Cole’s Cutter

During the off-season, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels made an effort to become a new type of pitcher, opening his arsenal to more weapons in hopes of sustaining long-term success. He decided to incorporate a steady serving of curveballs and cutters into his healthy diet of fastballs and changeups, and so far the relatively superficial stats seem to be generally supportive of the process:

2008: 3.72 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, 4.26 tERA, 7.76 K/9, 2.10 BB/9
2009: 3.72 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, 4.15 tERA, 7.81 K/9, 2.00 BB/9
2010: 4.21 FIP, 3.66 xFIP , 4.38 tERA, 8.94 K/9, 2.98 BB/9

After a career-low walk rate last year, Cole has dropped to a walk rate worse than as any season since his rookie year by a significant margin. Still, his strikeouts are way up and it seems that his biggest issue in terms of performance has been the quality of his balls in play. His HR/FB rate is at a career-high 14.6%, as Cole has given up more homers per fly than the average pitcher each year in the big leagues. His groundball rate, however, is a career-high at 44.1%, but that may have more to do with a LD rate of 18.1%, which is as low as it has been since 2006.

But our run value charts show that Hamels’ cutter has been a bad pitch for him, coming in at -4.3 RAA, compared to 5.3 for his fastball and 3.1 for this changeup. His curveball has been basically an average pitch at -0.1. Pitchf/x guru Harry Pavlidis at The Hardball Times discussed Hamels’ new repetoire and did a fantastic job breaking down the lefty’s performance in a two-part series using his rvERAa and rvERAe stats, eventually concluding:

-An increased rate of flies and liners turning into home runs is observed when Hamels adds a fourth pitch heavily to the mix. Coincidence?

-While the fastball and sinker may or may not have been compatible, the cutter and the fastball may be

-The jury is still out on the cutter, but the sinker is welcome to stay away

-His change-up is very good, it’s a shame it’s used less and less

-His curveball I can take or leave. As a commentor noted in part one, it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything

My vote: keep working on the cutter, but have some more faith in the change-up.

Using the Bloomberg Sports Pro Tool, I wanted to take a look specifically at Hamels’ cutter, which Harry suggests he should tune up even though the metrics say it has stunk. Here’s a look at the forty-seven cutters Hamels has thrown to lefties this season along with their corresponding location in play if they were hit for an out/base:


As you can see, Hamels has thrown his cutters mostly away to lefties in the limited time he has tried it, and so far the results are good. Lefties have yet to get a hit against the pitch, either grounding out or flying out each time. But here are the images for right-handed hitters:


Righties are simply crushing Hamels’ cutter this season. He’s thrown it 120 times against them in 2010, and thus far they’re hitting .412/.429/.882, which simply will not get the job done. His cutter has also averaged 88.8 MPH to righties while only 88.1 MPH to lefties, so it may just look and act like a flat fastball to righties, who have taken advantage of it. As you can tell from the last image, his HR/FB rate on the year has clearly taken a hit due to his cutter versus right-handers.

I agree with Harry’s ultimate conclusion that Hamels should continue to work on his cutter. But until Hamels has a firm grasp of it, he should toy with it versus lefties and only versus righties in games with an extremely low leverage index (i.e. big leads). Until then, it will continue to get hit far.




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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat

27 Responses to “Cole’s Cutter”

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  1. hairball says:

    Might need to tighten up the dot pattern on the right-handed batter image. I really doubt that Hamels has hit a couple dozen batters with this pitch, not to mention throwing it behind several.

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    Speaking from experience, a changeop for a lefty curveballer that faces a lot of righties is a must. The curveball is a pitch that can be very inconsistent, namely hard to locate down in the zone at times.

    Does he throw his cutter in or out to righties? By design the lefty should use the cutter primarily in to righties, trying to jam them and/or set them up for The change. Basically you want the hitter to see “fastball middle” and have them get “cutter in”. Not too many hitters are very good at getting their hands in and/or being able to dive the ball with a bent front arm.this is where Carlton dominated hitters with a slider. Cole came to the bigs as a fastball-curve guy and his curve is losing effect, as expected.

    It’s good that he is trying to expand as a pitcher. He’s talented enough to figure something out, as is Andrew Miller if they can get good enough with a 3rd pitch enough to trust it in fastball counts.

