Johnny Cueto quietly living up to expectations in San Francisco

Johnny Cueto takes a 2.38 ERA, which ranks 11th in MLB, into Sunday's start against the Rockies. Chris Carlson/AP Photo

Johnny is good.

So far this season, Johnny Cueto has shown why the San Francisco Giants committed six years and $130 million to him in the offseason. Somehow he has been flying under the radar.

The Giants have won 14 of their past 16 games since May 11. In that span, San Francisco’s starters have an ERA of 1.53, more than a full run lower than that of the next-best team (Chicago Cubs, 2.88).

Cueto is one of three pitchers leading baseball with three complete games this season, along with Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. Cueto’s career-high for complete games in a season is four in 2014 with the Cincinnati Reds.

It’s not just those three outings - Cueto has gone at least seven innings in nine of his 10 starts this season. The only pitcher with more outings of that kind is Kershaw with 10.

Cueto makes his 11th start of the season Sunday. It’s at Coors Field, a place known for high-scoring games, but Cueto has conquered the ballpark thus far in his career. His 2.61 ERA in Colorado is the lowest of any pitcher with at least five starts there. No one else on that list has an ERA below 3.00.

Cueto entered 2016 on the heels of a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts with the Kansas City Royals following a midseason trade in 2015. But overall, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the majors since 2011. Cueto trails only Kershaw in ERA, and Kershaw and Sale in WHIP, opponent batting average and opponent OPS in that span.

The changeup has been key to Cueto’s success this season. He has 29 strikeouts with the pitch, one behind the National League leader, Stephen Strasburg. Batters are hitting .175 against the pitch.

A 44 percent swing-and-miss rate on the changeup this season is a career high for Cueto. When batters aren’t missing, they are putting the ball in play on the ground. Seventy-four percent of Cueto’s changeups put in play this season have been on the ground, compared to a previous career high of 62 percent in 2012.

How is he ensuring the ground-ball inducing contact? Keeping the pitches low – throwing 89 percent of them in the lower half of the zone or below, also a career high for that location.