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Johnny Cueto, Not Clayton Kershaw, Baseball’s Best Pitcher

Upon Value Add Baseball’s release two years ago, a disagreement arose over whether the best pitcher necessarily meant most valuable pitcher. The system now lists both. And Cincinnati Reds starter Johnny Cueto ranks as the best pitcher in baseball and deserves the All-Star nod over Clayton Kershaw.

Most readers will just want to glance at the leaders table below of the Top 50 pitchers, but if you want detail click here for the breakdown of all 253 rated pitchers and all 7114 of their starts, and a separate posts that walk through the methodology and the criticisms raised by some at the Baseball Think Factory.

How Valuable? The table below indicates that Cueto claimed a “victory” in 31 of his 49 starts in 2014 and the first half of this year. Calculations on each game’s opponent, ballpark and fielding and relief pitching behind him indicate that the Reds would have won 16.36 fewer games (14.64 of 49) if a replacement player took Cueto’s part.

How Good? After the release of Value Add 1, the New Republic and some at BTF argued against holding pitchers accountable for winning their games. Value Add 2 incorporates an alternative rating that instead indicates how easy the pitcher made it for the team to win (the flip of the other). This game-by-game indicates Cueto pitched well enough to help the Reds win an extra 10.69, lower than the first figure but still tops in the majors.

The ratings come out at an interesting time, as fans vote from among Kershaw, Cueto, and three other players now through Friday for the last NL spot on the All-Star team.

Kershaw is widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball. But my review of each of their starts indicates Cueto should be the clear choice based on merit. Not only does Cueto have an overall edge comparing stats from 2014-15, he has been much better this season as well.

While critics do not like me holding pitchers accountable for wins, I noted in 2013 that the only item holding back slightly on Kershaw’s greatness was that he does not pull out many games when the Dodgers score one-to-three runs, and he has only gotten the Dodgers to a 12-20 mark in those games over three years. Cueto boasts a winning record in such games over the past two seasons.

Cueto also pitches in a much more hitter friendly park in Cincinnati, where the All-Star game will be played, and these stats through Sunday do not even include Cueto’s unbelievable performance Tuesday night when he struck out 11 while allowing only two hits in a complete game shutout over Max Scherzer.

Attached are the top 50 pitchers based on all starts in the regular season or the playoffs in 2014 and the starts through this weekend. The ranking down the middle is based on how “valuable” the pitcher has been, and the ranking down the right column indicates how “good” the pitcher has been.

Pitcher 2014, Playoffs & 2015 GS/V How Valuable? Rnk Team (s) How Good? Rnk
Johnny Cueto 49 / 31 16.36 1 Cincinnati Reds 10.69 1
D. Price 52 / 34 14.84 2 DET 7.60, TB 7.23 9.92 4
Felix Hernandez 51 / 33 14.37 3 Seattle Mariners 9.19 6
Max Scherzer 50 / 34 14.21 4 DET 9.50, WAS 4.70 10.08 3
Zack Greinke 50 / 31 12.26 5 Los Angeles Dodgers 7.71 11
Lance Lynn 50 / 29 11.89 6 St. Louis Cardinals 6.12 17
Corey Kluber 51 / 26 10.68 7 Cleveland Indians 10.35 2
Chris Sale 41 / 23 10.25 8 Chicago White Sox 8.22 8
Jon Lester 49 / 29 10.24 9 BOS 6.24, CHC 2.43, OAK 1.56 7.58 12
Dallas Keuchel 46 / 29 10.00 10 Houston Astros 8.13 9
Clayton Kershaw 46 / 31 9.77 11 Los Angeles Dodgers 9.20 5
Chris Archer 50 / 27 9.50 12 Tampa Bay Rays 8.85 7
Jordan Zimmermann 49 / 30 9.42 13 Washington Nationals 5.13 33
Julio Teheran 50 / 28 9.36 14 Atlanta Braves 4.91 39
Phil Hughes 48 / 28 9.35 15 Minnesota Twins 5.75 23
Cole Hamels 47 / 23 9.27 16 Philadelphia Phillies 7.30 14
Gerrit Cole 39 / 28 8.95 17 Pittsburgh Pirates 3.74 70
James Shields 56 / 33 8.69 18 KC 7.33, SD 1.36 6.66 16
Shelby Miller 50 / 25 8.55 19 Atlanta Braves 4.71 42
Yovani Gallardo 49 / 21 8.22 20 MIL 4.45, TEX 3.77 5.96 20
Jake Arrieta 41 / 22 7.94 21 Chicago Cubs 6.02 19
Henderson Alvarez 34 / 19 7.79 22 Miami Marlins 2.45 114
Doug Fister 36 / 23 7.74 23 Washington Nationals 2.91 95
Madison Bumgarner 56 / 33 7.66 24 San Francisco Giants 7.13 15
John Lackey 49 / 28 7.25 25 BOS 2.78, STL 4.48 4.49 48
Jeremy Guthrie 51 / 30 7.14 26 Kansas City Royals 3.28 82
Sonny Gray 49 / 27 7.04 27 Oakland Athletics 7.48 13
Tyson Ross 48 / 23 7.01 28 San Diego Padres 5.46 26
Wily Peralta 41 / 21 6.97 29 Milwaukee Brewers 4.09 61
Masahiro Tanaka 30 / 21 6.78 30 New York Yankees 5.92 21
Jonathon Niese 45 / 18 6.77 31 New York Mets 2.46 113
Aaron Harang 50 / 20 6.63 32 ATL 4.16, PHI 2.46 3.78 68
A.J. Burnett 50 / 20 6.60 33 PHI 2.54, PIT 4.05 4.28 56
Adam Wainwright 39 / 25 6.59 34 St. Louis Cardinals 5.54 24
Edinson Volquez 48 / 26 6.45 35 KC 1.97, PIT 4.47 4.34 54
Alfredo Simon 47 / 27 6.36 36 CIN 4.78, DET 1.57 4.46 49
Mark Buehrle 48 / 30 6.26 37 Toronto Blue Jays 4.53 47
Andrew Cashner 36 / 16 6.19 38 San Diego Padres 2.96 91
Michael Pineda 29 / 16 6.18 39 New York Yankees 5.14 32
Jacob deGrom 38 / 20 6.12 40 New York Mets 5.29 29
Charlie Morton 33 / 17 5.86 41 Pittsburgh Pirates 2.08 128
Alex Wood 40 / 17 5.85 42 Atlanta Braves 4.93 38
Collin McHugh 42 / 23 5.74 43 Houston Astros 6.09 18
Jesse Chavez 35 / 18 5.72 44 Oakland Athletics 3.70 73
Jose Quintana 48 / 19 5.68 45 Chicago White Sox 5.16 31
Dan Haren 48 / 24 5.67 46 LAD 2.33, MIA 3.34 3.39 80
Carlos Carrasco 30 / 16 5.56 47 Cleveland Indians 5.08 35
Bartolo Colon 47 / 26 5.47 48 New York Mets 2.45 115
Chris Young 40 / 23 5.45 49 Kansas City Royals 4.97 37
Kyle Hendricks 29 / 18 5.45 50 Chicago Cubs 2.75 101
Jorge De La Rosa 45 / 23 4.65 67 Colorado Rockies 7.81 10
Jeff Samardzija 50 / 19 5.12 57 OAK 1.34, CHW 3.78 5.88 22
Scott Kazmir 48 / 27 3.63 83 Oakland Athletics 5.52 25
Jason Hammel 45 / 19 1.54 138 CHC 1.94, OAK -0.26 5.44 27
Anibal Sanchez 38 / 18 3.05 94 Detroit Tigers 5.39 28
Yordano Ventura 46 / 25 2.97 99 Kansas City Royals 5.24 30
Jake Odorizzi 43 / 18 2.01 121 Tampa Bay Rays 5.13 34
R.A. Dickey 51 / 23 4.09 74 Toronto Blue Jays 5.06 36
Hiroki Kuroda 32 / 15 3.01 96 New York Yankees 4.90 40
Kyle Gibson 47 / 22 5.37 51 Minnesota Twins 4.89 41
Rick Porcello 47 / 23 4.21 73 BOS -0.72, DET 4.93 4.62 43
Clay Buchholz 45 / 17 2.21 115 Boston Red Sox 4.62 44
Trevor Bauer 42 / 18 2.87 103 Cleveland Indians 4.62 45
Wei-Yin Chen 48 / 27 5.28 53 Baltimore Orioles 4.59 46
Jason Vargas 41 / 21 3.57 84 Kansas City Royals 4.42 50

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