A look at Carmen Mlodzinski's reworked cutter

Pittsburgh Pirates' reliever Carmen Mlodzinski is returning to the Majors with a newly reworked cutter.
Jun 30, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Carmen Mlodzinski
Jun 30, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Carmen Mlodzinski / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently recalled standout 2023 rookie reliever Carmen Mlodzinski from Triple-A in hopes of steadying an unsteady bullpen. Mlodzinski pitched well in the second half with a 2.22 ERA, 3.34 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP after the All-Star break. But Mlodzinski opened 2024 on the IL and was then optioned to Triple-A. While Mlodzinski is returning to the Majors, he's also bringing a newly reworked cutter alongside him.

Mlodzinski's cutter was the worst pitch of his arsenal last year. Although opponents only had a .389 slugging percentage against the pitch, they still had a mediocre .278 batting average and .330 wOBA when he threw it. However, underlying numbers were significantly less kind to his cutter. Batters had a 92.3 MPH exit velocity and a hard hit rate over 50% at 53.3% against the pitch. His xwOBA on his cutter was approaching .400 at .387, while his xBA was .365.

Now, his cutter was more of a secondary pitch that he only used 13.1% of the time, but overall, it still seemed to give him some trouble. But Mlodzinski's cutter has looked a lot different while pitching in the minor leagues this season. He's throwing the pitch slower. He sat 91-92 MPH in 2023 but is now sitting around 89-90 MPH. The movement profile is also different.

Mlodzinski's cutter averaged out at 25.7 inches of vertical drop and 0.9 inches of horizontal break in 2023. But now, he's sitting at 27.4 inches of drop and 1.4 inches of break. His cutter has induced a whiff rate of 44%. While this is still the whiff rate he's produced with the pitch in the minor leagues, he only had a 23.3% whiff rate with the pitch in the bigs last year and apparently didn't record a single swing and miss with the same pitch last year in the minor leagues.

Carmen Mlodzinski's new cutter could help him and the Pirates out.

Mlodzinski's cutter closely resembles that of Philadelphia Phillies' reliever Matt Strahm. Although he throws it slightly softer than Mlodzinski does, they both have almost identical movement with this breaking pitch. Another Phillies pitcher who has a similar cutter is Aaron Nola. He also throws the pitch slightly slower than Mlodzinski does but has 27.2 inches of drop and 1.7 inches of break. Last year, Max Scherzer also threw an almost identical cutter, sitting 88.9 MPH with 27.4 inches of drop and 1.5 inches of break.

While Mlodzinski is inducing weaker contact, as his opponents have only managed an 89.1 MPH exit velocity, the results haven't been great. Opponents still have a .476 xwOBA against his cutter, as well as a .666 xSLG% and 12.5% barrel rate against this pitch. But take these numbers with a grain of salt. With how many swings and misses he's gotten, batters have only managed to put eight balls in play. Also, all the aforementioned pitchers who have similar cutters to Mlodzinski's new one have induced good results with their cutters.

Mlodzinski has sacrificed some velocity off his cutter, but it's led to a lot more movement. While the results haven't been great, he's inducing weaker contact and getting swings and misses 44% of the time. If he can do anything like that, he'll find success with his newly reworked cutter in the Major Leagues this year.