The 5 Best Cutters of 2023

The pitchers with the 5 best cutters in baseball last year.

What’s up, everybody!

I’m in the midst of releasing my annual pitch review series where I take a look back at the five best pitches of each pitch type from 2023, as ranked by PLV! Today, I’m taking a look at the five best cutters from last year.

If you’d like a closer look at what this series is about, check out the first article in the series on the five best changeups of 2023. Also, check out my other articles in the series:

And if you’d like an in-depth primer on what PLV is and how it works, check it out here.

Anyway, let’s dive into the five best cutters of 2023!


5. Emmanuel Clase



If you’re talking about the best cutters around, it’s hard not to mention Emmanuel Clase. He was on the list of the five best cutters of 2022, and here he is yet again, and with good reason—this pitch is great.

It’s Clase’s most-thrown pitch, thrown 67% of the time, and it’s nasty. Coming in at 99 MPH on average with 10 inches of total break (good for 82nd percentile in the league) and tons of spin (2,635 RPM, good for 92nd percentile in the league), Clase’s cutter worked beautifully last year, turning in a 32.4% chase rate, 13.8% swinging-strike rate, and a 30.7% CSW, all of which are above-average numbers for cutters.

Clase has pretty good command of this pitch, locating it in the zone 53.4% of the time last year and mostly locating it high and inside to hitters.

While Clase wasn’t afraid to use his cutter as a putaway pitch in a two-strike situation, his main strikeout pitch was his slider which posted solid swing-and-miss numbers last year, though Clase had a habit of making mistakes with the pitch, posting a 13.7% mistake rate last year which is notably worse than average.

It was a slight step backward for Clase from an ERA perspective last year. In 2021 and 2022 he posted sub-1.50 ERAs (which is insane) but instead posted a 3.22 ERA last year and also saw a drop in his strikeout rate to 21.2% down from 28.4% the year before, largely driven by his slider being less effective than it was in the past.

Regardless, Clase is fun to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of season he turns in this year.


4. Ryne Nelson



After impressing in three starts in 2022, Ryne Nelson got to start 27 games for the Diamondbacks last year and was…less than impressive. Through 144 innings, Nelson posted a 5.31 ERA with a 5.07 FIP and 5.28 xERA alongside a measly 15.5% strikeout rate.

Nelson relies heavily on his four-seam fastball, throwing it 55% of the time last year, and luckily for him the pitch works fairly well. It comes in at 94.4 MPH on average and Nelson gets good extension (6.7 feet) and very good induced vertical break (17.3 inches) on the pitch, I just wish he’d locate it high in the zone more. A 49.1% hiLoc isn’t going to do it, and I think the fastball would be even better if he kept it up there.

But anyways, the cutter—that was Nelson’s second most-thrown pitch last year and it worked beautifully. The pitch came in around 85.5 MPH on average and had a good bit of horizontal movement to it, with 4.6 inches of induced horizontal break, good for 85th percentile in the majors.

Typically, Nelson located the pitch low and away to hitters and did a good job of limiting hard contact with the pitch, posting a 38.5% ICR on the cutter, which is pretty solid.

Nelson’s problem is he doesn’t have a big strikeout pitch, but I really feel like his slider could be that if he used it more (please use it more Ryne). It’s got a ton of horizontal break on it (13.6 inches of induced horizontal break, good for 91st percentile in the league among sliders) and was exceptional at limiting hard contact with a 23.7% ICR and .258 wOBA against.

If he starts using that more and making that his putaway pitch alongside his solid slider and very good cutter, you could see Ryne Nelson turn in a much better season this year than last year.


3. Zach Eflin



After many seasons of being a pretty mediocre starting pitcher, Zach Eflin turned things around in a big way after joining the Rays and posted a career-best season with a 3.50 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 26.5% strikeout rate, and an astounding 3.4% walk rate.

Here’s how wild of a season Eflin had last year—he threw the ball in the zone quite a lot (47.6% of the time, 75th percentile in the league), which makes sense given how low his walk rate was. You’re not going to have a walk rate under 4% if you’re throwing the ball outside the zone a ton.

But while Eflin threw the ball in the strike zone a lot, hitters had just a 36.1% ICR against him, good for 82nd percentile in the majors. One would think if you’re throwing the ball in the strike zone a lot, you’re going to give up hard contact more frequently, but Eflin was able to limit that.

