There is baseball being played, actual baseball, and that means we get baseball-actual-baseball notes. We’re here today to talk about one from ... [checks index card] Rangers camp? What the ...
Starter Matt Moore did not throw a cut fastball during two scoreless innings. That indicates just how much the Rangers want him to get away from that pitch, for several reasons. It is a side-to-side pitch, and Moore has been more effective when working up and down. The pitch also takes away from velocity. And there is no middle ground with the cutter. It can be either a really good pitch or a really bad pitch that sits in the hitting zone. And really bad cutters are hit a long way. Moore threw a lot of bad cutters with San Francisco last season. According to brooksbaseball.net, opponents hit .322 with a .525 slugging percentage against Moore’s cutter.
Did Moore throw a lot of bad cutters last year? Hrm, my memory is hazy, but I guess it’s possible. I don’t remember them, though. I don’t remember anything about last season. It’s been replaced with old episodes of Taxi, and they play in my brain whenever I try to recall anything from last year. So I’ll trust that, yes, Moore threw a lot of bad cutters last year.
The Rangers would like him to stop that. I can definitely understand this desire.
My question after reading that passage, though, is why didn’t the Giants ask him to throw fewer cutters? Why are the Giants the cutteringest team in the National League, and will this continue?
They are the cutteringest team in the NL, by the way:
Percentage of cutters thrown, 2017 (NL)
1. Giants, 11.1%
2. Cubs, 9.0
3. Brewers, 8.8
4. Cardinals, 8.1
5. Rockies, 7.9
6. Dodgers, 5.9
7. Reds, 5.1
8. Marlins, 5.1
9. Diamondbacks, 3.9
10. Braves, 3.7
11. Pirates, 2.4
12. Phillies, 1.7
13. Nationals, 1.7
14. Mets, 1.4
15. Padres, 1.2
The only team that threw more cutters was the Indians, which you can understand. One of their leading cutterers was Corey Kluber, who won the Cy Young. The Indians won 102 games. Please do not take this article as an anti-cutter screed. There really isn’t a correlation between the cutter and success in the above list.
But I’m curious if the Giants will still be a cutter-heavy team. Remember, back in June, 2016, before the flames of hellfire licked up and destroyed everything we hold dear, the cutter was our friend:
All hail the cut fastball, the secret to the Giants’ success
If you’re going to be a team that relies on cutters, you probably want a strong infield defense. While cut fastballs don’t produce grounders quite as much as their bastard cousin, the sinker, they still lead to more pitches beat into the ground when they’re working right. The Giants might have the best defensive infield in baseball.
You absolute moron. Can’t you smell the hellfire? The brimstone? It’s just around the corner.
Add it all up, and the Giants are uniquely positioned to enjoy the ripe fruits from this particular cutter tree. All hail the cut fastball! The Giants are in first place because they can pitch, and they’re doing it with a pitch that we should probably get used to.
REPENT. DOOM IS COMING. REPENT.
Anyway, the cutter wasn’t magic, and the Giants eventually collapsed, going a combined 3-193 after that article was published, with all of those wins happening because Conor Gillaspie did something, and he’s not around anymore.
Johnny Cueto is still here. Jeff Samardzija is, too, and while he cut his cutter usage in half last year, he’s still using the pitch. So it’s not going anywhere. And at this point, it’s helpful to ask if new pitching coach Curt Young is a fan:
A’s American League rank in cutters thrown
2016: 6th out of 15
For good measure, the Red Sox led the AL in cutters in 2011 when Young was there. We can’t use those numbers to prove that he’s a pitching coach who preaches the gospel of cutters because there’s no context. Some pitchers throw cutters because they’re good at it, and teams encourage it. The Padres, for example, threw fewer cutters than almost anyone in baseball, but if they had Corey Kluber, they would let him do his thing. But they don’t have Kluber. Because they traded him for Ryan Ludwick*.
What we can take from Young’s history, though, is that he certainly isn’t anti-cutter. He’ll encourage them if he has the staff for it. It would appear that the Rangers believe Matt Moore isn’t particularly suited for it. (It’s worth noting that he got hooked on that pitch with the Rays, not the Giants.)
It’s something to watch, though. Chris Stratton didn’t throw a single cutter last year, which suggests that cutter fever is something that came to the Giants by chance because of their specific personnel, not because it crawled out of the brain of Dave Righetti or someone in the front office. The Giants might not be a cutter team because that’s the organizational philosophy but because they’ve acquired pitchers who already threw a cutter (and employ Madison Bumgarner who has done pretty, pretty well with his.)
The Rangers believe this is the pitch that made Matt Moore awful last year. If they’re right, it’s probably time for the Giants to be at least a little skeptical about which of their pitchers rely on it going forward. It might not be for everyone. But my guess is that not much will change, and they’ll be among the league leaders yet again.