More on The Cutter

In the comments of yesterday’s post about the rise of the cutter, several of you wondered what kind of increase we’ve seen in the pitch usage over the last few years. Here’s the data beginning in 2005, when Baseball Info Solutions began to track cutters as an individual pitch type.

2005: 2.2%
2006: 2.7%
2007: 2.9%
2008: 3.6%
2009: 4.6%
2010: 4.7%

As you can see, there’s been a distinct up-tick in usage of the pitch over the last five years, according to the data. But, as has been pointed out, we want to make sure that we’re not just calling the pitch something else now, but that it’s actually measuring a pitch that is being added to repertoires around the league. After all, pitch classification can be a challenge, especially among different varieties of fastballs that are pretty similar.

To test whether we’re actually seeing new pitches, let’s look at Cole Hamels, who added the cutter as a new pitch this year. Below are Pitch F/X graphs of his pitch types from April 23rd, 2009 and April 23rd, 2010.

As you can see, the 2010 plot includes a new cluster of pitches – those light blue dots with almost no horizontal movement are his cutters, a distinctly different pitch from anything he threw last year, and with different properties than his four seam fastball. The data supports the anecdotal evidence that there is growing adoption of a pitch that hadn’t been used as frequently in past years.

One thing I found interesting, however, was the group of pitchers that were adding the cutter to their repertoire.¬†Twenty eight¬†qualified starting pitchers used the cutter this year, according to the BIS data, ranging from Roy Halladay‘s 34.2 percent usage to Derek Lowe‘s 4.5 percent usage. The average velocity of that group’s fastball was just 90.2 MPH. The average velocity of the starters who didn’t throw the cutter was 91.2 MPH. None of the top 12 pitchers in average fastball velocity have added a cutter, as they all just prefer to stick with the fastball that got them to the show in the first place.

The cutter is something of a pleasant revolution, as pitchers who are not blessed with great stuff are adding it to compensate for the fact that their fastball may not be something they want to throw all that often. For pitchers like Mark Buehrle and Shaun Marcum, the pitch represents a chance to throw a type of fastball that minimizes their lack of velocity, and they’ve taken advantage of the opportunity.

Tonight, you’ll see C.J. Wilson pounding the Yankees with cutters, while CC Sabathia will stick with the good old fashioned two-seam and four-seam fastballs. If Wilson could throw as hard as Sabathia, perhaps he wouldn’t have picked up the cutter to begin with. But the pitch has allowed him to even the playing field, and so with the hot new pitch of the day on his side, we should be in for a pretty good pitching match-up.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

21 Responses to “More on The Cutter”

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  1. ligand says:

    I asked Mike Fast of THT about whether anyone has looked at cutter velocity and fastball velocity of pitchers, the velocity differential, and movement differential and whether that has effect on how effective the cutters are. This might be an interesting thing to look into to.

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    • Bodhizefa says:

      Mike Fast, now of Baseball Prospectus! (Fast rocks, by the way, and I can’t wait to see his take on the cutter topic dissected with his PitchFX knowledge).

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  2. The Duder says:

    Nice graphs there, Dave. No arguing pitch qualifications with that clustering.

    Another level of analysis might be to look at the pitchers who adopted cutters, and to see if their GB% or SwStr% rates increased after adding it. SSS, but if you have 20+ guys who have a full year under their belt you might be able to squeeze some meaningful data out of it. Not that it would be super useful… clearly if a MLB pitcher adds an entirely new pitch to his repertoire chances are it’s doing something good for him. Maybe what you’ve done is more than enough to say the cutter has at least had some impact on pitchers being more effective this year.

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  3. 300ZXNA says:

    Too bad we don’t have Pitch F/X data from Mariano Rivera’s early years, as I remember he used to be to throw in the upper nineties, yet he still threw his cutter. Which also begs the question of maybe there is a bit of an inefficiency with power pitchers overlooking the cutter, perhaps if they too were incorporating it, they would be more effective.

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  4. mowill says:

    You can’t overstate the ability of a pitcher to get in on the hands of left and right handed batters as well as have pitches that run away from left and right handed batters. That is what is accomplished when a pitcher throws a two seam and a cutter. Also since both of those pitches are usually slower than the four seam it makes that straight fastball look that much faster.

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  5. phoenix says:

    say what?

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  6. phoenix says:

    maybe I’m just dull, but isn’t the point of a cutter to have more movement than a four seamer to offset the lack of velocity with greater movement? I see that Hamel’s cutter moves vertically more than his FB, but it moves less horizontally.