    These guys are kind of in no man’s land as a pitcher as they came in as fastball guys but don’t have dominating fastballs. They are forced to adjust at the highest level, which is not easy.

    This could be sort of a “make or break” period for Cole in regards to whether he’ll settle for being a decent 3 or 4 or whether he’ll develop into a strong 2. I don’t know his mental makeup or work ethic.

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    • BN says:

      Isn’t a guy with a career 3.65 ERA, & a 3.63 xFIP pitching in that home park definitely a strong #2?

      He had a slow start this year, and has consistently pitched well since May.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yes, he is. I guess my mind has the perception that he’s fallen off quite a bit, when he actually hasn’t backslid as far as I thought. Likely perceptions from last fall are carrying too much weight.

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    • Cole Hamels says:

      My curve has never been effective, as it has been a negative run value my entire career. It’s the change-up that was my money pitch, but for some reason, Ruiz won’t let me throw it.

      As for my work ethic, there are articles online about my massive core and back workout that I do religiously.

      God dammit Ruiz.

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      • Carlos Ruiz says:

        That’s interesting because fangraphs has you throwing your changeup more than your cutter and curve combined.

        And if you don’t like my suggestions just shake your head no.

        God dammit Hamels.

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      • Andy Pettitte says:

        Cole, you lost your curveball calling priviledges after throwing 3 in a row to Nick fricking Swisher who I drove in from second when you hung another one to me. First pitch too. I mean, I’m flattered you think so highly of my batting prowess that you felt the need to keep me off balance with an off speed first pitch. Really, I am, but my grandmother could have hit that crap. And to think I probably lost some bat speed and my bunting got alittle rusty once I returned to the AL. Also, I heard you shook off Ruiz too. Tsk, tsk.
        So thanks, this was my first career postseason RBI and the first RBI by a Yankees pitcher in a World Series since Jim Bouton in 1964.

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    • olo567 says:

      Hamels has always been a fastball-change pitcher. He added the curveball later and never had success throwing it for strikes, or keeping it low in the zone when it did cross the plate. Rather than perfect it in the last off-season, he decided just to add a cutter, and contemplated adding a sinker as well, though that didn’t make it out of spring training.

      Cole’s actual problems were never related to lack of pitches, but just having his fastball hit hard when he got behind in the count, and pitch selection in hitter’s counts in general. In the past, Hamels was never afraid to throw his changeup (by far his best pitch) when he needed a strike, but now he rarely throws it when he’s ahead. I don’t think the cutter has helped this issue at all, and as this article showed, it’s killed him against RH bats.

      Good piece, Pat.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Thanks for the clarrification. I was going off my perception, which is usually pretty decent, and not pitch data.

        I rmeember Cole having a good fastball, big curveball that can be effective or completely ineffective, and a good change.

        I had his change as his 3rd most used pitch, instead of 2nd.

        Thanks.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    When I say cutter in, I mean cutter on the inside corner or off the corner to the batter side. If he’s throwing cutters “in” where in means inner-half then you’re throwing to a hitter’s strength.

    If he’s starting cutters out and they end up on outer half that’s also easily reachable for the barrel. Cutters out should start as balls and end as corner strikes.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    Sorry the images did not come up on my phone, but on PC, he’s thrown 28 cutters to RHBs in spots that you do NOT want to throw.

    If the strike zone can be numbered as a keypad is, he should be throwing his cutter much more to the 6 and 3 zones (away), and a LOT less to 6 and 4.

    In zone 4, he’s better off having it miss inside off the plate, than ended up in zone 4 (which can be death).

    I like the 13 cutters down and in. Those are going to pitches that are hard to get hurt on. You’d like the hitter to hit those on the ground to 3rd or SS, swing and miss, foul off, or take (to set something else up away).

    Looking at that chart, it’s probably not that he trying to throw it to zones that are “batter friendly”, but that he doesn’t have very good control of it. I’d guess, overall, command (throwing what you want, where you want it) is THE problem for Cole. Because if he can locate his cutter down and in, or in off the plate, and his curveball down and/or away, and work everything off his fastball, he’d be a darn tough guy to hit.

