Each spring we hear about pitchers working on a new pitch. Last season we saw a number of Rays experimenting with a change-up. I wouldn't be surprised if the cut fastball--or cutter-- takes on that role in the 2010 camp. In total, five Rays pitchers threw cutters with regularity last season. This includes: Andy Sonnanstine, James Shields, Jason Isringhausen, Russ Springer and the king of Rays' cutters, Lance Cormier (48.7% usage). We also know that Jeff Niemann briefly dabbled with a cut fastball.
In recent weeks, we've talked about the cutter and Andy Sonnanstine. Most (myself included) saw Andy Sonnanstines' 15 percent increase in cutters last season and figured that was part of his problem last season. In reality, the cutter, according to his pitch values. was his best pitch (-0.15 wCT/C). I'm still not sure that is a reasonable defense for the usage since he was bad across the board.
In addition to the incumbent group of pitchers, I would expect the cutter to be part of new Rays closer, Rafael Soriano's spring experimentation.
Soriano, 30, introduced a cut-fastball into his arsenal for the first time (according to fangraphs) in 2009. While relying heavily on his fastball (73.7%) and his slider (22.5%), he did go to the cutter on occasion (3.6%). Small sample size rules apply, but in the small dose we did see Soriano's cutter it was a pretty good pitch.
With a wCT/C of 4.46, the cutter rated as Soriano's best pitch according to pitch values. Again, this is skewed by the small sample size. Using the pitch f/x database at texasleaguers.com, we can get a little more info on the pitch.
This database identifies 181 pitches from Soriano as cut fastballs. The pitch went for a strike 72.4% of the time. It induced a swing and a miss 13.5% of the time; this is good. I figured that most of his cutters would come inside to lefties, but that assumption was wrong. Click on the charts below, and you can see that Soriano used the pitch much more against righties with a lot of movement towards the outer half of the plate.
Regardless of the batters handiness, Soriano still got equal swings and misses (13.2% vs. LHB, 13.6% vs. RHB).
Admittedly, I'm probably looking too much into this due to a slow news cycle. Even if Soriano does experiment with a cutter in spring, that doesn't mean it will continue once games start to count. However, we know spring is the prime time for established veterans like Soriano to work on new pitches against live hitters. Maybe the ol' dog could learn a new trick.