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The Anatomy of an Inning: Kutter Crawford Makes It Work

A look at how Kutter Crawford escaped a jam of his own making against the Cubs.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to The Anatomy of an Inning, where we break down an inning pitch by pitch. Earlier this season, I opined that Kutter Crawford deserved a chance in the Red Sox rotation. Now, due to a plethora of injuries, the Red Sox haven’t had much of a choice. Over the past few weeks, they’ve been riding Bello, Paxton, and Crawford while mixing in some bullpen days. Crawford’s had an opportunity to cement himself in that fifth starter role if and when the team gets healthy. So far, he’s had mixed results. In his eight starts since returning to the rotation he’s posted a 3.93 ERA in 36.2 innings. On Sunday, he took the hill against the Cubs and had maybe his best start on the surface, going six shutout innings, allowing just one hit, and striking out nine. Let’s take a look at an inning from Sunday and I’ll show you why it may not be a breakout performance.

The Situation

Sunday, July 16. Bottom 3. Red Sox lead 1-0. Kutter Crawford returns to the mound for the third inning, just before the lineup turns over to face him a second time.

AB #1: Miles Mastrobuoni

This first at-bat is fairly boring, here are 200 words about it:

Crawford does well to steal a strike with the first-pitch “free real estate” curveball. After that, things go awry. First, he misses on back-to-back pitches with the cutter to fall behind 2-1. After that, he misses with the four-seamer twice in a row and gives Mastrobuoni a free pass.

I both like and dislike the approach here after falling behind. After missing with back-to-back cutters, I like that he goes away from it and resets his release point. I don’t like that he goes to the four-seamer; to that point, he had struggled to command it. I would have preferred to see a slider or curveball to try to get to even. He goes with the fastball, misses, and puts himself in a really hard position at 3-1.

Following the fastball miss, Mastrobuoni is likely sitting off-speed as the only strike he’s seen is with the curveball, so he can’t really throw one in the zone. Crawford’s options are to try to throw another fastball for a strike, or go to an off-speed pitch below the zone and hope for a whiff. He goes with the fastball — ball four.

TL;DR: Absolutely no command whatsoever.

AB #2: Mike Tauchman

More of the same from Crawford. He misses up high with a four-seamer and then misses up high again with his cutter. He goes back to his four-seamer and probably gets squeezed for ball three, throws another in the zone for 3-1, and then misses with a third for a second straight walk. Again, I’d like to see the curveball or sweeper, but Tauchman knows he’s having trouble with the fastballs and is probably sitting on that curveball. He also singled off the curveball his first time up. That’s the long way of saying if Kutter can’t command the fastball, he’s going to have a hard time getting outs.

AB #3: Nico Hoerner

Finally. Crawford gets a foot in the at-bat by getting the cutter in the zone.

And then he throws another cutter 59 feet. Great block by Wong.

Great pitch. He triples up on the cutter and hits his spot above the zone and glove-side where Hoerner can’t do a ton with it to get to his first two-strike count of the inning.

Another good pitch from Crawford. This time he goes to the sweeper down and away and Hoerner lays off. Ideally, it would have started a little closer to the plate and fallen out of the strike zone, but it’s a good pitch regardless as it sets up whatever he wants to do next.

This is something I’d like to see more of from Kutter. He has an electric fastball with tons of vertical movement and a solid sweeper that generates a ton of whiffs, yet he hardly ever uses it. Oftentimes, if a pitcher has a good breaking ball hitters will think they’ve “earned” a fastball if they lay off the breaker in a two-strike count. If the pitcher has a good fastball, hitters definitely think they’re seeing it if they lay off the breaker. It takes a really good hitter to lay off that sweeper twice in a row. After laying off the first sweeper, Hoerner isn’t prepared for another and swings right through this one for the strikeout.

AB #4: Christopher Morel

A little background on this at-bat. His first time up, Morel struck out on three pitches, swinging at all three. Cutter, sweeper, sweeper.

I love this pitch to start the at-bat. Crawford knows Morel is looking to attack early in the count. He throws a cutter that starts over the plate and ends up just off the zone. Morel is thinking fastball as you can see him bail out to pull the ball down the left-field line.

At this point, through two ABs, Morel is yet to see a four-seamer. It’s evident from his swings that he’s looking for one. A general rule of thumb is to not give a hitter what they want and if you do, throw it where they can’t hit it. Personally, I’d prefer to see the slider off the plate here, but Crawford spots the fastball up and in nicely and ties up Morel.

If you’re keeping track at home, Morel has seen five pitches so far in the game and swung at all of them. If you’re Crawford, you can do almost anything. You’re in complete control of the at-bat, and Morel hasn’t shown a willingness to do anything but try to pull the ball. A cutter or off-speed pitch down and away should do the job.

Ah, he goes back to the fastball and can’t get it where he wants it. It’s way too far above the zone and even Morel doesn’t have a hard time laying off. No worries, you can either try the high fastball again or go to the off-speed pitch.

Beautiful. A curveball on the outer half. Morel is way too early and rolls over it for the 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.

This inning was a nice snapshot of Crawford’s outing as a whole. He struggled to find the zone with his fastball and had to find other ways to get outs. Against a better lineup, this probably doesn’t get the job done. At the same time, Crawford showed poise to go to those breaking balls and navigate his way through the traffic on the basepaths. It’s who he is at this point: a young pitcher with great stuff while also being inconsistent from start to start.

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