Mark Buehrle's cutter-changeup combination has been his bread-and-butter for most of his career.
Use the cutter inside, counter with the changeup outside. That's what opponents can expect from Buehrle every time he takes the mound. But Buehrle's success using that combo depends heavily on his command, as the left-hander hardly has the velocity to get away with many mistakes.
Last season, though, Buehrle's cutter and changeup rated as below average for the first time in his career. According to FanGraphs' pitch f/x, Buehrle threw significantly fewer cutters in 2010 as well. Only 15 percent of Buehrle's pitches last season were cutters, his lowest percentage since 2006 (15.8 percent).
And it's not like Buehrle's command was any worse with his cutter in 2010:
Heat map via FanGraphs.
That's pretty good location up and in to righties, and it's no worse than other seasons for Buehrle. He didn't have any sort of a velocity drop, either, so that can't explain the lower percentage. But command of his changeup may hold an answer:
That red area in the 2010 map is on the outer third of the plate, but it's about belt-high. Considering the velocity difference between Buehrle's fastball and changeup was only 6.7 mph, that pitch is going to get hit a lot. So it's not surprising that opponents hit .290 off Buehrle in 2010—only 2006's .300 opponent batting average was higher in Buehrle's career.
But worse command of his changeup lessened the effectiveness of Buehrle's cutter. Opposing batters didn't have to cheat to reach Buehrle's changeup, so they were able to get around on Buehrle's cutter on the inner third much easier.
For Buehrle to be effective this afternoon in Cleveland, he'll have to feature good command of his changeup—better than it was in 2010.
Speaking of this afternoon's season opener, we'll be running a live chat on Beerleaguer through CSNChicago starting at 1:45. Stop by, leave a few comments, grab a beer (unless you're at work...or if you're at work) and catch some baseball with Beerleaguer!