The Seattle Mariners have a stable of young arms garnering a lot of attention around baseball. That all starts with Taijuan Walker and continues with southpaw James Paxton. Both made their big-league debuts in 2013 with the help of a cutter.
The cut fastball is a pitch made famous by Mariano Rivera, who threw the pitch in lieu of anything else, but it’s hardly a new pitch. It is, however, a pitch more and more pitcher are adding to toss a new wrinkle into how they attack batters from the opposite side.
The best cutters are almost very hard sliders; shorter break, but with more velocity, and when the break is late it ultimately saws off batters. The Mariners acquired Danny Farquhar in exchange for Ichiro in 2012. The right-handed reliever had just added a cutter, a pitch he rode to great success as the club’s closer a year ago.
Walker added the pitch in 2012 while pitching for Double-A Jackson under the guidance of pitching coach Terry Clark. Clark spent some time in Triple-A Tacoma last summer, and teamed with Paxton in adding the pitch to his repertoire, too.
Paxton spoke to Steve, Bill and I on the show Tuesday
Employing the cutter can help pitchers whose changeups have yet to develop. The right-handed Walker uses his versus lefties and righties alike, but it’s most effective when he drives it in and off the plate versus a left-handed batter. The left-handed Paxton used his cutter last August and September — September in the majors — mostly against right-handed batters. Both pitchers, however, also use the cutter against same-handed batters to give a different look so hitters cannot sit on their fastballs.
Anthony Fernandez, a left-handed starter that may start 2014 at Triple-A Tacoma and projects as back-end starter, picked up the pitch a few years back, too, and has been integral in his ascent from being just another arm to a pitcher could reach the majors and provide value.
Why the cutter? It’s easy to learn, relatively speaking, and there’s a lot less stress on the elbow to use it than a true slider or curveball, and even a changeup. It’s a weapon that can be used, ideally, in place of the four-seam fastball, and in place of a breaking ball or changeup. So, in a way, it’s the most versatile pitch in baseball.
Paxton didn’t use the cutter until late last season, so it’s a bit early to grade his version, but Walker’s cutter is a true weapon for him all year and Farquhar has one of the better true cut fastballs in baseball.
The cutter really isn’t a trend, but it is a recent trend for the Mariners and one that isn’t likely to end anytime soon.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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