The cutter, also known as a cut fastball, is a pitch that is a hybrid between a slider and a fastball. It is a power pitch that offers a late sharp break when approaching home plate. Typically it does not have the same octane in regards to velocity as a regular four-seam or two-seam fastball and not as much wipeout break as a slider, but that late break that it has often gets the pitch classified as a slider when referring to pitch type data. When mastered it can be a truly effective and devastating pitch to have in an arsenal. The pitch was widely made famous by the great Mariano Rivera who was known to break a lot of bats of left-handed hitters as they had difficulty squaring up the barrel of the bat on the ball due to the late break in toward their hands. In addition to breaking bats of opposite handed batters, the pitch generally induces a lot of weak contact and more ground balls to go for easy outs, and the addition of the pitch to any pitcher’s arsenal could potentially keep hitters off balance to generate more whiffs.
There may not ever be a cutter as amazing and valuable as Rivera’s, but every year there seems to be a couple of pitchers who could be previously classified as “mediocre” or worse that go on to have a breakout season due to the addition and mastery of a cutter. We saw it last year with Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. Arrieta was a top young arm in the Orioles organization for several years, but was traded in July of 2013 along with Pedro Strop to the Cubs in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger (ouch, Baltimore!). Before coming over to the Cubs, Arrieta had a lifetime line of a 5.34 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7.00 K/9, and 4.15 BB/9 in 433.1 IP. But it was when he joined the Cubs that he began to use the cutter. Initially, the results weren’t phenomenal as he was still learning the pitch and using it minimally, but he was seeing better overall results. Fast forward to 2014 and Arrieta ramped up his cutter usage to near 30% and he saw a big jump in his ground ball rate and soft contact rate from the previous year. The cutter was a true revelation for Arrieta as it was the second most valuable cutter in baseball behind Adam Wainwright’s. Arrieta finished the year with a 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.59 K/9, and 2.36 BB/9 in 156.2 IP.
Two young pitchers who were once regarded as top pitching prospects like Arrieta who have not had breakout success at the Major League level in their young careers yet are Shelby Miller of the Braves and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays. But wouldn’t you know it, each of them has developed a cutter and are seeing improved results because of it. Let’s examine Miller first. Continue reading