More than one organization has banned the cutter at one time or another. But it’s barely one pitch, and you probably wouldn’t want to have banned Mariano Rivera from throwing that pitch. Turns out, looking at the grip on the baseball might help us differentiate between risky and less risky cutters.
Dan Duquette has banned the cutter from the Baltimore organization. Explore his reasons, and you start to uncover that not all cutters are made alike.
The first stated reason was about outcomes. “Why don’t you take a look at the chart with the average against cutters in the big leagues, batting average against and then come back and tell me that that’s a great pitch,” Duquette said back then. Unfortunately, when stacked against fastballs, the pitch is actually decent. BACON is batting average on contact, SLGCON is slugging percentage on contact:
Sliders and changeups do better, but — theoretically at least — you can throw the cutter more often than those pitches. If it’s a fastball. More on this later.
The second stated reason was about fastball velocity and arm health. Increased cutter usage led to lower radar gun readings and lower arm strength, Duquette and Director of Pitching Development Rick Peterson felt. “What happens is you start to get off to the side of the baseball (with your grip) and then you’re no longer consistently behind the baseball,” Peterson said of the way the cutter steals velocity from a fastball.
The thing is, there are two vastly different types of cutters, and grip factors in. When Duquette was asked about pitchers that had done well with the pitch, Mariano Rivera in particular, he pointed to the difference between a ‘cutter’ and a ‘cut fastball.’ “Name me all the pitchers in the big leagues that make a living with a cut fastball? Rivera’s is a fastball. It moves,” he said.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.