April 11, 2013
One of the weird trends about the San Francisco Giants the past year has been the downfall of Tim Lincecum and the rise of Barry Zito. Everyone knows Zito's story. He was given a huge contract by the Giants in 2007, sucked, left off the playoff roster in 2010, injured most of the year in 2011 which gave way to Ryan Vogelsong's rise, and somehow made a comeback in 2012 besting Justin Verlander in game 1 of the World Series. Zito has continued to pitch well into 2012 and there has to be a reason for this, right? Well there is, he's mastered the art of the cut fastball.
I've always joked that a cut fastball is for pitchers that can't throw hard. It's one of the reasons why I always shake my head at Brian Wilson because he threw a cutter. A cutter should be thrown by someone who can't throw hard. Wilson could throw hard fastballs but still insisted on throwing a cutter.
Look at Cliff Lee's velocity. Lee tops his fastball out around 92MPH. So what pitch does Lee throw the most besides a 2-seam fastball? You got it's a cut fastball. You see there's a way around the system for pitchers when velocity drops. Mariano Rivera figured this out years ago. When velocity drops master the art of the cutter.
I bring this up because so far this season Zito has given up zero runs while throwing the cutter 20% of the time according to Texas Leaguers. And it's actually been his hardest thrown ball at a whopping 83 MPH so far. When you look at this graph (look for FC) you'll see Zito is locating the cutter up in the zone.
been at 67% with a whiff rate at 10%. The in play percentage is at 13% though compared to his four-seam fastball which is at 44%. So what does this all mean? Zito is catching batters looking at the cut fastball. Batters aren't swinging at it and aren't putting into play. This explains why his FIP is currently at 2.83.
Now can we expect this all season? Of course not. Zito's BABIP is at .244 and he's walking almost one full batter less than his career average. He'll regress to the mean eventually. What we can get excited about though is that Zito has seemed to master a pitch that can get him out of jams. An out pitch when everything looks down. A pitch that batters don't swing at.
And I haven't even talked about Zito's great plate appearances............