David Price, Cliff Lee, And Cutters

The topic of David Price‘s evolution as a pitcher has been discussed before. Since joining the big leagues, we’ve talked about his work with a changeup, his attempt to re-discover his slider, as well as him adding a curveball and increasing the usage of a two-seam fastball. Now, Price has given us another pitch to talk about…a cut-fastball or cutter.

The most amazing part of Price’s transformation is his ability to do it while continuing to have success at the major-league level. He shows no fear in using a new pitch or grip against top-notch competition. The addition of the cutter came as Price was throwing in the bullpen before Monday night’s start against the Chicago White Sox. He wasted no time introducing it in live-game action that same night.

“That was really the first time I’ve thrown it in a game” Price said.  ”Really the first time I’ve ever thrown it was in the bullpen today. We brought it out to the mound and it worked.”  ”It was good to see. Hopefully it’s there in five days again” he added.

As Price hoped, the pitch showed up in today’s win against the Toronto Blue Jays. The cutter experiment is intriguing for Price because it is generally used to neutralize batters of the opposite hand. In addition to the change-up and curveball, it would give th e Rays’ ace another option against right-handed batters.

Since we’re looking at just a handful of tosses from Price, it is too soon to look at any results in regards to his cutter. That said, he seems comfortable throwing it and has been able to locate it for strikes. While we don’t know just how effective the cutter will be for Price, it is a weapon for plenty of other major leaguers.

We all know that Mariano Rivera has made a hall of fame career off the cut-fastball. It is his primary pitch, and even though you know it is coming, there is nothing you can do about it. On the other hand Rivera is a relief pitcher, right-handed, and one of a kind.

Meanwhile, there have been many left-handed starters who have used the cutter as part of their arsenal against right-handed batters. Al Leiter and Andy Pettitte had long careers aided by their ability to throw the cut-fastball. Currently, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Jon Lester, and others are examples of southpaws who use the pitch against the platoon split.

Another notable lefty who throws a cutter with regularity is Cliff Lee; yet, that was not always the case. Lee has dabbled with the pitch throughout his career, but increased the usage on it beginning with his Cy Young Award winning season of 2008.

Vs. RHP

Usage*

K/BB

HR/9

FIP

xFIP

GB%

2007

4.90%

2

1.88

5.7

5.08

36.4

2008

6.20%

6.14

0.29

2.65

3.53

53.3

2009

12.40%

6.27

0.44

2.92

3.67

47.6

2010

19.80%

8.75

0.77

2.95

3.17

49

*Overall usage

Perhaps it is a pure coincidence, but since he began throwing more cut-fastballs, his numbers against right-handers drastically improved across the board. The 2007 season is included to show just how much. Not only has Lee had fantastic control against righties, but also seen a drastic change in batted ball data.

When put in play, cutters are usually hit on the ground. Notice the increase in groundballs against Lee as well as the decrease in home runs.  In the small sample size of 2011, Lee is throwing even more cutters with greater success against right-handed batters. For a visual of how he has used the pitch against RHB, here are some heat maps from fangraphs.com.

2011, so far.

 

2010

Certainly, Lee is at the extreme end of the success spectrum. At the same time, Price is one of the most talented left-handed arms in the game. Considering his natural ability, I see no reason as to why the pitch should not be at least an average offering for him. Once more, it is too early to consider the results of the cutter; however, watching Price continue to expand his arsenal remains a joy to watch.

About Tommy Rancel

Senior Editor/Analyst - The Process Report. Writer/Analyst - Bloomberg Sports. MLB Insider - ESPN 1040
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