What is a cutter in baseball ? They say that the best pitch in baseball is and always will be a well-located fastball. The best pitch in baseball is, in fact, a well-located cut fastball. The scary part for hitters is that more and more pitchers are starting to come around to just how dangerous the cutter really is.
Everyone knows that the keeper of the best cutter in Major League Baseball history is none other than New York Yankees longtime closer Mariano Rivera. His cutter is among the most devastating pitches ever thrown, and he forged a Hall of Fame career for himself by using it to shatter bats and get weak ground balls.
For a while there, Rivera was one of a select few pitchers who featured cutters in their repertoires. Over the last 10 years or so, that group has grown considerably. Pitchers who were already good to begin with have taken to throwing a cutter, and some pitchers have turned to the cutter to help save their careers.
The rise of the cutter was chronicled by Albert Chen in a story for Sports Illustrated that was published last June, and not a whole lot has changed over the past year. The cutter is still catching on, and major league hitters are still trying to solve the mystery of how to hit it.
So how did all of this happen? How has the cutter gone from being Mariano Rivera’s not-so-secret weapon to being the secret weapon of numerous pitchers around the league?
What is a cutter?
A cutter is a variation of a fastball that involves using a slightly different grip that makes the pitch break before it hits home plate without having to change the pitcher’s delivery motion.
Because most hitters are familiar with hitting straight fastballs, the ability to have the ball break allows the pitcher to make sure the hitter does not hit the ball cleanly on the barrel of the bat.
Why is it called a cutter?
The term “cutter” was not used in mainstream baseball lingo until the late 1980s. It comes from the movement of the ball. When the pitcher releases the ball just before it reaches home plate, it makes a small break that hitters refer to as a “cut.”
4 steps to throw a cutter
There are several different ways to grip a cutter, but even with the different variations, there are similarities.
For a cutter, a pitcher will take their normal fastball grip and shift their fingers slightly off center to apply more pressure to the outer edge of the ball with firm pressure coming from the tip of the middle finger. Pressing the finger tight to the ball helps ensure the ball will spin freely.
2. Arm Angle
Because the cutter has the same motion as a fastball with no snapping or turning of the wrist or elbow, the cutter can be thrown from a pitcher’s natural arm angle as long as the motion is not a 12-to-6 arm motion.
3. Spin Movement
The spin movement on a cutter is intended to break away from the pitcher’s throwing hand. For example, if a right-handed pitcher throws a proper cutter, the ball will break away from a right-handed hitter and towards a left-handed hitter.
It is vice versa for left-handed pitchers. The ball’s spin comes from the placement of the fingers and the firm pressure of the middle finger on the ball.
When the pitcher releases the ball, the release point at which their hand releases the ball should be in the exact location of the fastball. The reason for this is that the cutter is intended to be deceptive. It is supposed to make a hitter think that a fastball is coming.
One additional point when releasing a cutter is that there is no additional motion from the wrist or elbow. The ball will spin because of the grip, so the release should be identical to that of the fastball.
To see the mechanics of a proper cutter, watch the video above to see a breakdown of how New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera gripped and threw his famous cutter pitch.
When to throw a cutter?
Cutters are most effective when they break towards the batter instead of away. An effective cutter can be thrown to both left and right-handed batters, but it has a higher probability of getting a hitter out if the ball jams the hitter on the inside.
For this to happen, pitchers will utilize the cutter pitch if they are right-handed and facing a left-handed hitter or the other way around.
How does a cutter move?
A cutter is intended to begin its path to home plate traveling straight, but at the last second, the ball should break away from the pitcher’s pitching hand and towards his glove hand.
The amount of break in the ball can differ due to a pitcher’s arm angle or the velocity of the pitch, but they all break in the same direction – towards the pitcher’s glove hand.
Why is a cutter hard to hit?
A cutter is hard to hit because it is intended to break towards a hitter’s hands when thrown inside. Because the cutter is faster than a slider or curveball, it is well known as a pitch that breaks baseball bats. When hitters swing at a cutter that is breaking towards them, the ball will make contact near the thin part of the bat handle and break it.
While broken bats are not an official baseball statistic, most baseball experts agree that if the statistic was tracked, Mariano Rivera would be the all-time leader in causing broken bats.
An effective pitch to force ground balls
Because of the way the cutter breaks towards hitters, it is also a highly effective pitch for generating a ground ball. If the opposing team has a runner on base, then it is in the best interest of the pitcher to entice a ground ball to help his team get a double play. Throwing a cutter increases the likelihood of a ground ball double play.
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