What exactly is Carlos Torres’ off-speed pitch?

That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

And that’s how Shakespeare ties into Carlos Torres. It’s time to take a look at Torres and his nasty off-speed pitch, which seems to me to be a slider. But if you go to his FanGraphs page, it shows him throwing four pitches – fastball, cutter, curve and change. Not a slider in sight, or so it would seem. Their breakdown shows 39.7% fastballs, 42.1% cutters, 15.6% curves, 2.6% changes and 0.4% unknown.

Meanwhile, MetsBlog declared that Torres, “throws about 30 percent cutters and 30 percent sliders.”

In his first start of the year, BrooksBaseball broke it down this way:

49 cutters
20 fastballs
6 curves
3 changes
2 sliders
1 sinker

For the same game, TexasLeaguers had this breakdown:

25 sliders
21 fastballs
19 cutters
8 changes
6 curves
1 two-seamer

So, what the heck is Torres’ off-speed pitch? Before we get to that it’s important to note that classifying pitches is just as much art as science. It’s not like each pitch comes with a certificate of authenticity, telling what it is at it crosses the plate. The math whizzes look at many factors, such as the horizontal and vertical movement of the pitches, to come up with their classification. Which helps explain how one man’s slider is another person’s cutter.

Last year David Laurila of FanGraphs did an article on identifying cutters versus sliders that was made up of quotes from two major league pitching coaches. Here are a couple of quotes from that piece, which is well worth clicking on to read in its entirety.

St. Claire: “For me, a cutter is a fastball that’s moving. It runs in on that left-handed hitter’s hands. There is velocity to it, and there is no spin to the ball that you can pick up. A slider has spin and usually a tight dot to it.”

McDowell: “From a slider standpoint, it’s arm angle. More times than not it’s a lower arm slot. If you’re talking about curveball and slider arm slots, a curveball is more of an over-the-top delivery and a slider is a little lower.” … “The cutter isn’t determined by whether you have a slider or a curveball arm slot. I think you can throw a cutter from pretty much any arm slot.”

In addition to the differences in velocity and arm angle, my take is that a cutter should stay on the same plane and have late movement. Meanwhile, a slider should have more movement throughout the trip to the plate and should go through multiple planes.

Perhaps no one in history has been more famous than Mariano Rivera for throwing the cutter. Here’s a gif of him in action on July 12th against the Twins. BrooksBaseball classified each of the nine pitches he threw in the outing as a cutter.

Meanwhile, here’s Torres in his first start against the Pirates. This is the second pitch to Pedro Alvarez in the second inning, which BrooksBaseball also classified as a cutter.

Torres’ pitch has much earlier break than Rivera’s and also goes down in the zone while Rivera’s stays on the same plane. That’s why I think it’s a slider.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t make any difference what Torres, the PITCHf/x guys or we call it – the pitch has been extremely useful for Torres and explains how this 30-year-old journeyman has had such great success this season.

In the process he’s come out smelling like a rose.

3 comments for “What exactly is Carlos Torres’ off-speed pitch?

  1. NormE
    July 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Brian, very interesting article.
    It seems to me that location and speed variance are just as important as the slider/cutter/curve/fastball,change-up designation. With some pitchers (not named Mariano Rivera) it’s how they set up the batter. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing that a certain hitter can’t hit that
    particular pitcher’s fastball, etc.
    I think that some of the announcers sneak a peak at the radar gun readings before deciding how to classify a certain pitch.
    Your “bottom line” comment sums it up very well.

  2. Za
    July 24, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I think in general, it’s a cutter since it doesn’t have the same kind of depth or horizontal movement as you would get from a slider, and from what I’ve seen, it’s thrown right around 90 MPH. Harvey and Wheeler can hit those kinds of speeds with the slider but I doubt that Torres could. That said, his fastball, cutter, curve combination has looked downright Halladayan in its execution. I’m excited to have him back in the bullpen, actually, since we have more need there than in the starting rotation. If his success allows us to trade a guy, though, that’s fine too.

    I have to say Sandy and his front office have done a much better job this year than last with their bullpen – Hawkins and Atchison have held their own (when healthy, in Atchison’s case) and Torres has been lockdown. Even Lyon put up fairly respectable peripheral stats before his stretch at the end sealed his fate.

    I can totally understand why those 9 of 10 baseball execs/scouts polled by the NY Daily News would prefer to watch the Mets over the Yankees right now.

    • July 24, 2013 at 11:41 am

      Thanks for chiming in, Za!

      It would not surprise me in the slightest if Torres regularly threw both a slider and cutter. However, I refuse to believe that the pitch in the GIF from the article is a cutter and my personal belief is that there are more sliders.

      According to TexasLeaguers, Torres’ average FB velocity this year is 90.6, his average cutter is 88.5 and his average slider is 87.4 this season. They have him with 142 fastballs, 140 cutters and 60 sliders.

      As for the bullpen, the results have certainly been much better and combined with the fact that they were all low-cost additions, it’s been very nice. However, I’m not going to fault Alderson for the poor performance last year by Ramon Ramirez and Frank Francisco. Both of those guys had pitched much better recently than what they delivered for the Mets in 2012. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast with the majority of relievers — very little certainty.

      I’ll blame Alderson for sinking too much money in the pen in 2012 but that’s a different story.

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