Why Red Sox pitcher Kutter Crawford is looking like a potential All-Star in 2024

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Boston Red Sox right-hander Kutter Crawford continued his fantastic start to the season on Wednesday night, holding the San Francisco Giants to two runs over seven innings as part of a 6-2 victory (box score). Crawford, who entered the night ranked first in the American League in ERA among qualified starters, has already matched his single-season career-high in quality starts with four. (For reference: he came into the season having recorded eight over his first 36 starts at the big-league level.)

Crawford has been a balm for an injury-ravaged Red Sox rotation. To wit, Boston is currently without Lucas Giolito, Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Whitlock — or, three members of its Opening Day rotation and Giolito, who would’ve made it four had he not required season-ending elbow surgery during spring training.

Just how does one explain Crawford’s great stretch — one that could land him on the American League All-Star team if he keeps it up? After all, this is someone who had a modest career 94 ERA+ entering the year. Scroll slowly with us as we highlight a few tweaks he’s made to his arsenal that help explain his improved performance. 

1. Refined cutter is more prominent 

We must admit that it’s a little on the nose for a pitcher named Kutter to fall in love with his cutter, but what can you do? Score one for nominative determinism. Through Wednesday’s start, Crawford’s cutter has been his most-used pitch this season. He’s throwing it 32.8% of the time, which represents a career-high rate. 

The more notable development here is that Crawford has greatly reduced his fastball usage. In previous seasons, he’s always chucked his four-seamer at least 35% of the time. This year, he’s down to 29.3%. That shift fits with the Red Sox’s larger philosophical change under new pitching coach Andrew Bailey. As our Mike Axisa explained back in early April:

The Red Sox went from throwing a comfortably above-average rate of fastballs last season to a comfortably below-average rate of fastballs this season. And again, the personnel hasn’t changed much. Just about 90% of the innings thrown on the West Coast trip were thrown by pitchers who were with the Red Sox in 2023. It’s a pitching change, not a pitcher change.

Crawford may have tweaked his cutter, too. According to TruMedia’s data — and mind you, sometimes pitch classifications are an imperfect science — this year’s cutter features more rise and run than past editions. In turn, Crawford’s cutter is generating some career-best marks:










Crawford’s cutter isn’t his only notable change.

2. Sweeper creates interplay 

The other alteration Crawford has made that we wanted to highlight is the implementation of a sweeping slider. Crawford first started to use the pitch last season, but it’s taken on new life in his 2024 outings.

To put things into perspective, Crawford threw his sweeper 140 times last year. Through Wednesday night, he’s already thrown it 152 times this year. Here’s a look at the results:











As you can see, Crawford’s sweeper isn’t generating whiffs or evading hits as well as it did during its cameo last season. That is, perhaps, to be expected given that batters are seeing the pitch far more often and therefore have to gameplan for it heading in.

It’s worth pointing out that Crawford is throwing the pitch in the zone far more often. That may not mean much on its own, but pitching is in no small part about the interplay between offerings. It’s at least worth wondering if Crawford’s newfound ability to locate his sweeper in the strike zone has aided his cutter.

Whatever the exact reason behind Crawford’s steps forward, one thing is clear: he’s a fitting pitcher to front the Red Sox rotation, as both have to be described as early season surprises. 

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