Andy Pettitte and the case of the missing cutter

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(Originally syndicated from Gotham Hub Baseball).

Data for determining the amount of pitches thrown by a starter has been available since 2008 and finding out the amount of cut fastballs thrown by Andy Pettitte is readily available for anyone.

In the last two starts, Pettitte’s cutter has not been effective. He had thrown it 111 times in his first four starts but just 27 times in the last two. In the last two starts, Pettitte has not made it past five innings and has allowed 11 runs and 14 hits in 9 1/3 innings while only getting five strikeouts.

Against the Astros in a 9-1 loss on Monday, Pettitte, gave up three hits on the pitch which he threw 17 times. Five days later against Oakland, Pettitte didn’t give up any hits on the pitch but only threw it 10 times.

When he gave up the home run to Yoenis Cespedes, Pettitte seemed intent on getting the fastball to move. Instead the ball drifted over the plate and the result was a long two-run home run

He threw it that few times because there was no sense of having a feel for it. That led to him allowing four walks and two home runs on either two or four-seam fastballs.

“It’s real difficult,” Pettitte said. “My cutter is non-existent right now, so a pitch in certain counts that I want to go to isn’t there, so it’s awfully difficult. When I do throw a good one and trust it and the next one’s a bad pitch, it’s hard to trust it again. I have to figure that out. … It’s something I didn’t think would ever happen at this stage, and I felt I let everyone down, so I need to get it right and fix it as soon as possible.”

Since data became available to determine a game-by-game breakdown of pitch type, Pettitte has thrown 10 or fewer cutters six times but judging by the game logs, it seems that each instance has been a different reason.

On June 19, 2009 at Florida, Pettitte threw seven cutters but allowed one run and three hits in seven innings.

The next instance was July  6, 2009 against Toronto when he threw just seven cutters.That time, he allowed six runs, five hits and five walks in six innings.

On May 5, 2010 against Baltimore he allowed one run and six hits but pitched just five innings due to an elbow injury. In that start, he threw the pitch 10 times.

On July 18, 2010, Pettitte only stuck around for 2 1/3 innings and threw it nine times against Tampa Bay. That day Pettitte strained his groin and wound up missing two months.

On Sept. 24, 2010, in his second start off the disabled list, Pettitte gave up seven runs and 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings. That day he threw just seven cutters.

Pettitte isn’t hurt but being someone who is his harshest critic, Pettitte is frustrated, baffled or mystified about the sudden departure of his famous cutter.

“Everything you want to try and do as a starting pitcher, I’m not able to do right now,” Pettitte said. “I had no command of my fastball, couldn’t really hit with my off-speed stuff the way I wanted to. It was just a battle. You wonder what’s going on in the last start and then you follow this one up. … Something’s going on during the games.”

That something is a mystery to Pettitte. It’s a mystery to anyone watching. There isn’t any indication that there’s an injury. It’s more of a matter of poor execution on the pitch

There’s just the belief that the cutter will return and that two starts without it is long enough.

“It’s going sideways,” Pettitte said. “Last time it was backing up. I love the battle, I would just like to have a little bit of an idea where the ball is going.”

So would the Yankees before the case turns cold. And when the cutter returns, Pettitte will probably issue comments like this one:

“My cutter hadn’t been that good,” Pettitte said. “And when it doesn’t do what you want it to do, you kind of shelve it.”

That came on July 20, 2009 when he the pitch 20 times in a 2-1 win over the Orioles. Pettitte might not throw 36 the next time out in Kansas City but if he has a better feel for the pitch, seeing 15 to 20 is not unreasonable.

Photo credit: (May 4, 2013 - Source: Nick Laham/Getty Images North America).

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