Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Extra-Special Diamond 'Cutters'

Sports Illustrated has a big story on the short but impactful history of the cut fastball or, in ultra-modern parlance, the cutter.

The term "cut fastball" came to be around 15 years ago, notes Albert Chen in SI.

No one knows who threw the first cutter. But though the term cut fastball only became part of the baseball vernacular within the last 15 years, a handful of players have been throwing the pitch for generations. (As referred to in the 2004 book The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, longtime major league outfielder and Yale coach Ethan Allen, in a 1953 instructional book, wrote, "[A pitcher] threw a fastball that was unique because it slid or broke like a curve. It was somewhat like a fastball, but he threw over the side of the index finger to a greater extent. This off-center pressure caused the break.")

More recently, the cut fastball became known as the cutter, just as the sinker has become the sink, and the splitter has become the split. (So it stands to reason that the cutter will further see its name truncated, and become the "cut." Give it a year.)

The cutter has become the money pitch not only for its most famous practicioner, Mariano Rivera, but starters who've redefined themselves, such as Dan Haren, Roy Halladay and Josh Beckett. (It's fitting that the cutter is a "money" pitch; in the bizarro Russo-Cockney language spoken in A Clockwork Orange, "cutter" was the word for money, as in "Could you spare some cutter, me brother?")

Speaking of nouveau baseball shorthand, Chen's SI story introduced another interesting term: velo, short for velocity, as in, the speed with which a pitcher hurls a ball toward the plate.

Chen writes:

"Guys like Haren that used to throw 94 but are now throwing 90, 91, they throw a cutter because it makes the 91-mph fastball seem like 94," says A's shortstop Cliff Pennington. "Haren's is just so hard to pick up and distinguish from his slider-it's got less break but the velo is harder, so you see fastball and you swing and it breaks enough to miss. If you see the spin on it and you think breaking ball, then you're late."

Velo is much better known as a cycling term; a velodrome is an indoor cycling course, Velo News covers competitive cycling, NYC is a place to buy expensive bikes, and Velo Gear is where you buy those funky bike shoes and the rubber shorts.
[Haren pic: SI]

No comments: