Johnny Cueto is thus far having a pitching season for the ages. While his level of dominance is surprising, Cueto’s past performance coming into this, his age 28 season, did project to a superior performance and possibly a career best year.

After the jump, more on Johnny Cueto and prime pitching seasons.

First off, let’s establish a few facts. Cueto did not come out of nowhere as some would suggest. In his last full season in 2012, he won 19 games and finished 4th in CYA balloting. In each of his past 3 seasons, Cueto has posted an ERA+ better than 135 and a WHIP below 1.200, marks he shares only with Clayton Kershaw among pitchers with 10+ starts in each of those seasons. I think those are sufficient bonafides, even with limited IP, for allowing that a blockbuster age 28 season could be in the offing.

So, if he has the bonafides, what precedents are there for this type of season at this point of his career. To find out, I looked at live ball era pitchers like Cueto, with 150-200 starts and 115-125 ERA+ through their age 27 seasons. Here’s that group.

Rk Player ERA+ GS From To Age CG SHO W L W-L% IP BB SO ERA FIP Tm
1 Fergie Jenkins 125 171 1965 1970 22-27 89 17 91 68 .572 1418.1 333 1203 3.05 2.86 PHI-CHC
2 Gary Nolan 125 200 1967 1975 19-27 38 13 91 57 .615 1377.2 372 894 2.89 3.07 CIN
3 Johnny Antonelli 123 179 1948 1957 18-27 71 20 84 76 .525 1297.2 456 766 3.21 3.47 BSN-MLN-NYG
4 Jim Maloney 123 196 1960 1967 20-27 60 22 106 65 .620 1416.1 605 1302 3.04 3.01 CIN
5 Lefty Gomez 122 186 1930 1936 21-27 104 14 114 58 .663 1519.1 628 912 3.36 3.94 NYY
6 Eddie Rommel 122 170 1920 1925 22-27 102 12 107 87 .552 1590.1 490 383 3.53 4.14 PHA
7 Billy Pierce 121 179 1945 1954 18-27 86 17 79 79 .500 1412.0 650 850 3.32 3.53 DET-CHW
8 Mike Hampton 121 187 1993 2000 20-27 16 7 85 53 .616 1260.2 489 852 3.44 3.92 SEA-HOU-NYM
9 Jake Peavy 121 199 2002 2008 21-27 6 3 86 62 .581 1261.0 407 1256 3.25 3.50 SDP
10 Andy Messersmith 120 156 1968 1973 22-27 52 14 73 57 .562 1222.0 479 945 2.76 3.12 CAL-LAD
11 Ned Garver 119 165 1948 1953 22-27 90 6 71 79 .473 1283.2 525 446 3.75 4.07 SLB-DET
12 Andy Pettitte 118 158 1995 1999 23-27 14 1 81 46 .638 1044.1 376 709 3.92 3.96 NYY
13 Kerry Wood 118 164 1998 2004 21-27 11 5 67 50 .573 1043.0 512 1209 3.63 3.79 CHC
14 Dan Haren 118 154 2003 2008 22-27 6 1 65 52 .556 997.1 232 812 3.72 3.76 STL-OAK-ARI
15 John Candelaria 118 181 1975 1981 21-27 39 7 83 54 .606 1241.1 297 672 3.16 3.57 PIT
16 Johnny Cueto 117 160 2008 2013 22-27 6 2 65 48 .575 964.2 299 753 3.53 4.01 CIN
17 Kevin Millwood 117 160 1997 2002 22-27 6 2 75 46 .620 1004.1 303 840 3.73 3.74 ATL
18 Jose Rijo 117 184 1984 1992 19-27 18 3 83 68 .550 1287.1 498 1096 3.26 3.22 NYY-OAK-CIN
19 Justin Verlander 117 165 2005 2010 22-27 10 3 83 52 .615 1064.1 353 965 3.81 3.61 DET
20 Josh Beckett 116 166 2001 2007 21-27 4 2 77 52 .597 1014.1 337 959 3.74 3.67 FLA-BOS
21 Steve Rogers 116 162 1973 1977 23-27 55 15 60 72 .455 1171.0 367 711 3.28 3.10 MON
22 Jack McDowell 116 166 1987 1993 21-27 43 8 81 49 .623 1162.2 377 791 3.46 3.58 CHW
23 Steve Barber 115 174 1960 1965 22-27 47 15 81 61 .570 1206.2 558 779 3.15 3.50 BAL
24 Jon Matlack 115 199 1971 1977 21-27 65 26 82 81 .503 1448.0 419 1023 3.03 2.88 NYM
25 Wilson Alvarez 115 171 1989 1997 19-27 10 4 71 54 .568 1130.1 561 839 3.83 4.39 TEX-CHW-SFG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/16/2014.

