Peyton Battenfield, Demarcus Evans, and Josh Fleming on Learning and Developing Their Cutters

The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last month after being on hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Peyton Battenfield, Demarcus Evans, and Josh Fleming on their cutters.


Peyton Battenfield, Cleveland prospect

“Slider, cutter… that pitch is kind of loosely defined. I call it a cutter. The horizontal movement isn’t super high, and I throw it anywhere from 87–90 [mph]. I’d tried throwing a slider in college, but I could never really get it to move. When I got drafted by the Astros, I had the same grip and still couldn’t get it to move. For whatever reason, I didn’t understand the right type of spin that I was supposed to be getting out of it, but then I got showed a cutter grip. This was in October 2020, in instructs, and that’s when it started moving.

“I actually tried learning one back in 2019, when I was with the Astros, but like with any pitch, when you’re first starting to learn it takes time and patience. You’re learning a new grip, so you’ve got to figure out the right release point, what feels right coming out of the hand in order to get the movement profile you’re looking for.

“I came into spring training this year able to throw it for a strike more consistently. I was also getting more consistent movement, the way I wanted it to move, and the velo was higher on it as well. As much as anything, I simplified the pitch. Trusting the grip and throwing it like my fastball was probably the biggest thing.

“The horizontal movement on it is something like negative one-to-three, so it’s not getting a whole lot of horizontal. And I get like eight-to-10 vertical, so it’s kind of a hoppy cutter, a carry cutter. But it does have more depth than my fastball. Basically, it’s perceived movement. If my fastball is moving at 22 vertical and my cutter is at 10 vertical, to the hitters, it’s going to look like it has depth.

“I try to get it to spin like my four-seam. I want it to look like my four-seam out of the hand, so the hitters are… their brains are making those calculations on its way to the plate, thinking they’ve got to swing higher than what it’s actually going to be. Even though it’s carrying, it’s carrying less. If you’ve ever watched a video of Mariano Rivera throwing a cutter, he tries to get four-seam spin, but instead of straight backspin, it’s going to be inverted a little bit to the side.”


Deamarcus Evans, Texas Rangers

“I think my cutter is becoming a great pitch for me. I’m learning a lot right now about what shape I need it to be, and how to get people out with it. I started learning it last year at the alternate site. Sags [pitching coach Brendan Sagara] and Jono [Armold], our pitching coordinator, talked to me about adding a third pitch. In my younger days, sometimes I’d throw a curveball and get around it, and it would go like a slider. It would break off and I’d get swings-and-misses on it.

“They told me, ‘Why don’t you work on something with separation from your fastball and curveball?’ My fastball can be like 23 [inches of vertical] and my curveball be like negative-one or two. My cutter can be right in the middle, so the hitters can’t always just look in those two spots.

“The idea was ‘harder breaking ball’ more than anything. It was also something where I wouldn’t have to think about it too much; I could just throw it like my fastball. Back then, I would throw my breaking ball and try to get that true 12–6, rather than just throwing it and believing in it. I used to try to aim it in there and get that depth, and now with a cutter, I can just turn it a bit and throw it as hard as I can. I don’t have to worry about the movement, because it’s going to do it for itself.

“Sometimes a slider can be kind of like a slurve. With how my arm slot is, sometimes I don’t get my full hand out in front of the ball, and [a slider] would come out more like it’s a curveball. So I guess when I started throwing a cutter… it just goes sideways. It could be a slider, and sometimes it couldn’t. But I’m thinking cutter, because I’m throwing it a lot harder than my breaking ball. I can get it from 86 to 90 [mph]. The only thing that has been troubling me this year is my fastball. My velo has been down. My lat injury kind of slowed everything down a little bit.”


Josh Fleming, Tampa Bay Rays

“I went down to Florida a couple of months before spring training [2020]. They had approached me — pitching coordinators and everyone — saying they wanted me to work on a cutter. The previous year, in Double-A and Triple-A, I had a slider that would sometimes be 81–83 [mph], and at other times it would be 84–86. My guess is that they found more value in the 84–86 slider and thought, ‘Hey, can we call that a cutter? Just work on throwing it harder.’

“I’m open to anything that’s going to make me better, so I was all for it. That offseason, I went down to a pitch-development type of thing and worked on it a lot there. But even though I’ve been throwing it for the last couple years now, it’s still going to be a work in progress. Every pitcher is working on something. I don’t want to speak for all the big-name guys, but I’m pretty sure that Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Chris Sale are still working on certain pitches. You can always get better.

“I’m working on staying through the catcher when I’m throwing it. I’m teaching myself to not try to force it to cut, but rather to let the grip make it cut. If I can stay closed and finish through my catcher, that’s when it’s at its best. I get some cement mixers in there anytime I try to pull off and really make it spin. The beauty of pitching is that as hard as it seems, and as hard as it is, it’s also simple. It’s simple in the sense that you have your grip, and you let it do the work for you. Obviously the mechanics have to be there, but just letting the grip do the work will do wonders.

“Anyway, the idea was to go from a slider to a cutter. A comp for me was Ryan Yarbrough, who is a fastball-cutter guy and throws more cutters than he does his fastball. The idea was to get a cutter sort of like his, although mine was going to be harder. I didn’t really change the grip. I kept the same slider grip, but I manipulated my wrist a little bit, kind of cocking it in so that I didn’t… this was when I was trying it out. I was turning my wrist in and just throwing it as hard as I could. Doing that, I saw the movement that I wanted. Eventually, I was able to get rid of that cock and just throw it normally.”


The 2021 installments of the series can be found here.

The 2019 installments of the series can be found here.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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