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The 5 Best Cutters of 2021

A look back at the five best cutters from 2021.

Welcome to the pitch review series, where I’m taking a look at the best pitches of each pitch type from 2021. Today, we’re taking a look at the top five cutters from last year!

If you’d like some more details on this series, take a look at the top five changeups article (and also just in case you want to see some pretty awesome changeups). And also check out my top five curveballs article!

Anyways, here are the top five cutters from 2021.

 

5. Luis Garcia

 

After impressing in just 12.1 innings in 2020, Luis Garcia was given a pretty steady spot in the rotation and didn’t disappoint, pitching to a 3.48 ERA, 3.63 FIP, and 26.4% strikeout rate through 28 starts.

The main reasons behind Garcia’s success were his cutter and slider, as both were excellent. If your next thought was that Garcia’s cutter was the weak contact-inducing pitch, and his slider was the wipeout putaway pitch, then you would be strangely wrong. Because it was the opposite!

While Garcia’s slider had a respectable 27.8% chase rate and solid 15.2% SwStr rate, it was nothing compared to his cutter’s 42.8% chase rate and 23% SwStr rate, both of which are top-notch.

And both were great at inducing weak contact. His slider posted a .154 wOBA and .033 ISO against, while his cutter had a .221 wOBA and .144 ISO against.

So where’s the weakness? If you’ve been reading this series, you probably know what I’m about to say — it’s his fastball. His most-thrown pitch by a longshot (he threw it 45% of the time compared to his cutter 23% of the time), it posted a .373 wOBA and .180 ISO against. Not numbers that will kill a pitcher, but not great, either.

 

4. Cal Quantrill

 

Cal Quantrill’s 2021 was an interesting one. The former sixth-overall pick was pretty unimpressive in his rookie season with the Padres, posting a 5.16 ERA through 103 innings, and in August 2020, he was shipped off to Cleveland as part of the Mike Clevinger deal.

Speaking of 2020, Quantrill was suddenly pretty good, pitching to a 2.25 ERA, but it was just three starts and 15 games in relief, so it was easy to dismiss that as a small sample size.

But maybe we shouldn’t have — because through 22 starts and 149.2 total innings in 2021, Cal Quantrill suddenly looked really good, pitching to a 2.89 ERA. Though, much like a bag of chips, that ERA looks nice, but when you open up, you realize it’s mostly air.

The 2.89 ERA came with a pretty pedestrian 19.6% strikeout rate, not to mention a 4.07 FIP and 4.52 SIERA. So what to do with Cal Quantrill?

It seems a big key to Quantrill’s success was the introduction of this cutter — he threw it for the first time last year and it was his best pitch. It didn’t get a lot of chases (which, I don’t always expect cutters to do, depending on how they’re used) but it did post a respectable 12.1% SwStr rate.

What it was really good at was inducing weak contact, posting a .254 wOBA and .124 ISO against, which complemented his sinker pretty well, given it also did a pretty good job of inducing weak contact.

Quantrill’s problem is he doesn’t really have a putaway pitch. There’s his slider, which gets some whiffs but doesn’t get many chases outside the zone, and his changeup and curveball are pretty mediocre pitches at best (though, again, both are good at limiting hard contact).

And on top of that, Quantrill’s four-seamer is pretty bad, posting a .385 wOBA and .233 ISO last year. Honestly, I’d prefer to see him ditch the four-seamer entirely, roll with a sinker/cutter combo, and develop his breaking/offspeed pitches more. I know, that’s a lot, but Quantrill all but ditched his four-seamer in 2020 and it seemed to work. I’d love to see him do it again. Maybe he turns into a low-strikeout but weak-contact guy who’s still able to put up a low ERA.

 

3. Zach Thompson

 

Zach Thompson is a guy I’m very interested in this year. In his rookie season with the Marlins last year, he pitched 75 innings to a pretty solid 3.24 ERA with a 3.69 FIP (though a 4.58 SIERA) and a 21% strikeout rate.

Similar to Quantrill, that ERA is impressive, but it doesn’t come with an equally interesting strikeout rate. But what differentiates someone like Thompson from someone like Quantrill is that Thompson actually does have a pretty solid strikeout pitch.

His primary pitch is this cutter, which worked wonderfully last year, posting a solid 30.3% chase rate and 10.1% SwStr rate alongside a .229 wOBA and .099 ISO against. In other words, it got some chases and whiffs, and even when hitters did make contact, they didn’t do much with it.

Now, the strikeout pitch I mentioned — Thompson actually has two that seem to work fairly well. There’s his curveball, which posted a decent 31.6% chase rate and a good 15.3% SwStr rate, but then there’s his changeup, which posted an excellent 21.1% SwStr rate (though it didn’t get a lot of chases).

Thompson’s biggest problem is (everybody say it with me) his terrible fastball. His second-most thrown pitch last year, Thompson’s fastball posted a miserable .429 wOBA and .296 ISO against. It got annihilated when he threw it; it’s gross.

Thompson seems like a guy who, to me, is ripe for a pitch mix adjustment that could turn him into a pretty solid starter (not to take away the already-pretty-good season he had last year).

 

2. Aaron Civale

 

It’s been an up-and-down three years for Aaron Civale. In 2019, in 10 starts, he was awesome with a 2.34 ERA. In 2020, in 12 starts, he was terrible, with a 4.74 ERA. And in 2021, in 21 starts, he was pretty decent, with a 3.84 ERA.

Civale gets pretty interesting when you dive into his repertoire, despite the pretty disappointing strikeout numbers he’s had throughout his career. First off, there’s this:

Which is pretty cool. Civale can locate his pitches really well. And when you look at the pitches he’s throwing, there are a couple gems in there.

Civale throws six total pitches, with his cutter being his primary pitch (and a good one at that). It’s not a strikeout pitch, but it’s really good at inducing weak contact, posting a .240 wOBA and .103 ISO against last year.

Then there’s his curveball, which posted a 37.5% chase rate and 14.8% SwStr rate, and his splitter, which had a 34.8% chase rate and 13.6% SwStr rate, all of which are really solid numbers.

The problem? It’s twofold — first, there’s his fastball, which was downright awful last year, posting a .394 wOBA and .326 ISO against. And there’s his slider, which posted a .346 wOBA and .232 ISO against, without the strong swing-and-miss numbers to make those bad contact numbers worth it.

I’m just spitballing here, and it might not work at all, but I do kind of wonder what would happen if Civale just simplified things a bit. Instead of having such a broad repertoire, maybe whittle it down to the pitches that are working — namely his cutter, curveball, and splitter.

I have no idea if that would work, but I’d be interested to see what would happen if he did it.

 

1. Corbin Burnes

 

If you’ve been paying attention to Corbin Burnes over the past couple of years, you probably already guessed he’d be at the top of this list.

Burnes’s cutter is arguably the biggest reason Burnes has become the Cy Young pitcher he is. It’s a phenomenal pitch, posting a 32.1% chase rate, 15.1% SwStr rate, a .281 wOBA against, and a .092 ISO against last year.

And on top of that, Burnes has developed his curveball into one of the better ones in the league (it was featured in my top five curveballs article), giving him a really good putaway pitch and creating a pretty lethal combo with his cutter for hitters.

 

Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)

Ben Palmer

Managing editor at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan (which can be....painful at times) and a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music and watch way too many movies.

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