I’m in the midst of taking a look back at some of the best pitches of each pitch type in 2020, and in this edition, we’re taking a look at the top five cutters of the year.
If you want to read more about how this series works, check out my list of the top five changeups of 2020 where I explain it.
Let’s get to it!
5. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Ryu makes his second appearance of the series (his first being in the changeup article) with his cut fastball, a pitch that’s been a solid part of his repertoire for a while now.
Last year, the pitch was great at inducing weak contact, with a .240 wOBA and .133 ISO against, and it was a decent swing-and-miss pitch, with a nice 13.5% SwStr rate.
It’s Ryu’s changeup that was the difference-maker for him last year. It was his most-thrown pitch and had a 44% chase rate, 17.5% SwStr rate, .231 wOBA against, and .076 ISO against. All of that helped propel Ryu to his third-straight season with a sub-3.00 ERA.
In my opinion, Kikuchi is one of the more underrated pitchers in fantasy drafts this year.
Yes, Kikuchi’s 2020 season doesn’t look particularly good, but there’s more to like than you might think. First off, his 5.17 ERA came with a 3.30 FIP and a 3.51 xERA, and Kikuchi saw his strikeout rate improve significantly, from 16.1% in 2019 to 24.2% last year.
A large part of Kikuchi’s success came as a result of the introduction of this cutter, which he didn’t throw in 2019 but became his most-thrown pitch last year.
It did a really solid job of inducing weak contact, with a .313 wOBA and .125 ISO against, and it was a pretty decent strikeout pitch, with a 29.6% chase rate and 10.5% SwStr rate.
Utilizing that as his most-thrown pitch in conjunction with an improved four-seamer (that gained a little over 100 RPM in spin) and an excellent slider that came with a 44.9% chase rate and 16.5% SwStr rate, Kikuchi looks like he could be putting things together.
3. Shane Bieber
This is Bieber’s second time in a best pitch of 2020 article, with his first being in the best curveballs article, and it’s just a testament to how ridiculously good Bieber is.
Much like the rest of Bieber’s repertoire, his cutter was very good last year, working well as a swing-and-miss pitch with a 17% SwStr rate and 31.2% chase rate.
It did get knocked around a little when hitters did make contact, with a .341 wOBA and .184 ISO against (the worst marks of his repertoire), but overall, it was a pretty solid pitch that helped propel Bieber to a Cy Young season with a 1.63 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and 41.1% strikeout rate.
One of the more popular sleepers in drafts this year, Corbin Burnes turned around a horrible 2019 that saw him post an 8.82 ERA into a really good 2020 with a 2.11 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and 36.7% strikeout rate.
So what changed? A couple things. First, Burnes basically ditched his four-seam fastball in favor of a sinker that worked out fairly well, and he added this cutter, which was a great weak-contact pitch, with a .246 wOBA and .081 ISO against and a 15.1% SwStr rate.
His slider remained an excellent strikeout pitch with a 38.8% chase rate and 26.8% SwStr rate and his changeup worked well too.
With all of that, if those changes stick, Burnes could be a really awesome fantasy asset this year.
After turning in two solid but not overly-incredible seasons, Dallas Keuchel turned in a phenomenal season last year (again, for like the billionth time, in a small sample size of just 63.1 innings) in which he posted a 1.99 ERA with a 3.08 FIP.
The thing that kind of held Keuchel back from being a really great fantasy asset (and the thing that’s held him back from that for a while) was a lack of strikeouts, which was especially present last year, as he posted just a 16.3% strikeout rate.
Keuchel instead was a master of weak contact. Of the four pitch types Keuchel threw last year, the worst wOBA against he had was his sinker at .296. If that’s your worst pitch, you’re doing just fine.
Meanwhile, this cutter was excellent, posting a .240 wOBA and .051 ISO against. Like most of his other pitches, it wasn’t much of a swing-and-miss pitch, but it did exactly what it needed to do—create weak contact.
Will Keuchel be able to keep up this success next year? I’d be surprised if there’s not some regression, considering his 4.57 SIERA (partially as a result of a 4.7% HR/FB rate that will absolutely regress), but if he keeps up the weak contact, I wouldn’t be shocked if he turns in yet another season with an ERA below 4.00.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)
Mayers should be on this list…