With the help of modern technology accessible to everyone, any baseball fan can pick up on adjustments made by players and pitchers alike. Whether it be a change in batted ball tendencies or reliance on different pitches, anyone can pick up on them. @mlbpitchclass is a Twitter account that tweets out anytime a pitcher adds a new pitch to their arsenal. With the many new weapons pitchers have picked up in 2021, two of them stand above the rest in how effective they’ve been. This can be measured by batted ball statistics, strikeout numbers, usage, and other variables. The two most effective new pitches in baseball are intriguing and open the door for many other questions.
Sean Newcomb- Cutter
It seems like just yesterday Sean Newcomb was a top pitching prospect in the Angels organization getting traded with Erick Aybar to the Braves for Andrelton Simmons. Later showing signs of a potential future starter for Atlanta before getting moved to the bullpen in 2019. Newcomb is currently in AAA Gwinnett as his 5.82 ERA hasn’t exactly been helping the big league club. However, there is a silver lining. Newcomb debuted a cutter this year that serves as his 2nd most frequently used pitch. At 24.3%, Newcomb has relied on his cutter more than most pitchers would usually count on a new pitch, and it’s easy to see why. Hitters are 4-25 on Newcomb’s cutter with only one extra-base hit, a hustle double by Lourdes Gurriel Jr that could’ve been a single with someone else running. Of the 93 pitchers to have at least 25 plate appearances ending on a cutter, Newcomb ranks 7th in AVG against (.160), 7th in SLG against (.200), and 5th in wOBA against (.198). On top of all that, his expected statistics do him the same favors. He ranks 4th in xBA (.170), 2nd in xSLG (.198), and T-2nd in xwOBA (.203).
Newcomb has a very unique attack on hitters. In 2021, 20.9% of all pitches thrown by him have been high and inside on the left-handed part of the box. This is the 2nd highest percentage among the 401 pitchers that have thrown at least 400 pitches this year. Being that this location isn’t actually in the strike zone, Newcomb hasn’t had ideal results when going there. 75.5% of those pitches have been balls, and 69.4% of them have been fastballs, his most frequently used pitch. That being said, it is clear that Newcomb is better off relying on his cutter more than his fastball moving forward.
Newcomb is able to locate his cutter very well. Of the 114 cutters he has thrown this year, 66.7% of them have been in the low part of the strike zone or below the strike zone. This is nearly double the league average and good for 12th among the 122 pitchers who have thrown at least 50 cutters.
It would be really interesting to see what Sean Newcomb could do if he reinvented himself as someone who primarily threw their cutter. He’s seen a lot of success from it in his first year throwing it, and it would be a nice replacement for his 4-seam fastball, which he has struggled with this year. Not much has been reported, but I could see him easing himself into becoming that and throwing his cutter as his main pitch in 2022.
Lance McCullers Jr.- Slider
Ever since Lance McCullers Jr burst onto the scene in 2015, he has been one of the premiere finesse pitchers in baseball, with one of his career highlights being the time he threw 24 consecutive curveballs to send the Astros to the World Series in 2017. He has added to that arsenal with a lethal slider which, like Newcomb’s cutter, is his 2nd most used pitch. Not only is it arguably his best pitch, but it is one of the most dominating sliders in the majors. Run value is a stat on baseball savant that measures how many runs should score based on events. If you’re a pitcher, a lower number equates to a better run value. McCullers is one of just 10 pitchers to a -10 run value or less on sliders. Among the 159 pitchers to have at least 50 PAs end on a slider, McCullers ranks 11th in AVG against (.107), and 6th in SLG against (.131). He has given up one extra-base hit on it, a groundball double. With Newcomb, the takeaways revolved around what he could potentially do if he went all-in on throwing the cutter more. McCullers has seemed to have taken that initiative with his slider as of late.
Throughout the last month of play, and particularly in the month of July, McCullers has transitioned into making his slider his primary pitch. McCullers leads the majors in sliders thrown in the month of July, and he has used it more than any other pitch in his last 2 starts, where he has a 1.93 ERA. Both of those starts were also against teams currently in the playoff picture, the A’s and White Sox. McCullers changed his approach against two great offenses and it worked.
Not only has McCullers recently changed how much he throws his slider, but for the entire season, it seems to be his go-to in 2-strike counts. McCullers has thrown 144 sliders in two-strike counts this season, more than any other pitch in his arsenal. His PutAway% on his slider is 25.7%, which is higher than his sinker and curveball, his two other most frequently used pitches. McCullers clearly saw the results he was initially getting on his slider, so he made the adjustment to throw it more often.
With the reputation the Houston Astros have in recent memory, some may be asking what McCullers’ slider spin rates have looked like throughout the season with the foreign substance policies being implemented mid-season, implying McCullers’ may have been using something. All the data would counter that claim, as McCullers’ spin rates have been steady from April to July on all of his pitches. In fact, the average spin rate on his slider peaked in June, when the crackdown started.
Lance McCullers Jr. and Sean Newcomb have both seen immediate positive results from the pitches they’ve added to their arsenals. McCullers with his slider, and Newcomb on his cutter. The difference between the two is that one of them has made the move to rely more heavily on the new pitch. The results Lance McCullers Jr. has gotten using the slider more could be something that Sean Newcomb could learn from with his cutter. But nonetheless, they have made the most efficient additions to their arsenals this year.