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  5. Tony L says:

    This article was unreadable. What you lack in writing style and prose you attempt to cover up with glossy charts and pictures. Why do you subject readers to changes in margins and font size in every single article?

    Your conclusion was short, succint, and on point, but getting through the cumbersome pictures and poor writing style made it seem lacking.

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    • Pat says:

      Tony, sorry you felt that way. Changes in margins and font only occur for block quotes, and that’s how WordPress does block quotes. I think quoting other people’s work that I’m using, and also linking to it, is a better course of method than just paraphrasing them. I know it may not be as structurally elegant, but I think it makes for better research.

      Also, I don’t understand the criticism of the pictures. This is a look into Bloomberg Sports’ Pro Tool which does really cool stuff, and it’s easier to see what Cole is doing than to have to mentally visualize it through my words

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      • Tony L says:

        To each his own. I’m sure others will crop up to defend your writing and this article.

        I found the pictures bulky and unweildy. The changing margins for the pictures isn’t unprofessional but I would have qualified it as lazy.

        I think the last two paragraphs do a better job of describing what his cutter is doing than the spray charts with all the numbers/colors you’ve included.

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  6. Furious D says:

    I thought this was about Gerrit Cole.

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  7. JK says:

    Hey Pat, you write about the Phillies almost as much as you write about the Mets? Are you a closet Phils fan? Do you go home at night and think about hanging out the Chase, Cole, Ryan and the rest of the gang? I bet you have a secret stash of Victorino Jersey’s too.

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    • bflaff says:

      It’s easier to look for ways the Phillies can fail than to look for ways the Mets can succeed. Hence, Pat’s oeuvre.

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  8. NEPP says:

    Better conclusion: Cole should stop throwing his cutter to RHBs.

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    • hank says:

      Exactly… or more precisely he should never throw it as a strike to a righthanded hitter (regardless of the leverage of the situation) If he has enough command to throw it in off the plate, fine but otherwise abandon it as you suggest.

      The same conclusion probably should apply to Phil Hughes’ cutter and his lefty hitters (especially in Ynakee stadium!)

      A cutter that is not in on the hands to an opposite handed batter is basically a slower fastball that is moving toward the hitter while speeding up his bat… that more often than not is not a good combination as it means a greater likely of pulling the ball and hitting it better.

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  9. SmallballTony says:

    I am very suprised that there has been no mention of Coles increased fastball velocity which seems to make his chageup that much more effective.

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  10. bballer319 says:

    Cole has always used the fastball to setup his change.

    The tick up in k/w rates is mostly due to Cole throwing outside the zone more this year (purposefully). He’s always had a problem with leaving a few up, so he’s made a conscious effort to paint more corners. In doing so, his zone% is down over 3%. This hasn’t induced more swinging strikes, but he is getting more called strikes as a result (so it’s working out as he hoped). The problem is that Cole is being a bit too aggressive with catching the corner in high leverage situations (k/bb of 1.3).

    And as far as shaking off Ruiz…for those who watch the game….I can’t find another pitcher who shakes off their catcher more than Cole.

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  11. Mike N says:

    From a casual fan’s perspective, it looks to me like 1) Hamels likes his fastball really well this season because it’s sitting 93-96 instead of 90-92, which gives him more confidence in throwing it in counts where he would have thrown change-ups before; and 2) he has done a better job of using the cutter like a slider against righties in the last few starts, i.e., having it break down and in and getting swings out of the zone. So hopefully the cutter is improving. Still, I’d prefer he throw more changeups and fewer cutters.

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  12. I am trying to get rid of these stubborn love handles would this help out

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  13. Jamie says:

    in the month or so since this article has been written his run value of the cutter has dropped from -4.6 to -.6

    i’d say that the’s throwing his cutter very very well lately.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Now it is in slightly positive territory (0.4) and his average velocity is now 89 mph. All his other pitches are positive as well. Cole is looking like a very solid pitcher at this point. Since July he’s been amazing and his FIP and xFIP is the best its ever been. An additional league average pitch could be one reason for this.

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  14. DavidCEisen says:

    I think another article on Cole’s cutter is in order. So far this year it is his best pitch, even better than his changeup. His groundball rate is 48%, 7% better than two years ago. More importantly, batters are hitting less flyballs.

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