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THIS IS THE GAME CHANGER
Albert Chen
June 13, 2011
Is the cut fastball a magic pitch? It stymies hitters, revives pitchers' careers (hello, Dan Haren) and has helped shift the game's balance from plate to mound. The cutter: It's not just for Mariano anymore
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June 13, 2011

This Is The Game Changer

Is the cut fastball a magic pitch? It stymies hitters, revives pitchers' careers (hello, Dan Haren) and has helped shift the game's balance from plate to mound. The cutter: It's not just for Mariano anymore

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Facing Rivera's cutter, Pennington says, "I've seen the red dot once," as if he'd seen Bigfoot.

Several closers—from the A's Andrew Bailey (another of Patterson's disciples) to the Giants' Brian Wilson to the Rays' Kyle Farnsworth—are deploying the cutter as a primary pitch, but the man most likely to continue Rivera's cutter legacy is, of all people, a 32-year-old setup man who has never been a closer: the Padres' Mike Adams. "Anyone comparing my cutter to [Rivera's] is doing his an injustice," Adams says, but opposing hitters, who have hit .164 against him over the last three seasons (the lowest batting average against of any reliever in baseball), would disagree. According to an advanced metric that ranks the value and effectiveness of every pitch, Adams's cutter (which similar to Rivera's spins toward the hitter like a four-seamer) over this season has been the single most devastating cutter thrown by any reliever—even more effective than Rivera's.

Adams grips his cutter with the tips of his index and middle fingers hugging the seam of the ball. ("There's some days that I'm just squeezing the heck out of the ball, and sometimes the harder I squeeze, the more cut I get," he says. "I have my fingers there so I can really pull that seam down and get the movement.") Adams—who began throwing the cutter in 2008 and who in a month could be one of the most sought-after players at the trade deadline if the last-place Padres make him available—now has so much faith in the pitch that he doesn't bother with scouting reports. "I know what my strengths are. If you think you can hit my cutter, then good luck," he says. "You might have a scouting report that says, this guy can hit a fastball, a slider or a cutter, but whose cutter was it? It may have been someone with a bad cutter."

Not all cutters are created equal, of course. Not long ago a pitcher with an unspectacular cutter could fool hitters simply because of the surprise factor. "Now everybody throws a cutter, and the more they throw them, the better you can make adjustments," says Berkman. "Your brain learns how to lay off the tough ones that are in on you. Some are still good and unhittable, but some are not so good."

The legion of pitchers throwing the cutter will grow. But baseball is cyclical, and from both hitters and pitchers there will be adjustments and counter-adjustments. Someday the balance of power will shift back to the hitters. And someday another pitch will define another generation of pitchers. "You always want to stay ahead of the curve," says Haren, "but I don't know how many pitches are left. I hope I don't have to reinvent myself again."

The pitchers who have mastered the cutter will ride it as long as they can. "Earlier in my career I always said I wanted to throw a split," says Adams. "Now I know I was never a split guy. I'm a cutter guy. I've found who I am."

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