My colleague at Baseballanalytics.org, David Golebiewski, has written a fascinating piece on the upswing of the use of cutters to record strikeouts. One of the things that we discussed was that Red Sox deuce Jon Lester has led all pitchers in strikeouts via the cutter over the last four seasons with 258.
But here's the odd piece of news, despite the increase in recorded strikeouts by pitchers using the cutter, Lester's use of the pitch and his cutter whiffs dropped dramatically last season.
- In 2012, Lester threw 454 cutters and he struck out 45.
- In 2011, Lester threw 798 cutters and he struck out 87.
- In 2010, Lester threw 728 cutters and he struck out 71.
- In 2009, Lester threw 500 cutters and he struck out 41.
- In 2009, Lester threw 330 cutters and he struck out 14.
Over this same five year period, in which Lester recorded 950 strikeouts, he struck out 354 with his fastball and 216 with his curve. Batters have hit the fastball at a .275 pace, the cutter .208, and the curve .189.
Last season, was by far Lester's worst and one must wonder if pitch selection was the reason.
Look at the pitch breakdowns in 2012
Lester fell in love with his sinker but did not find much success with it.
Here are Lester's pitches in 2011
Look how effective his cutter was this season.
Lester in 2010
Another highly effective season for the cutter.
So, what's going on with Lester?
Last August, on ESPN.com Tim Keown wrote
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette doesn't want anyone in his organization throwing the cutter. He thinks the pitch is generally less effective than others -- it helps that Duquette doesn't consider Mariano Rivera's cutter a cutter -- and he believes young pitchers who depend on it would be better served developing a changeup and curve. And, perhaps most importantly, he believes a reliance on the cutter leads to a drop in velocity and a greater risk of injury.
Duquette may be right
- In 2008, Lester's fastball averaged 91.6 mph.
- In 2009, Lester's fastball averaged 93.4 mph.
- In 2010, Lester's fastball averaged 93.5 mph.
- In 2011, Lester's fastball averaged 92.6 mph.
- In 2012, Lester's fastball averaged 92.0 mph.
The question for John Farrell, and Red Sox Nation is whether Jon Lester now can be more of a pitcher if he has a declining fastball and a reduced use of a cutter. So, it could be that Lester probably doesn't want his cutter back this birthday as much he would like his extra-yard-and-a-half on his fastball and an effective sinker.