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Alex Colome’s Breaking Ball

Cutter, slider — whatever you call it, it’s one of the best pitches in MLB.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays
Alex Colome winds up
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Eno Sarris posted 2016’s Best Pitches By Result at Fangraphs (ranking relief pitcher offerings) and making an appearance in the top 15 is Alex Colome’s cutter. Colome’s cutter is one damn sexy pitch.

First, what the heck is this pitch?

There doesn’t seem to be consensus on what Colome throws.

Whenever Colome or Jim Hickey talk about the pitch they simply call it a “breaking ball.” This isn’t uncommon when you talk to Rays pitchers as the team doesn’t box pitches into classifications.

Fangraphs classifies his breaking ball as a slider, but Brooks Baseball calls it a cutter. Sarris also calls it a cutter, and Colome’s, which generates an absolutely absurd 24.3% swinging strike rate, is the only cutter to make the list.

How good is it?

On the Fangraphs leaderboard Colome’s breaking ball ranks as the sixth overall slider value among relievers at +11.7 runs behind Dellin Betances, Kyle Barraclough, Ken Giles, Andrew Miller, and Joe Blanton. His 2.89 runs per 100 pitches ranks ninth and higher than all the before mentioned relievers with high value sliders.

Colome’s fastball was roughly average, only worth +0.8 runs for the season (+0.18 per 100). His breaking ball does the heavy lifting and is an elite pitch.

How is he using it?

After transitioning to the bullpen in July 2015, Colome kept his four pitch mix that he used as a starter. He threw 48.88% fastballs, 23.83% cutters, 13.99% curves, and 13.30% change-ups.

In 2016 Colome ditched his two least successful secondary pitches and became a two pitch pitcher. He threw 51.86% fastballs and 46.61% cutters with about 1.5% “other” classified as curves and change-ups. It’s basically a 50/50 fastball/cutter split.

This move makes a lot of sense as the cutter was his most highly used secondary pitch and also got the best results in 2015. He got an even more absurd 32.61% swinging strike rate in 2015 on the pitch. Now they know the pitch is coming nearly 50% of the time instead of 25%, but it doesn’t really matter. Batters only hit .143 with a .036 ISO off his cutter.

The success of the cutter plays off his 95.54 MPH average fastball. His 89.46 MPH breaking ball sees 3.3 more inches of horizontal movement and 7.41 less inches of vertical movement.

The development of one truly elite pitch helps explain why Colome has thrived since being moved to the bullpen. The Rays have doubled down on Colome’s breaking ball in 2016 and that looks like it was the right move.