Home News Carlos Rodón’s cutter developed rapidly thanks to technology. Is that a good...

Carlos Rodón’s cutter developed rapidly thanks to technology. Is that a good thing?

The new year brought a new pitch for Carlos Rodón, as the southpaw began toying with a cutter before the Yankees officially opened camp in mid-February.

Now Rodón, known as a fastball-slider guy, is using the pitch as his No. 3 offering in major league games, throwing it 15.1% of the time prior to Saturday’s start against the Brewers. He’s done so effectively, too, as the pitch has limited opponents to a .125 average and a .125 slugging percentage while garnering a 15.4% strikeout rate, a higher clip than his traditional four-seamer.

While Rodón, who owns a 2.70 ERA over five starts, can still improve his cutter, it’s taken off in mere months.

Such a timeframe would not have been possible at the start of his career.

There are a few reasons for that, Rodón told the Daily News. For one, he said he wasn’t mature or patient enough to learn a new pitch or the science behind it, like proprioception and how his body moves on the mound.

Even if he had been, major league teams lacked the innovations that have expedited the process of learning, designing and developing a new pitch.

“At age 22, it’d be hard to do that, especially without the technology we have now,” said Rodón, who debuted in 2015. “If you took all that away, I don’t know if it’d be as effective.”

Rodón has been in the majors for a decade, which shows how far pitching advancements have come in just one player’s 10-year career.

He said he didn’t start using Rapsodo cameras and radar technology until his third season in the majors. “That wasn’t long ago,” Rodón noted, and that tech has already upgraded.

“That’s not even as good as what TrackMan is now,” the 31-year-old said of a tool that teams use to measure the trajectory and spin rates of a pitch. Edgertronic high-speed cameras are also part of the equation.

“We didn’t have the Edgertronics when I was young. I was throwing bullpens with nothing. I was just throwing a bullpen,” Rodón continued. “It was more eye test than anything.”

Pitching coach Matt Blake said that Edgertronic cameras and TrackMan are the main tools the Yankees use when designing and refining pitches. However, Hawk-Eye also helps with seam orientation.

Altogether, this equipment allows for rapid progress whenever a pitcher wants to learn a new pitch or tweak an existing one.

“Nowadays, we just have more information to accelerate the development process,” Blake told The News. “Just a tighter feedback loop on what the pitch is doing and where it fits in the arsenal. I think a lot of times before it was more like guesswork about what a pitch looked like and what it did. Now I feel like we can accelerate that.

“Getting a TrackMan reading on the pitch and then looking at the high-speed camera to say, ‘Alright, what is the spin actually doing to create that movement? What would the adjustment be?’ And then just rep after rep with that type of feedback loop allows us to accelerate the actual adjustments.”

Back when Aaron Boone was playing, from 1997-2009, such instantaneous information was not available, a fortunate fact for hitters like him.

The manager said the speedy availability of such information is a “huge difference” between his era and the current one, and he believes the Yankees excel when it comes to utilizing it.

“I feel like our pitching group does a really good job of identifying what guys are capable of based on some of that immediate feedback,” Boone said. “You’re able to outfit guys with an arsenal that they should probably have.

“You didn’t really have a way of measuring that other than, ‘Yeah, I think this kind of works for you.’ So that’s one of the areas where pitching has grown so much.”

Of course, the Yankees are not the only team taking advantage of this technology.

Baseball, as an industry, has become obsessed with maximizing velocity, spin and movement, in addition to creating new pitches seemingly out of thin air. Teams and players are chasing this stuff at unprecedented rates in an effort to keep up with the competition.

That’s a fact. Whether they should be, however, is up for debate.

Gerrit Cole raised that point in early April during a long question and answer session focused on elbow injuries, which have plagued pitchers at an alarming rate this season.

“We have the ability to teach more break and teach new pitches,” said the Yankees ace, who is out with elbow inflammation. “We can do it within one month. But what kind of effect does that have on a pitcher going forward? In terms of one year out, two years out, three years out?

“We don’t really know. What we do know is when guys were more healthy, we weren’t able to go into a pitching lab and concoct a new pitch and then use that at a 35% clip for the next six months and only have practiced it two months before we roll it out. We have no data on that. To say that it’s not contributing to people getting hurt, I don’t think it’s an accurate statement. I’m not necessarily saying that it is, but it’s certainly a variable that’s out there.”

Cole, who added a cutter to his repertoire over the previous two seasons, said that other elements could be contributing to injuries, including velo, spin, the pitch clock and recent work stoppages. However, Blake agreed that hastily learning new pitches might be a factor.

“Maybe [a pitcher] can get the pitch to do what it wants, but it’s a little outside of what they naturally do well, so you may be getting extra stress from asking the body to do something different than it has done,” Blake explained. “Now it’s just a matter of on-ramping the stress like you would anything else and being smart about how many reps you’re getting with a certain new pitch instead of just cranking it and going for it with unlimited reps.”

Outside of managing reps, neither Cole, Blake nor Boone were sure how to protect pitchers from the demands of competition. It’s not like learning new pitches or throwing hard can be regulated.

It’s sort of a Jurassic Park situation: baseball became so preoccupied with whether or not it could that it didn’t stop to think if it should. Now there’s no stopping it.

“It’s definitely something just to continue to look at as an organization and [for] MLB itself,” Blake said. “I don’t know if there’s any turning back the clocks at this point. It’s rampant throughout all of the industry in the private sector, the amateur level and college. Obviously at the major league and minor league levels, there’s technology everywhere.

“So now it’s about how do you effectively deploy it?”

It’s a great question, one that doesn’t seem to have an obvious answer.


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