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.
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.