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« The New Ubaldo May Be Better Than the Old Ubaldo | Main | Chemistry Makes a Most Valuable Team »

Breaking Bad

Sorry folks, this is not about Walter White, but it's a story about pitchers who throw the hook, the bender, Uncle Charlie, a yakker, the deuce, yes, my friends...the curve ball.

This is baseball's "Breaking Bad."

2013 top 10 curveball throwers

There has been nobody who has used the curveball more frequently this season, and most often quite successfully, than A.J. Burnett.
Most curves - 2013
A. J. Burnett (PIT)1,02729294
Adam Wainwright (STL)95033263
Jose Fernandez (MIA)87628268
Scott Feldman (BAL)80429187
Edinson Volquez (LAD)70932160
Gio Gonzalez (WSH)68331155
Doug Fister (DET)64831164
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)62929157
Jose Quintana (CWS)62532144
Yovani Gallardo (MIL)62330134

Curveballs swings and misses

Here's why I think we haven't seen the best from the Rangers' Yu Darvish.

Darvish leads the majors in strikeouts, but wait until he feels comfortable calling on his Uncle Charlie a little more frequently.

You can see by the chart below, baseball's most effective curveball miss machine belongs to Yu.
2013 - Curveball Swings & Misses
Yu Darvish (TEX)9632.3%51.6%22.6%
Madison Bumgarner (SF)42639.9%42.4%24.1%
A. J. Burnett (PIT)1,02751.2%42.0%28.9%
Doug Fister (DET)64841.7%41.5%24.8%
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)62936.2%40.4%28.5%
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)41344.6%39.7%25.0%
Mike Minor (ATL)41650.2%37.3%27.8%
Jordan Zimmermann (WSH)36328.7%36.5%25.0%
Edwin Jackson (CHC)13240.2%35.8%28.3%
Cliff Lee (PHI)24145.2%35.8%32.1%

Fooling batters

There are two primary ways in which I evaluate a batter being fooled on a pitch: the first being chasing pitches out of the zone, and the second, taking the pitch for a called strike.

Now before you start emailing how ridiculous that is, I understand that circumstances, umpires, counts, and other reasons factor into a batter chasing a pitch or taking a pitch, but over the course of the season, if a pitcher is tossing balls that batters chase, have their knees buckled as they break over the plate, or just get a piece of to stay alive, the man is throwing a good curveball.

Here are the leaders:
2013 - Chase, Called Strikes and Fouled off Curveballs
A. J. Burnett (PIT)1,02742.1%29.1%28.9%
Mike Minor (ATL)41639.6%24.2%27.8%
Jose Fernandez (MIA)87637.5%41.6%35.8%
Wade Miley (ARI)8137.0%16.7%43.6%
Derek Holland (TEX)15136.4%39.8%31.7%
Mark Buehrle (TOR)23436.1%25.2%34.1%
Adam Wainwright (STL)95035.2%38.3%31.2%
Matt Harvey (NYM)35133.1%45.7%31.6%
A. J. Griffin (OAK)49732.8%31.0%33.6%
Mike Leake (CIN)42330.7%40.7%27.3%


Great pitchers know how and when to use their curveball effectively. The best example comes from baseball's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, who strikes out more batters on the curve than any other pitcher.

When you look at the chart below, look at all the elements we have previously addressed, including miss rate, chase rate, foul balls
2013 Curveball Strikeout Leaders
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)41314153.9%56.4%21.4%44.6%39.7%41.6%28.6%25.0%
Dan Haren (WSH)1291952.6%54.3%37.2%27.1%34.3%41.1%17.1%40.0%
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)62915752.2%64.2%43.9%36.2%40.4%50.7%29.0%28.5%
Wade Miley (ARI)812050.0%56.8%16.7%48.1%30.8%33.3%37.0%43.6%
Cliff Lee (PHI)2416947.8%58.5%24.2%45.2%35.8%46.5%26.4%32.1%
Madison Bumgarner (SF)42611346.0%53.5%22.7%39.9%42.4%33.3%29.9%24.1%
Gio Gonzalez (WSH)68315545.8%51.8%25.9%35.0%35.1%38.1%24.1%32.2%
Cole Hamels (PHI)2386344.4%53.8%21.4%41.2%34.7%37.4%27.5%34.7%
Jose Fernandez (MIA)87626843.7%69.9%41.6%48.4%33.0%55.6%37.5%35.8%
A. J. Burnett (PIT)1,02729443.5%65.4%29.1%51.2%42.0%39.9%42.1%28.9%

Hitting against the curve

Don't focus on Jerome Williams here, I want you to notice that batters are 14 (singles) in 141 PA against Clayton Kershaw's curve this season. Kershaw is the Sophia Vergara of baseball, his curves are so good.
Here are the numbers:
2013 - Hitting Against the Curveball
Jerome Williams (LAA)3238.
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)32141.
Gio Gonzalez (WSH)31155.
Jose Fernandez (MIA)28268.
Stephen Strasburg (WSH)29157.
Mat Latos (CIN)3169.
Dillon Gee (NYM)3165.
Madison Bumgarner (SF)31113.
Ian Kennedy (SD)3074.
A. J. Burnett (PIT)29294.

There's breaking bad and breaking bad

2013 - 13 Pitchers w/.300+ BA Against the Curve
Travis Wood (CHC)187.667.7141.0001.714420
Jarrod Parker (OAK)72.500.500.5001.000100
CC Sabathia (NYY)3213.385.385.6921.077521
Edwin Jackson (CHC)2223.381.435.524.959820
Kyle Lohse (MIL)3150.362.375.511.8861751
Derek Holland (TEX)3032.355.344.9031.2471175
Andy Pettitte (NYY)2952.333.333.417.7501640
Eric Stults (SD)3288.329.341.506.8472892
Jeremy Guthrie (KC)3159.322.322.508.8311953
Joe Saunders (SEA)3252.320.333.600.9331664
Miguel Gonzalez (BAL)2831.310.323.448.771940
Bronson Arroyo (CIN)3170.309.329.574.9022194
Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD)2872.300.319.471.7912182

One final suggestion

To be added to the baseball vernacular: a hanging curve that is hit for a homer should be called? A Heisenberg...because it was breaking bad.

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