 10 best pitchers in the game since 2011. 

His 2.71 ERA is fourth-best from 2011 to 2015, with only Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom better than Cueto. His WHIP of 1.08 is tied for sixth-best during that span, and opponents have hit .222 against him since '11, seventh-best in baseball. 

The 2014 season was his best year, going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA in 34 starts, pitching a league-most 243 2/3 innings, leading the league in strikeouts with 242 and allowing the fewest hits per nine innings at just 6.2.

That is the pitcher the Giants hope they are getting, and based off of last year's results by San Francisco's starting staff, they need that Johnny Cueto to show up.

In 2015, Giants starters posted a 3.95 ERA, seventh-best in the National League, and their 7.04 strikeouts per nine innings was only 11th best. However, it wasn't all bad for the San Francisco rotation. They only gave up 894 hits last year, third-fewest in the NL, and they allowed 424 runs last season, tied for fifth-fewest in the National League.

San Francisco also added Jeff Samardzija this offseason, giving manager Bruce Bochy two brand new arms with which to make a rotation. Of course, both pitchers had a combined 5.29 ERA in the second half last season, so there is a bit of buyer beware here. 

But looking at the Giants rotation now, it will be fronted by the staff ace, Madison Bumgarner, with Cueto, Samardzija, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Chris Heston (who threw a no-hitter last year, don't forget).

If Cueto and Samardzija pitch like they have for most of their careers, the Giants' rotation could be one of the NL's best. And clearly, Cueto is betting on himself to be a potential staff co-ace, as evidenced by his two-year opt out clause. 

If he is, San Francisco will be able to watch this for the next two seasons at least.

Giants fans better hope they see more "Dr. Cueto" and less "Mr. Hyde."