This cutter is a large reason why Eflin was so good. He threw it just over a quarter of the time but threw it early in counts basically all the time (80.9% of the time actually). He kept it in the zone 61.8% of the time, which is exceptionally high, and as a result, he was able to get a lot of called strikes on the pitch, leading to a 23.2% called strike rate, good for 92nd percentile in the majors.

Hitters were able to make some contact on it though, with a .382 wOBA against, but he was able to limit most hard contact with just a 34.5% ICR.

The cutter mixed well with Eflin’s curveball, which was an excellent putaway pitch, sporting a 44.8% chase rate, 19% swinging-strike rate, and a 32.1% CSW, all elite numbers. And hitters couldn’t do much with the curveball either, as they had just a 34.9% ICR and .231 wOBA against it.

Eflin’s cutter/curveball combo makes for excellent secondary pitches behind his sinker. The sinker has some (mostly minor) flaws to it, but Eflin’s approach worked beautifully last year and it’s reasonable to expect more of the same this year.


2. Ryan Yarbrough



After spending his whole career to that point with the Rays, Ryan Yarbrough started last season with the Royals and eventually got traded to the Dodgers. The Fratty Pirate spent the majority of the year working out of the bullpen, though he did log nine starts, but ultimately his results weren’t the best, sporting a 4.52 ERA and 4.39 FIP over 89.2 innings with a 17.8% strikeout rate.

Yarbrough’s game is all about command—he throws sub-90 MPH sinkers, cutters, and curveballs all around the edge of the zone, and for the most part, it can work. This cutter, which he threw about a quarter of the time last year, was probably his best pitch.

It comes in reeeeaaaaal slow at 84.2 MPH on average with a good bit of vertical break on it and very little spin, and Yarbrough likes to throw it in 0-0 counts to get an early strike. He typically throws the pitch high and inside to hitters and is pretty good at keeping it in the zone.

It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch by any stretch, it’s all about stealing early strikes and limiting hard contact, and that’s exactly what the cutter did. Last year, opposing hitters had a 25.3% ICR against the pitch, good for the 90th percentile in the league, and a .310 wOBA against it as well.

Yarbrough’s putaway pitch was typically his curveball, which worked out pretty well too, logging a 42.3% chase rate, 22.1% swinging-strike rate, and a 30.7% CSW alongside a decent 40.3% ICR and a .292 wOBA against.

Generally speaking, Yarbrough’s approach is fine. He’s going to give up a good bit of contact because of how much he throws in the zone, and sometimes that contact isn’t going to turn out well, but for the most part, he’s a perfectly fine pitcher. The Dodgers may elect to give him some starts, but unfortunately due to his lack of strikeouts, he’s got pretty limited fantasy value.


1. J.P. France



J.P. France’s cutter works beautifully (I would hope so, given he’s number one on this list), and that plus his other secondary pitches helped propel him to a solid season last year, pitching to a 3.83 ERA over 23 starts and 136.1 innings. But if you start to dig into his peripherals, that’s where things get dicey—a 4.78 xERA and a 4.66 FIP alongside a pretty measly 17.4% strikeout rate and a mediocre 8.1% walk rate.

But that’s not because of this pitch. France used his cutter in a similar manner to Yarbrough, throwing it early in counts, mostly glove-side, though he tended to move it up and down the zone a bit more than Yarbrough did, and he kept it in the zone pretty consistently.

It did log some decent swing-and-miss numbers, with a 30.8% chase rate and 12% swinging-strike rate, and that combined with a rock-solid 33.3% ICR and an 8.6% home-run-to-fly-ball rate is why this pitch is rated so highly. It got some good whiffs and was good at limiting hard contact.

France also added in a curveball, changeup, and slider here and there and they all worked relatively well—the curveball was a really solid swing-and-miss pitch—but where France struggled was with his fastball.

France threw his fastball 43% of the time last year and it just wasn’t especially great. It’s a high-spin pitch, which is cool, but it only comes in around 93 MPH on average with poor extension and mediocre induced vertical break, and hitters teed off on it last year to the tune of a 44.7% ICR and a .382 wOBA against it.

If your most-thrown pitch is getting annihilated like that, it’s rarely good. Luckily, France’s secondary pitches were able to make up for his bad fastball, but France is going to have to improve that fastball to be good consistently.

Feature image by Michael Packard (@artbymikep on Twitter) / Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson & Cliff Welch / Icon Sportswire

Ben Palmer

Senior columnist at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan, also a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music, watch way too many movies, and collect way too many records.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login