Some pitchers throw a fastball that has natural cut. What we mean by this is that their standard fastball–which is supposed to be straight–instead cuts. At a high level, this can help a pitcher be successful if he harnesses it; Mariano Rivera is a great example. However, for amateur pitchers, “natural cut” really just means that they don’t know how to properly throw a fastball, and in this article I’ll explain why natural cut is NOT a good thing.
First: “Natural” Is Misleading. Natural Cut = Accidental Cut.
The term “natural” typically implies that it something is good and proper, derived from the earth in a wholesome way.
This is not the case here.
Natural, in the sense of a cutter in baseball, greatly misleads coaches and young pitchers. When a pitcher intends to throw a “standard” fastball with cutting action (movement to the gloveside), he has applied sidespin to the ball accidentally, which is what creates the cutting action.
Basically, pitchers are trying to throw fastballs but accidentally throw cut fastballs. This is because they are accidentally slipping to the side of the ball as the apply their arm speed to it, thus creating cutting action.
Why Accidental Cutters are Bad for Young Pitchers
What pro pitchers do is often not applicable to how amateurs should be developed, and this is one such case. If a pro pitcher suddenly finds that his fastball cuts “naturally,” it can be utilized in a positive way. For pitchers who throw below 85mph, however, cutters are not overly effective pitches, especially not when thrown accidentally.
When ANY pitcher accidentally cuts the ball, however, it means they have either a fault in their mechanics, grip, or hand action. They attempt to put all of their force through the center of the ball, but instead apply some to the side, causing cutting action.
In this article we’ll cover:
- What a fastball is supposed to do
- Why throwing a straight fastball is an essential foundational skill for a pitcher
- What causes cutting action
- Why cutting the ball is really a fastball error
- When it’s a good time to throw a cutter
1. What a Fastball SHOULD Do.
There are three types of fastballs, and all are distinct in their purpose:
If we call one of the fastballs “standard,” it would be the four-seamer. This is the prototypical, “fly-straight, go-fast” pitch. The other two have a purpose and action that is different than a standard four-seamer.
So if we’re saying that throwing a natural cutter is a pitcher’s standard fastball, then that pitcher lacks the ability to throw the ball straight, which is a fundamental, foundational pitch – something that can go where we want it when we need it.
2. Why A Straight Fastball is The Biggest Foundational Pitching Skill
Go out and watch a youth baseball game. The biggest struggle of young pitchers? Yep – throwing the ball over the plate.
If we then, as coaches, ask pitchers who struggle to throw strikes in general to throw fastballs with movement (two-seamers and cutters), we are setting them up for failure. If they can’t throw a straight pitch over the plate, how are they going to throw one that moves?
Throwing strikes is the biggest first goal for a young pitcher. Some can do it, others cannot, and most struggle with finding consistency. The straighter their fastball, the greater chance they can find the strike zone.
But, is this goal in conflict with what pitching coaches want?
Pitching coaches have two main goals:
- Win games
- Teach pitchers skills that help their longterm development
Yet, these goals often conflict:
- Some skills will help them in the long run, but may not help as much today
- Example: throwing a changeup is easier for young hitters to hit than a curveball. Yet, it is an important pitch to develop and learn early, because it takes a long time to hone.
- Other skills may improve ability to win games today while hurting or slowing longterm development
- Example: throwing fastballs that have movement while young may be more difficult for hitters to hit, but make it more difficult for a young pitcher to throw strikes and prove reliable to a team.
In our case, it’s the straight v. moving fastball debate.
- A straight fastball will help young pitchers throw more strikes (good for longterm command), but will be easier to hit (bad short term result).
- A cut fastball *may be harder to hit today, but will hurt a pitcher’s ability to command the zone while reducing velocity on the pitch.
3. Why a Cutter Cuts
Two-seamers move to the arm side in part because of a pitcher’s armslot. Two-seam movement can happen without the pitcher imparting any special spin to the ball.
Cutters, however, are not like this. For the ball to cut (move to the gloveside) it must have sidespin imparted or the ball tilted slightly at release.
Basically, the pitch must get slightly to the side of the ball at release, imparting spin that forces it to cut.
Because of this, cutters always come out 5% or so slower than a 4-seam fastball. Velocity is lost as the pitcher converts some of it into spin by getting to the side of the ball, as just mentioned.
4. Getting to the Side of the Ball = A Fastball Error
If a pitcher is intentionally throwing a cutter, he has to tinker with some combination of his grip, release and hand position to apply less force to the center and more to the side of the ball.
If a pitcher is trying to apply his force through the center (4-seamer) yet does not, and makes the ball cut, he’s basically screwing up the fastball. He loses some speed and accuracy on it.
This is a main reason that “natural” cutters are really just accidental cutters, and this release error can be corrected by fixing a combination of the grip, hand position, or overall mechanics.
Takeaway: good mechanics, grip and hand position will help the pitcher NOT cut the ball accidentally, and it’s an easy fix.
5. Why Slow Cutters Are Ineffective Pitches
Lastly, for pro pitchers who throw 87 or above, their cutters are nothing like cutters thrown by young pitchers with lower velocities.
The cutter was made famous by Mariano Rivera, and one can barely see it cut on TV. This is because true, pro-caliber cutters are thrown so hard that they barely break at all – just a few inches.
But, because they’re VERY hard and don’t break much, the break they do have appears very sudden and sharp. This is why cutters are so hard to hit – they look like fastballs very, very long – so long that by the time a hitter commits to swinging and makes his best guess where to put his barrel, the ball takes a sharp turn and he is powerless to adjust.
The break comes so late and so unexpectedly to a hitter that he just can’t adjust no matter how hard he tries.
Youth Cutters are Junk.
Youth cutters especially, however, just meander across the strike zone – they are neither sharp-breaking, or unexpected. They rather just slowly veer across the zone if thrown to the gloveside. If throw to the pitcher’s arm side, they just “cement-mix” and spin, making them effectively a slower, still-straight fastball. This, again, is junk.
How do I know this? Because I’ve caught tons of them over the years, catching nearly every student over 1000s of pitching lessons. I’ve seen all versions of amateur cutters, and only when a pitcher throws above 85mph do they actually become effective.
Really, a youth cutter is just a slider that doesn’t break, or a fastball that bears slightly to the gloveside of the plate. A two-seamer is a much more effectively pitch for an alternative to a four-seamer because it can have sinking action, which a cutter does not.
A decent two-seamer can result in lots of ground balls, where decent cutters do very little to either get weak contact or ground balls.
Are Cutters Effective For Amateur Pitchers?
I threw one in professional baseball, and it was an effective pitch for me. However, it was terribly difficult to learn and only used for a very narrow range of situations. The cutter should be a pitch learned in high-level college or pro baseball, and only after a pitcher has mastered the ability to command the strike zone in general, throw a straight fastball (no accidental cutters), and command two other secondary pitches (a breaking ball and changeup).
But, what do you think? – db