This relief ace throws the hardest cutter ever

June 20th, 2021

Imagine a closer who dominates with cutters like Kenley Jansen but also has the triple-digit velocity of Aroldis Chapman. Well, that gives you .

Clase is showing everyone why Cleveland traded Corey Kluber to get him. The 23-year-old right-hander is overpowering hitters in his debut season with the Indians, with 11 saves, a 0.94 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings over 30 appearances. He didn't give up an earned run in his first 15 appearances, and he's only allowed one in his past 14. Clase gives a team that already had James Karinchak -- who has a 2.93 ERA and an absurd 55 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings -- two relief aces.

Clase is a different pitcher than Jansen and Chapman, of course. But that's kind of the point -- his stuff is unique in MLB right now. This one thing alone makes him worth watching: He's throwing the hardest cutter in pitch-tracking history.

Here's the highest average cutter velocity for a season since pitch tracking began in 2008:

  1. Emmanuel Clase, 2021: 100.0 mph
  2. Emmanuel Clase, 2019: 99.2 mph
  3. Dellin Betances, 2016: 98.5 mph
  4. Jonathan Broxton, 2009: 98.0 mph
  5. Carlos Estévez, 2016: 97.4 mph

And here are the top 10 fastest cutters on record since pitch tracking began:

101.7 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/2/2021
101.7 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 4/25/2021
101.5 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 6/5/2021
101.5 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/11/2021
101.5 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 4/15/2021
101.4 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/24/2021
101.4 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/24/2021
101.4 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/11/2021
101.4 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 9/10/2019
101.4 mph -- Dellin Betances, 6/19/2016

And here are the most 100-plus mph cutters thrown since pitch tracking began:

Emmanuel Clase -- 250
Dellin Betances -- 6
Jonathan Broxton -- 2
Yordano Ventura -- 2
Carlos Estévez -- 2
Kevin Jepsen -- 2
Kenley Jansen -- 1

Of the 265 cutters thrown in triple digits in 13 years of pitch tracking, Clase has thrown 94 percent of them. He's thrown 52 of the 54 cutters tracked at 101-plus mph. Those numbers are only going to grow, because no one else is throwing triple-digit cutters.

The velocity is eye-popping by itself. But raw velo isn't enough in the big leagues. You still need the results: Missed bats and strikeouts. Clase gets those. He leads MLB relievers in both strikeouts (22) and swings and misses (57) on cutters this season.

Watch his cutter in action, and it passes the eye test right away. The pitch is nasty. One hundred mph is hard enough to hit when it's straight -- Clase's cutter is a combination of velocity and movement direction that hitters simply do not see anywhere else, and that adds an extra layer of difficulty in trying to hit it. He throws it 75 percent of the time, but it doesn't matter -- it's a prime example of "you know it's coming and you still can't hit it."

Clase has made improvements in 2021, too. He's pairing his cutter more effectively with his low-90s slider, which has a much-improved swing-and-miss rate from 2019 to '21 (40.4 percent, up from 27.6) and more than triple the strikeouts (10 slider punchouts in '21, three in '19). He's also using his cutter to pound the low, glove-side region of the strike zone better than he did in 2019, when he left a lot more of them up and in the middle of the zone. That's helping Clase suppress opposing hitters' quality of contact a lot better than he did in his first MLB season.

Clase is barely allowing hitters to barrel the ball (1.3 percent barrel rate, which is better than 99 percent of the league), and his expected batting average against (.204) and expected slugging percentage against (.265) are both excellent. When opponents aren't whiffing against his cutters, they're putting the ball on the ground -- nearly three-quarters of the time -- where they can't do damage. Clase is running the highest ground-ball rate in the league.

Highest ground-ball rate, 2021
Of 234 pitchers with 75+ batted balls allowed

  1. Emmanuel Clase (CLE): 73.1%
  2. Clay Holmes (PIT): 70.1%
  3. Tyler Rogers (SF): 68.5%
  4. Jonathan Loaisiga (NYY): 65.7%
  5. Matt Peacock (ARI): 61.7%

But enough about ground balls. You came to see Clase blowing hitters away with cutters unlike any other. Let's look at a couple more of those, with the last couple of leaderboards.

Here are the top seven fastest cutter velocities on swinging strikes since pitch tracking began in 2008:

101.5 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 4/15/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 6/14/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/24/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/24/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/11/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/11/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 4/4/2021

And here are the top five fastest cutters thrown for strikeouts since pitch tracking began:

101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/24/2021
101.2 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/6/2021
101.0 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 6/8/2021
100.9 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 5/22/2021
100.9 mph -- Emmanuel Clase, 4/18/2021

Those lists go on with a lot more "Clases," too. Before this season, there were some Jonathan Broxtons and Carlos Estévezes and Dellin Betanceses and Kenley Jansens and Yordano Venturas sprinkled in. But Clase is bringing too much fire in 2021.

Clase has notched 42 of the 47 whiffs on 100-plus mph cutters in the pitch-tracking era. No one else has more than one. He's also recorded 15 of the 19 strikeouts on 100-plus mph cutters in the pitch-tracking era. No one else has more than one.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, because when Clase isn't in triple digits with his cutter, he's in the upper 90s, at a level of consistency no pitcher has ever replicated. The 100 mph threshold is the one that fans want to see in flames on the stadium radar gun -- and Clase obviously gets there plenty -- but the point is, his relentless attacking with a cutting fastball at extreme velocity makes him one of a kind.

Pitchers in 2021 are at their nastiest ever, but you still can't see anyone else throwing what Clase throws.