Yankees are tailoring cutter to individual pitchers’ strengths

The cutter is making a comeback in the Bronx. Yesterday I watched how Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino incorporated the pitch into their repertoire. Initial results are looking promising and there are indications that it may turn into a real weapon as the pair becomes more comfortable throwing. Today I want to turn to two other Yankees pitchers who have adopted the cutter – starter Nestor Cortes (who continued to use it today with excellent results) and reliever Lucas Luetge – and compare and contrast their use of the court with Cole’s and decide Severino to use it.

First, let’s watch a video. On April 17, Cortes defeated Chris Owings with a 1-2 backdoor cutter at the end of the fifth:

Early in the game, Cortes fanned out Ryan Mountcastle, who swung to a 3-2 cutter in the bottom third of the third. You can see how the pitch’s position and speed had captivated Mountcastle and put them in the front:

In this April 9 clip, Luetge caught Trevor Story looking in the top of the sixth at a 2-2 cutter just off the outside corner that Kyle Higashioka had framed beautifully:

Finally, we have Luetge beating Austin Hays with a 0-2 cutter off the plate in the bottom of the eight on April 17:

For reference, here’s every single cutter the pair has thrown this season:

Cortes vs. Blue Jays, 4/12

Cortes vs. Orioles, 4/17

Lütge vs. Red Sox4/9

Luetge vs. Red Sox, 4/10

Luetge vs. Blue Jays, 4/14

Luetge vs. Orioles, 4/15

Luetge vs. Orioles, 4/17

Luetge vs Tigers, 4/21

I count 6 total hits from 124 combined cutters thrown by the end of the game on April 2nd. In contrast, there is an abundance of called strikes on backdoor cutters, puffs on in-zone cutters and chases on those out of the zone, and a healthy number of foulballs, groundballs, and popups.

Unlike Cole and Severino, Cortes and Luetge each threw enough cutters for us to feel reasonably confident looking at pitch metrics. Luetge’s cutter has the highest spin rate of any cutter in baseball, while Cortes sits at number 40. Cortes has the 11th highest horizontal movement of any cutter in MLB, Luetge 14th, while both sit in the top half of the league in terms of vertical movement. As a result, according to Statcast’s Run Value metric, Cortes’ editor finishes as the 6th best editor while Luetge’s is 15th.

It is immediately apparent from the videos that Cortes and Luetge’s editors are completely different versions than Cole and Severino’s. While Cole and Severino throw theirs in the low to mid 90s with short, sharp, late breaking action, Cortes and Luetge throw theirs in the mid to high 80s with considerable side sweep action.

But the pitches differ not only in tempo and movement profile. With their cutters, Cortes and Luetge have a completely different pitching philosophy than Cole and Severino. As I mentioned yesterday, Cole and Severino’s cutters work more like breaking balls, while Cortes and Luetge’s cutters work more like breaking balls but work as fastballs. It shows how different ways can throw the field equally effectively and that the Yankees do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to field design.

While Cole and Severino throw cutters like they’re hard sliders who pair well from the square — and therefore rarely throw the pitch in the zone or when behind on the count — Cortes and Luetge throw their cutters on every count and to all four quadrant of the zone. They use it to steal shots early in the count, induce weak contact, and finish off hitters in two-shot counts.

For Luetge, the cutter is the hardest pitch in his arsenal, so it’s effectively a glove-breaking fastball. Taking a slightly modified approach, Cortes still uses the cutter as if it were a fastball, but when paired with a four-seamer, he throws the same time. That’s perhaps why we’re seeing a little more off-balance swings on Cortes’ cutter – his spin resembles a four-seamer, causing hitters to be fooled by the reduced speed and sweeping motion.

What excites me the most is the way the editor complements the other pitches in Cortes’ and Luetge’s arsenal, particularly their sliders. Both Cortes and Luetge throw Lindsey Adler’s improved twirling version of the Slider the athlete Discussed earlier this month (Yankees fans: If you have a subscription, this article is a MUST READ!). And based on the early returns, the cutter is the perfect pitch to pair with this sweeping slider style.

See how long the cutter and pusher move towards the plate together! They’re practically the same incline for 60-70 percent of the travel time home. By the time the ball has reached the batter’s decision point, there is still virtually no way to tell if it’s a cutter or a slider. What looks like a cutter out of hand and most of the 60ft 6in could end up as a slider crossing home more than a foot from where the hitter expects and there just isn’t time to react when the pitches mirror each other for so long. And that’s the beauty of the confidence Cortes and Luetge have to throw their cutters anywhere, in any situation. The hitter has to keep an eye on the cutter throughout the shot – and when the slider finally comes, there’s not much they can do.

Nestor Cortes and Lucas Luetge have seen their stocks soar since arriving at Yankees spring training in 2021 as non-squad invitees. Cortes transitioned from DFA and direct candidate to anchor the back end of the Bombers rotation, while Luetge went from six years outside the big leagues to a trusted, highly leveraged aide in the Yankees’ bullpen. Much of this stems from the trust the pair — and the broader Yankees pitching team as a whole — placed in Matt Blake and the rest of the pitching coaches. The ability to modulate a single pitch into individually tailored variations based on a particular pitcher’s strengths is something that will continue to work wonders for one of baseball’s best pitching units today.

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