The Orioles “don’t like the cutter.” At least that’s what Dan Duquette told MASN’s Steve Melewski.
The article, which is non-critical of Duquette, highlights some questionable arguments against the cutter.
(paraphrasing) Batting average against for the cutter is bad
Not all cutters are created equal. There are pitchers who have dominating cut fastballs and pitchers who appear to be forcing very mediocre ones. To take an extreme example, most pitchers would allow a very high average against with a knuckleball, but a few pitchers make a living off it. That high average tells me that there are pitchers using a cut fastball that isn’t game ready.
(paraphrasing) No good pitchers use the cutter as their primary pitch
Perhaps, but plenty of very good pitchers use the cut fastball extremely effectively as part of their repertoire. A pitch need not be a primary offering to be valuable. See Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee (prior to 2012).
(paraphrasing) Mariano Rivera‘s cutter is a vanilla fastball that just so happens to behave identically to a cutter
The narrative of the article also examines the Orioles’ treatment of top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy. His self-identified best pitch is a cut fastball, but the Orioles have prohibited him from using it at this time. Their organizational philosophy is to teach fastball command and a good overhand breaking ball.
I wish the article examined that philosophy in more depth. There are useful and illustrative points that could have been developed along that vein.
In tweeting with Baseball America‘s Ben Badler, we generally accepted that clubs should adopt a case-by-case mentality rather than saying “we don’t like the cutter.” As Harry Pavlidis pointed out, the Orioles’ philosophy is undoubtedly more nuanced than Duquette lets on.
We also agreed that teaching the cutter could have certain undesirable developmental effects. It takes time away from learning a good breaking ball as it’s difficult to learn and master multiple pitches at the same time. It also discourages focus on developing command and control. These are both points that Duquette made. In addition to those points, some scouts and pitching coaches believe it retards velocity development.
Drawing from my experience, I tried to learn a cutter as a freshman in college. The result was ugly and completely unusable—basically a spinning slider that didn’t break. I was taught to load the ball to one side of my hand, which caused all sorts of problems, including visibly different mechanics.
In my junior year, I rotated my usual backwards four-seam grip 45 degrees one day and was shocked to see the ball dart about a foot to the glove side. The pitch instantly became my best and the result was my only effective half season as a college pitcher (I pitched through injury for the second half of the season).
The point I’m trying to make with that anecdote is that teaching the cut fastball isn’t a simple matter. There is a difference between saying “try to discover this pitch” and “use this pitch.” Pitchers who are forcing the cutter might be expected to produce sub-optimal results. That could include subtle or substantial mechanical changes that affect the entire repertoire.
Going back to Halladay, Hamels and Lee, all three pitchers learned their cutter as big leaguers. Rather than saying “we don’t like the cutter,” perhaps the Orioles should be saying “we require our pitchers to demonstrate strong command and control and a need for a moving fastball.”