Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Use the Cutter, Craig

Photo courtesy of Miss Chater

Craig Stammen began a new phase in his big league career last night when he appeared for the first time in his major league career as relief pitcher. The results were a mixed bag. Stammen gave up four hits and one run over two innings while impressively striking out four hitters, including striking out the side in the 7th inning after allowing the first two runners to reach via base hits.

Stammen’s move to the bullpen did not sit well with the right hander, and to be honest, why should it have?

At the time of his demotion to the pen, Stammen was riding a hot streak, posting a 2.37 ERA in his last four starts. Quite frankly, Stammen’s demotion was head scratching at best. John Lannan, who has been shelled throughout the 2010 season, was kept over Craig while posting stats that did not back up the decision making by the Nats brain trust.

While Stammen did not take the news in stride, it did give me a reason to take a look back at Craig’s year to date; what I found was surprising.

May 27, 2010 is a day that forever changed Craig Stammen’s career, and for the better. On that day, Stammen revealed a new pitch, a cut fastball.

Stammen’s cut fastball, also known as a Cutter, is so over powering that he is making major league hitters swing and miss at the pitch an astonishing 22.48% of the time.

Currently the average swinging strike % for a pitcher is 8.4%. To put that in perspective, Stammen’s cutter is nearly three times as likely to produce a swinging strike as the average pitch. It goes without saying that results like that cannot be ignored.

What else stands out when you pour over Craig’s stats is how overpowering his cutter is compared to his other pitches. While his slider and two seam fastball produce better than average swinging strike rates, the rest of his arsenal is well below average. As you can see in the graph below, Craig would be better off sticking with his two seam fastball, cutter and slider from this moment forward.

While swinging strikes are great and all, how did the rest of Stammen’s numbers fair when he switched to throwing a cutter? The results, as one would expect, were positive.

In the nine starts prior to introducing the cutter, Stammen posted a 4-5 mark with a 5.96 ERA and a 4.84 K/9.

In the 11 appearances (10 starts, 1 relief) since introduction the cutter into his repertoire Stammen has posted a 4.30 ERA and a 5.82 K/9.

Now, the downside in all of this is that Craig has also seen his walks increase. While some of his peripherals have taken a hit, the drop of 1.60 runs a game in ERA as well as an increase of nearly one strikeout per nine innings simply cannot be ignored.

Now that I had found a link in Stammen’s performance and the use of the Cutter, I decided to test my theory by how often Craig threw the Cutter in a game. What I found was that when Craig featured his Cutter, he got great results; when he dabbled with it, he found trouble.

So there you have it. Craig Stammen discovered a Cutter, and saw his results increase because of it. It is my hope that the Nationals have figured out that Craig’s Cutter is a special pitch that needs to become a feature in his arsenal. I will leave it up to Pitching Coach Steve McCatty and Catcher Ivan Rodriguez on how best to communicate this to Craig, but I suspect (or at least hope) they’ve already talked to Stammen about game planning and pitch sequencing.

Craig Stammen has all the tools to be a successful major league pitcher; that he just discovered a devastating out pitch will only help his cause.

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