Interesting group, many of whom went on to complete quality careers, some worthy of HOF recognition. So, right away, we know that Cueto is apparently of a superior pedigree. How did this group fare in their age 28 seasons?

Rk Player ERA+ BB9 SO9 WHIP Year Age Tm GS CG SHO W L W-L% IP BB SO ERA FIP
1 Johnny Cueto 295 2.25 9.50 0.708 2014 28 CIN 9 3 2 4 2 .667 72.0 18 76 1.25 3.00
2 Billy Pierce 200 2.80 6.87 1.099 1955 28 CHW 26 16 6 15 10 .600 205.2 64 157 1.97 2.83
3 Lefty Gomez 193 3.01 6.27 1.171 1937 28 NYY 34 25 6 21 11 .656 278.1 93 194 2.33 3.13
4 Justin Verlander 172 2.04 8.96 0.920 2011 28 DET 34 4 2 24 5 .828 251.0 57 250 2.40 2.99
5 Jon Matlack 165 1.70 5.23 1.122 1978 28 TEX 33 18 2 15 13 .536 270.0 51 157 2.27 2.71
6 Jose Rijo 162 2.17 7.94 1.088 1993 28 CIN 36 2 1 14 9 .609 257.1 62 227 2.48 2.93
7 Steve Barber 147 3.31 6.14 1.148 1966 28 BAL 22 5 3 10 5 .667 133.1 49 91 2.29 2.94
8 Steve Rogers 143 2.63 5.18 1.142 1978 28 MON 29 11 1 13 10 .565 219.0 64 126 2.47 3.05
9 Dan Haren 142 1.49 8.75 1.003 2009 28 ARI 33 3 1 14 10 .583 229.1 38 223 3.14 3.23
10 Fergie Jenkins 141 1.02 7.28 1.049 1971 28 CHC 39 30 3 24 13 .649 325.0 37 263 2.77 2.38
11 Eddie Rommel 134 2.22 2.14 1.274 1926 28 PHA 26 12 3 11 11 .500 219.0 54 52 3.08 3.80
12 Ned Garver 133 2.27 3.40 1.129 1954 28 DET 32 16 3 14 11 .560 246.1 62 93 2.81 3.50
13 Andy Messersmith 132 2.89 6.80 1.098 1974 28 LAD 39 13 3 20 6 .769 292.1 94 221 2.59 3.13
14 John Candelaria 128 1.91 6.85 1.162 1982 28 PIT 30 1 1 12 7 .632 174.2 37 133 2.94 2.87
15 Jack McDowell 125 2.09 6.31 1.260 1994 28 CHW 25 6 2 10 9 .526 181.0 42 127 3.73 3.37
16 Johnny Antonelli 117 3.24 5.33 1.254 1958 28 SFG 34 13 0 16 13 .552 241.2 87 143 3.28 4.08
17 Jake Peavy 115 3.01 9.74 1.121 2009 28 TOT 16 1 0 9 6 .600 101.2 34 110 3.45 2.99
18 Josh Beckett 115 1.76 8.88 1.187 2008 28 BOS 27 1 0 12 10 .545 174.1 34 172 4.03 3.24
19 Andy Pettitte 111 3.52 5.50 1.461 2000 28 NYY 32 3 1 19 9 .679 204.2 80 125 4.35 4.22
20 Kerry Wood 105 3.55 10.50 1.182 2005 28 CHC 10 0 0 3 4 .429 66.0 26 77 4.23 4.72
21 Gary Nolan 102 1.02 4.25 1.082 1976 28 CIN 34 7 1 15 9 .625 239.1 27 113 3.46 3.56
22 Wilson Alvarez 101 4.29 6.75 1.388 1998 28 TBD 25 0 0 6 14 .300 142.2 68 107 4.73 4.90
23 Kevin Millwood 99 2.76 6.85 1.252 2003 28 PHI 35 5 3 14 12 .538 222.0 68 169 4.01 3.59
24 Mike Hampton 99 3.77 5.41 1.581 2001 28 COL 32 2 1 14 13 .519 203.0 85 122 5.41 5.21
25 Jim Maloney 88 3.48 7.87 1.271 1968 28 CIN 32 8 5 16 10 .615 207.0 80 181 3.61 2.89
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/16/2014.

For the most part, outstanding seasons with 14 of 24 with an ERA+ of 125 or better, and 19 of 24 with ERA+ of 105. Five of the 24 had BB/9 under 2.00 and five more were below 2.25. A remarkable 17 of 24 had WHIP below 1.200, including 8 below 1.100. There are four 20-win seasons (each one a league-leading total) and 12 of the 24 have a W-L% of .600 or better.

Presumably Cueto will cool off at some point and start showing results that are merely outstanding rather than other-worldly. But, don’t be surprised if he posts a career-best season with some jaw-dropping totals. After all, as we saw 3 years ago with one of his comps, it has happened before.

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