Here's a Thought: MLB's 10 Most Effective Cutters
Based on the success of my articles on curves, sliders, changeups, and splitters, I decided to look at the 10 most effective cutters this season.
I'm measuring cutter effectiveness by Pitch Type Linear Weights, which says how many runs a pitcher prevents above average every time he throws 100 pitches.
So, if I say a cutter's effectiveness is one run above average, that means that every 100 cutters that pitcher throws, he allows one run less than average.
I set two ground rules. First of all, pitchers have to have thrown at least 30 innings this year. Second, they have to use the cutter at least 10 percent of the time.
For each pitcher, I'll list the average cutter velocity, average cutter movement relative to an average major league fastball (if you want to know why I'm comparing it to a fastball, just ask), cutter usage (how often the pitcher throws the cutter), and cutter effectiveness (as measured by Pitch Type Linear Weights).
Also, just to clarify, this is me taking the leaderboard on cutter effectiveness, listing the top 10 pitchers, and analyzing their cutter's success.
This is NOT a subjective list. So don't tell me I'm "leaving somebody off." It's just the leaders in the stat and my analysis for why they're leading.
Let's take a look.
No. 10: Pedro Feliciano
Cutter Effectiveness: 1.82 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 29.0 percent
Cutter Velocity: 82.9 mph
Cutter Movement: 6.5 inches left to right, 7.8 inches down
Most cutters go two to three inches down relative to a fastball, making the Mets lefty's cutter much heavier than most.
Feliciano just started throwing the pitch this year, and it's obviously given him great results. With that sort of sink, that's not surprising at all.
No. 9: Jon Lester
Cutter Effectiveness: 1.89 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 19.1 percent
Cutter Velocity: 89.2 mph
Cutter Movement: 7.8 inches left to right, 4.1 inches down
Lester's cutter has improved for three straight years as he's added velocity to the pitch, which only sat at 85.0 mph in 2007.
With a lot of side-to-side movement and good sink, it almost acts like a slider, and hitters don't look for it much as they have to also deal with a quality fastball, curveball, and changeup from the Red Sox lefthander.
No. 8: Lance Cormier
Cutter Effectiveness: 2.19 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 48.8 percent
Cutter Velocity: 87.7 mph
Cutter Movement: 7.2 inches right to left, 1.6 inches down
Cormier has more of a traditional "flat" cutter, with a lot of horizontal movement and only a little bit of drop.
It's his only plus pitch, but it's propelled him to an excellent season in middle relief for Tampa Bay.
No. 7: Jon Garland
Cutter Effectiveness: 2.26 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 11.0 percent
Cutter Velocity: 87.6 mph
Cutter Movement: 5.0 inches right to left, 1.5 inches down
Garland only just started throwing the cutter this year, and it doesn't have great velocity or movement. I'm inclined to think its success is simply because batters don't realize he has it since he never threw it before this season.
No. 6: Chad Durbin
Cutter Effectiveness: 2.30 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 23.4 percent
Cutter Velocity: 86.7 mph
Cutter Movement: 8.4 inches right to left, 4.2 inches down
Durbin is also a guy who didn't throw much of a cutter before this year, but unlike Garland's, Durbin's cutter has well-above-average horizontal and vertical movement. The average cutter moves about six inches horizontally and two vertically.
That makes Durbin's cutter a good bet for sustained success, which is good considering all his other pitches are below-average in 2009.
No. 5: Mariano Rivera
Cutter Effectiveness: 2.36 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 91.4 percent
Cutter Velocity: 91.3 mph
Cutter Movement: 7.9 inches right to left, 2.7 inches down
Now here's where we get to the distinction between "best" and "most effective."
Does Mariano Rivera have the best cutter in baseball? Probably. We'll get to one possible challenger for that title in a minute, but other than that, no cutter in baseball combines velocity and movement like Rivera's.
The reason why it ranks fifth is because it's the only pitch he throws. Batters certainly know what to expect, whereas with a guy like Garland, they sometimes don't even know the pitch exists.
It's the best cutter in baseball because if anyone else ahead of Rivera tried to throw only the cutter, it almost certainly would fall below Rivera's 2.36 runs above average.
Ultimately, Rivera gets the most value out of his cutter overall, just not on a pitch-by-pitch basis because of its heavy usage.
One cautionary note about Rivera: The cutter has lost 1.8 inches of horizontal movement in the past two seasons, so the pitch may be declining. Then again, he's been doing this so well for so long that I'm not going to doubt him until his numbers take a nosedive, and you shouldn't doubt him either.
No. 4: John Danks
Cutter Effectiveness: 2.38 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 22.1 percent
Cutter Velocity: 86.5 mph
Cutter Movement: 7.3 inches left to right, 4.3 inches down
Like Lester, Danks gets above average cut and sink on his cutter, and backs it up with a fastball, curveball, and changeup. His deceptive delivery and confusing arm action make the movement more difficult to pick up.
No. 3: Evan Meek
Cutter Effectiveness: 3.06 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 24.6 percent
Cutter Velocity: 90.1 mph
Cutter Movement: 8.7 inches right to left, 4.9 inches down
In terms of velocity and movement, Evan Meek has the only cutter than competes with Rivera's, and he's still just learning the pitch.
Unlike Rivera, however, Meek has little idea where the ball is going, and has walked 29 batters in 44 innings this season.
However, a lot of those problems are with his four-seam fastball (1.77 runs below average), not the cutter. Obviously, you have to locate a pitch with some semblance of precision to have it be this effective.
Meek's cutter has the raw attributes to be as good as Rivera's, but to sustain his success with it, the Pirates reliever will need to continue spotting it effectively, something he may or may not be able to do.
No. 2: Dan Haren
Cutter Effectiveness: 3.29 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 21.6 percent
Cutter Velocity: 86.9 mph
Cutter Movement: 6.8 inches right to left, 2.6 inches down
With the third-most effective splitter and second-most effective cutter, Haren has to be the king of rarely thrown pitches.
Haren's cutter only has average movement, but like his teammate Garland, he hadn't thrown it before this year, so hitters don't know about it. They also have plenty else to worry about with Haren's two other fastballs, breaking ball, and of course that devastating splitter.
Haren also has exceptional command, so he spots the cutter anywhere he wants, further enhancing its effectiveness.
No. 1: Scott Feldman
Cutter Effectiveness: 3.55 runs above average
Cutter Usage: 30.8 percent
Cutter Velocity: 90.2 mph
Cutter Movement: 5.9 inches right to left, 3.2 inches down
The surprise winner of the Most Effective Cutter award is Feldman, who's been a durable and passable starter for Texas this year.
Feldman has exceptional command of his cutter, which features good sink and average cut.
The pitch doesn't seem to be all that exceptional, but the results it's getting are hard to ignore. When you throw a pitch 30.8 percent of the time in 120 innings and it has this sort of success, it's tough to doubt that the pitch does something right.
I'd like to see more of this from Feldman before we consider his cutter anywhere near the Rivera class, but I can't deny that it's been incredible thus far in 2009.