Cutter City and Contract Considerations | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

(AP Photo / Morry Gash)

Last night, I noticed that Zack Greinke’s moving fastball showed up frequently during his start. The right-handed ace-once-again went cutter crazy upon announcing his new pitch, selecting it more than 19% of the time during his April starts. As a result, approximately 71% of Greinke’s April offerings were fastballs of one sort or the other. That distribution of fastballs changed during May, as Greinke suddenly selected his cutter less than 10% of the time.

Greinke took the Chicago Cubs to cutter city last night, throwing the pitch 22 times. That moving fastball was hard, too, coming in just under 91 MPH. Earlier in the season, I suggested that Greinke used the cutter as a sort of set-up pitch, and one might say that the cutter served a similar function last night. Greinke located only 12 of his cutters for strikes, which is a low percentage compared to the location of his other fastballs. However, Cubs batters swung at the pitch even less frequently. It’s almost as though the cutter served as an intermediary between Greinke’s other fastballs; according to Pitch F/X, the Cubs did not put a single “rising” fastball in play, while they put nearly 31% of Greinke’s “sinking” fastballs in play.

What type of pitch grip do you think this is?

Contract Talk
Can I be honest? The Brewers’ replacement roster, injury issues, and sub-.500 record have me bummed about any potential Greinke extension. Mind you, I’m not necessarily convinced that he’s worth the money, BUT, I am bummed that it doesn’t even seem that we have the conditions for a debate about Greinke’s future in Milwaukee.

In 2012 NL / Miller Park, the current runs average is 4.37. That means that a pitcher with 72 innings might reasonably be expected to allow approximately 35 runs. Thus far, Greinke’s 72 IP / 26 R performance is 9 runs ahead of the league. For all intents and purposes, Greinke is on pace for a top NL pitching performance — certainly Top 20. If we consider that Matt Cain landed his big contract after a 2011 campaign that was 14 runs better than the league (following 3 seasons that were approximately 81 aggregate runs better than the league), we might say that Greinke is truly on pace to match Cain’s big contract (especially in the “what have you done for me lately” category). After Greinke’s +19 and +57 run performances in 2008 and 2009, he was an aggregate 6 runs worse than his leagues/parks in 2010 and 2011. Of course, he’s correcting that in a big way this season, and his performance is extremely strong overall.

So, just for kicks, I’d like to raise the Greinke debate once again. I know things aren’t going the Brewers’ way, but they still have a large portion of their 96-win core in place over the next few years, as well as some intriguing young arms on the way to the big leagues. Is it reasonable to consider gambling on Greinke and locking him up long term?

Cutters Once Again
In case you haven’t noticed, Zack Greinke is not the only Brewers pitcher suddenly throwing a cut fastball with frequency. In his second start, Michael Fiers threw his 85-86 MPH cutter nearly 43% of his selections. Shaun Marcum apparently turned in his junkball card, and is now a regular old-kitchen sink thrower. That’s right, he’s no longer change-up first, but rather, “everything first” — in May, he threw his “rising” fastball 23%, his cutter nearly 20%, and his slider, curve, and change up each between 17% and 19%. During his last start, he used his cutter and slider in more than 50% of his selections, and that breaking ball slowed down below 80 MPH.

One beautiful offspeed pitch.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but I firmly believe that Marcum is using his slider as a change-of-pace from his cutter; both pitches move along the same plane, and surprisingly, his slider does not move in on lefties as much as his cutter. Marcum essentially can give batters at least two speeds to think about from two different planes, which probably explains why he is pitching so effectively even while he moves away from his change up (which was previously his bread-and-butter). Marcum is following Greinke’s heels, sitting approximately 6 runs better than the league through 69 IP; Marcum does not seem to be easily giving up his spot atop the Brewers’ rotation.

Is this Randy Wolf serving up one of his slider/cutters? (AP Photo)

Even Randy Wolf is getting in on the cutter action. His pitch has a unique history, and it shows the difficulty of tracking both pitches (why shouldn’t they be difficult to track? The histories of the cutter and slider have been intertwined for decades). According to Brooks Baseball, here is Wolf’s slider/cutter history:

2007: Slider (80.7 MPH, 11%)
2008: Slider (81.1 MPH, 13%)
2009: Slider (80.9 MPH, 14%)
2010: Cutter (80.7 MPH, 17%)
2011: Cutter (84.9 MPH, 17%), Slider (80.7 MPH, 3%)
2012: Cutter (84.4 MPH, 15%), Slider (80.9 MPH, 4%)

I think it’d be difficult to argue that there are terribly many people that track Pitch F/X as closely as the gang at Brooks Baseball, and even they found Wolf’s cutter and slider to be interchangeable to a certain degree. Interestingly enough, in 2010 FanGraphs’ pitch f/x data splits Wolf’s 17%, ~80 MPH pitch into two different offerings; the slider (12%) went 79.4 MPH, the cutter (5%) 81.2 MPH, with both pitches moving on extremely similar planes.

Ultimately, this is inconsequential on my part; I guess it’s a cutter when Wolf calls it a cutter, and a slider if he says it’s a slider, right? I just thought he should be included in the cutter fun today. One day 20 years from now, we can add Wolf to the “he threw what?” lore of veteran pitchers. This happens all the time; Andy Messersmith is commonly regarded as a top change up pitcher, and yet his coaches and sportswriters raved over his curveball early in his career (with little to no mention of his change up); within the span of 3-5 years, he went from being a “hard thrower” (according to Mike Marshall) to someone that couldn’t have reached 90 MPH (Keith Hernandez). Juan Marichal threw a cutter/slider; Warren Spahn might have thrown a circle change or screwball late in his career, but he called it a sinker; there are innumerable examples of this. Oh, what pitch f/x could have said about the old hurlers!

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
Belth, Alex. “A Fine Mess.” Bronx Banter.
James / Neyer. Guide to Pitchers. Touchstone, 2004.
Pitch F/X Tools: Brooks Baseball, FanGraphs, TexasLeaguers


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