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Does it matter that Hamels and Cueto struggled Sunday?

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Short answer: No. Long answer: Maybe. Best answer: Why is Johnny Cueto still on the Reds?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

To say that top trade targets Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels struggled in their first starts since the All Star Break yesterday would be a pretty big understatement. Cueto only lasted four innings in his start against the Cleveland Indians and, while he only allowed two runs, walked six batters. That is the most he's walked in a game in almost four years. Hamels got hit harder in just three innings, allowing eight hits and five runs.

Of course, Reds and Phillies fans are hyper-vigilant at the moment given that the trade deadline is only eleven days away, and either pitcher could be dealt at any time. Indeed, fans are probably paying more attention to these single game performances than the general managers coveting these aces.

Oh sure, the buyers all have their scouts at each of their starts, but at this point both Cueto and Hamels are known quantities. Cueto has more than 1300 big league innings under his belt. Hamels is over 1900 for his career. At this point, no one can legitimately claim they don't know exactly what they'd be getting if they ponied up for one of these, or really any other, veteran pitchers available this July. One start is presumably not going to change that, right?

That's what we'd like to believe, at least. After all, the biggest part of sabermetric analysis that has taken hold in the game and with fans is not to trust small sample sizes. Now, we are naturally skeptical of upticks or downturns in performance over a month, or a week, or even just a game, and less likely to see it as a trend.

That is, of course, there's some sign that the player in question is hurt. And, well, that's where clubs would be right to be concerned.

Yesterday, yes, Cole Hamels got roughed up, but we all know that that happens even to the best pitchers in baseball once in a while. Digging deeper into his performance, Hamels threw 42 fastballs yesterday, and averaged around 91 MPH. That's practically right on his average of 92 for the season thus far. He also didn't walk anybody. It looks, then, like this was just one of those days.

Cueto similarly did not struggle with his velocity. In throwing 49 fastballs, he averaged around 92 MPH, which is right on his seasonal average. His final fastball was his fastest of the day, clocking in at 95 MPH. More concerning was his inability to find the strike zone. While it's possible that Cueto simply didn't get locked in yesterday, I'd be monitoring that if I was looking to acquire him, and hold off another start before committing the necessary resources to land him given that a sudden loss of command could indicate a larger physical problem.

Not that teams are going to have a lot of time to reevaluate Cueto. At most, he'll have two starts left before the Reds find him a new home. Meanwhile, even if teams somehow get spooked by Hamels before the 31st, the Phillies don't need to be in a hurry to trade their ace. They can presumably still get a massive haul for him this offseason.

And therein lies the problem with Cincinnati's strategy to wait until after the All Star Break to start moving their players. Guys like Cueto and Leake, guys who shouldn't require additional starts for other teams to evaluate and want to acquire, are given additional chances to expose themselves to injury and to ruin the deadline season for the Reds. Will they still be able to move them? Almost certainly. Was it worth the risk, when there is no apparent tangible reward? Absolutely not. These starts don't matter...unless they do.