Rise of The Cutter

You are probably sick to death of the “Year Of The Pitcher” label by now, as it has been trotted out endlessly this year. The lowest scoring division series in history just reaffirmed that we’re going to keep hearing about it, though, and people will continue to speculate as to why the guys on the mound have seemingly grabbed the upper hand in their fight against offense. Looking at the ALCS match-ups, a thought came to me – perhaps the Year Of The Pitcher is due to the Year Of The Cutter.

You can’t watch a baseball game without seeing a guy who recently added a cut fastball to his repertoire. It is undoubtedly the hot pitch in baseball right now, and it will be in full display when the playoffs kick off tomorrow.

What team threw more cutters than any other in baseball this year? The Phillies, at 15.8 percent of their total pitches. In second place was the Tampa Bay Rays, who just lost out to the Texas Rangers – the team that threw the third most cutters in baseball.

Other playoff teams and their respective rank in cutter usage? The Yankees (6th), Reds (8th), Braves (20th), Giants (21st), and Twins (26th). The Giants are the only team among the remaining four that don’t have a starter who uses the pitch, but their caveman-like closer throws it 35 percent of the time.

In fact, nearly half of the starters taking the hill in each LCS will feature the cutter with regularity.

Roy Halladay – 34.2%
Cliff Lee – 19.8%
Andy Pettitte – 20.4%
C.J Wilson – 18.6%
Phil Hughes – 16.4%
Cole Hamels – 14.7%
Joe Blanton – 6.5%

And that’s just the starters. Brian Wilson, as we mentioned, will use it to close out games for San Francisco. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin both throw the pitch a lot coming out of the Phillies bullpen. The Rangers don’t have any relievers who lean on the pitch, but the Yankees make up for that, giving high leverage innings to Kerry Wood and that Mariano Rivera character, who I’ve heard dabbles with the pitch from time to time.

This is a pretty impressive crop of names, all with one secondary pitch (for everyone but Rivera, anyway) in common. Given the success these guys are enjoying, its no wonder that the cut fastball has become the in vogue pitch of our times. Given that its a relatively new weapon that has risen heavily in usage over the last couple of years, I do wonder if we need to explore its role in the offensive downturn. It’s clearly a weapon that pitchers didn’t use extensively before, and with the best arms in baseball leaning heavily on it, it’s worth exploring whether this one pitch has had a significant impact on the shift in run prevention.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.