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    • phoenix says:

      also out of curiosity, can we compare Rivera’s signature cutter to some of these newly picked up ones? I usually use Rivera’s cutter as the model to hold others up to. is it unique in its movement compared to the average or to hamel’s in that it moves horizontally and vertically?

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      • The Duder says:

        This. Would love to see the actual pitch movement of Mariano’s compared to the rest of the world’s cutters, to see why it’s so special.

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      • Nate says:

        I see the same thing. In that graph, Hamel’s cutter has the least movement overall. I don’t know how often your straightest pitch is your best choice.

        but then again, I’m not a pitcher, so I’m not paid to know that.

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      • Marianbro Rivera says:

        Mo’s cutter is also so devastating because of the control he has. I saw an article on here? or a link on here to bloomberg sports that showed how much control he really has. He never throws the pitch down the middle of the plate. It’s always to a side that he wants. I’ll try to find the article tomorrow because it has some pretty awesome graphs.

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    • Matt says:

      Kinda a random hypothesis, but maybe the idea is that it is relative to the fastball? Usually the fastball has some tailing action, so the ‘straight’ cutter appears to be ‘cutting’ to hitters and they have difficult adjusting.

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      • LeeTro says:

        That’s exactly what I said in the previous post. An average 4-seamer has about 5 inches of armside movement, so a cutter with no hor. movement would actually seem to be cutting 5 inches.

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  7. Tim says:

    Hamels’ cutter is straight, but when used off of his fastball which tails several inches it is a very different pitch. He might not be able to get away with too many cutters but if he shows mainly fastballs the cutter will be an effective pitch for him.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I thought I submitted this in the other thread, but I must not have.

    I learned the cutter in 1994, as a college junior, from a former MLB reliever of 12 years.

    IMO, it’s the most simple pitch with movement to learn how to throw and to throw with command, consistently.

    IMO, all young pitchers should learn, in order, [1] fastball, change-up, [3] cutter. The cutter provides movement without the risk that many experience with the curveball and slider (for varoius reasons).

    Here’s the thing, the c-grip cutter can be learned in an hour. It’s not a difficult pitch. Curveball grip, fgastball arm action/angle. Slide your index finger over until it makes contact with your middle finger (on a seam), and *Bam* it’s a cutter.

    A pitcher should be able to locate it as well as they do their fastball. They should be able to throw it with about the same velocity as their fastball.

    High velocity + movement + command = high quality pitch.

    I can envision some lesser quality pitchers abondoning the regular fastball altogether and just go with a s-seamer and cutter, with each pitch breaking a differnt direction.

    The cutter also gives a pitcher a high velocity pitch that breaks INTO (away from the barrel) opposite handed batters. That’s the real value (IMO).

    Basically, you would have 2 fastballs, one where the index fingertip is last in contact (running away) and one where the middle fingertip is the last contact (running in), but unlike Maddux and Pedro, it can be accomplished with grip and not so much the highly developed “finger pressure” that those guys mastered.

    As for Hamels, we need more information about his grip/action. Cutters move, hence the name. If his isn;t moving, he’s probably doing something wrong. You’re holding the ball off-center … it should be a physical impossibility for it not to move both horizontally and vertically.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    Rivera’s cutter is a model for how to use the pitch. His is a “bat breaker”.

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  10. Seve says:

    Here’s something I thought about yesterday: Should effective cutter pitchers (e.g. Halladay) throw it way more often? Or almost exclusively? Hasn’t Rivera demonstrated to us that it’s not a pitch that relies on the element of surprise the way a change-up does?

    Looking at Halladay’s pitch values, he’d go from scary to impossible if he’d ditch his standard fastball.

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    • NEPP says:

      In theory. Its tough to judge something like that in a vacuum. Halladay’s greatest strengths are mixing it up and his great control. Throwing a sinker, cutter and 4 seamer keeps the hitters completely off-balance. To get rid of one of those 3 would give the hitter less to think about.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    Against same-handed batters it could be a good 2-strike pitch if u started it away and it kept moving away. To opposite handed batters the risk is that it moves toward the barrel if you miss your spot slightly.

    Lots of pitches are good if you locate them away. The cutter gives you a quality pitch to use in, without the risk of having to start it so far in that you risk a HBP if you miss your spot or count on outstanding movement. The hitter swings at the fastball thinking he has it centered, but makes contact more towards the trademark, which batters hate.

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  12. John says:

    I don’t know what pitch f/x is seeing from hamels’ cutter, but what I see from actually watching him pitch, rather than looking at these graphs, is that it’s moving a lot, almost more than it should.

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  13. maxL says:


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