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Entries in curveball (11)

Thursday
Sep122013

Cole Putting Hitters Away with Slider, Curve in 2nd Half

Will Gerrit Cole be a starter or reliever come October? Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington isn't tipping his hand as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft nears an unknown organizational innings limit. Whatever his role, Cole looks primed to make make an impact in the playoffs. The rookie has boosted his strikeout rate during the season's second half (from 5.4 per nine innings pitched to 7.9 K/9) and trimmed his ERA from 3.89 to 3.18.

Cole fell in love with his fastball early on during his big league career, but he's pitching more like the ace he's expected to become now that he's mixing in his breaking stuff.

During the first half, Cole threw his fastball about 77% of the time -- more often than any starting pitcher not named Bartolo Colon. In the second half, he's throwing his heater about 67%. The difference is even more pronounced in two-strike counts: 66% fastballs in the first half, and slightly under 54% in the second half.

In place of those fastballs, Cole is snapping off signifcantly more short-breaking, upper 80s sliders (six percent overall in the first half, 21% in the second half). He's throwing his low-80s curveball at about the same frequency (12% in the first half, 10% in the second). Cole is using his slider and curve as chase pitches far more often in the second half, particularly with two strikes:

Location of Cole's slider and curveball in two-strike counts during the first half

 

Location of Cole's slider and curveball in two-strike counts during the second half

Cole threw 44% of his two-strike sliders and curves in the strike zone during the first half, well above the 39% big league average for starters in such situations. In the second half, he's throwing just 33% of his two-strike breaking balls over the plate. Cole got eight strikeouts with his slider and curve in the first half. During the second half? Thirty.

Throwing more breaking pitches out of the zone has helped Cole put hitters away in two-strike counts. Opponents hit .246 and slugged .290 against Cole when down to their last strike during the first half (starters overall allow a .172 average and .257 slugging percentage in two-strike counts). Now that he's using his slider and curve, he's limiting batters to a .151 average and a .264 slugging percentage with two strikes. Starter or reliever? Only Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle know. Either way, Cole looks postseason-ready.

Thursday
Sep052013

That's Quite a Curveball, Sonny

Sonny Gray has emerged as one of the game's great strikeout artists during his brief MLB career, punching out hitters at the sixth-highest clip (9.5 per nine innings) among American League pitchers who have thrown at least 35 frames this season. The 2011 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt has racked up those Ks with his curveball, which Baseball America called a "knockout" pitch and the best in the Oakland A's system entering 2013. Batters would surely agree: Gray has more strikeouts with his curve (20) since being inserted into the A's rotation on August 10 than every MLB starter not named A.J. Burnett.

Here's more on Gray's curveball, as the whiff-prone Houston Astros (punching out in an MLB-leading 25.5 percent of their plate appearances) just try to put the wicked pitch in play.

  • The 5-foot-11, 200 pound righty gets plenty of downward movement on his curveball, as it drops an average of 8.3 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin. For comparison's sake, the average downward break on a curveball for starters is 5.8 inches. The only starters who throw the pitch regularly with more downward break are Chris Tillman, Kris Medlen, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Felix Doubront, Jeremy Hellickson and A.J. Griffin.
  • With that droping action on his curveball, Gray has buried the pitch as hitters' knees. Gray has thrown his curveball to the lower third of the strike zone 69.4% of the time, far above the 56.2% average for starters. Teammate Tommy Milone and Burnett are the only starters to throw a higher percentage of lower-third curves.

Pitch location of Gray's curveball

 

  • Pitchers with curveballs that drop like Gray's tend to induce more swings and misses than those with lesser downward break (hitters whiff about 31% of the time against curves with at least eight inches of downward movement, compared to about 28% on curves with less than eight inches of downward break). That has certainly been the case with Gray, who boasts a 42% miss rate with his curveball. That's on par with Fister, Stephen Strasburg (41%) and Clayton Kershaw (40.5%) for tops among starters.
  • Hurlers are also much more effective when they keep their curves low in the strike zone (.234 opponent slugging percentage) than when they hang a breaker in the upper-third of the plate (.319 opponent slugging percentage). Keeping his curve low in the zone, Gray has limited batters to a .125 slugging percentage against the pitch. He has yet to allow a home run when he snaps off a curveball.
Monday
Aug052013

Kershaw vs. Wainwright: Battle of Wicked Curves

Expect to see lots of jelly-legged hitters when Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright take the mound tonight in St. Louis. Kershaw's curveball has been dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who knows a thing or two about breakers after watching Sandy Koufax flummox hitters for years. Wainwright's breaker, meanwhile still makes 2006 NLCS Game Seven victim and current teammate Carlos Beltran break out in a cold sweat.

Wainwright has struck out the second-most hitters with his curve (77) among MLB starters, while Kershaw (53) places fourth. To honor all those victims of Uncle Charlie, here are three reasons why both Kershaw and Wainwright's breaking balls are so nasty.

Kershaw

  • The Dodgers lefty gets a whiff about 38% of the time that hitters swing at his curveball, crushing the 28% MLB average and trailing only A.J. Burnett (42%), Madison Bumgarner (42%), Stephen Strasburg (39%), Jordan Zimmermann (39%) and Mike Minor (39%) among National League starters throwing the pitch at least 250 times.
  • When hitters do manage to make contact, they're chopping Kershaw's curve into the grass. His ground ball rate with the pitch (56%) is comfortably above the 51% big league average, which helps explain how Kershaw has yet to be taken deep on a curveball this season.
  • Kershaw rarely leaves his curve on a tee for hitters, throwing just 19% of them to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. The MLB average for starters, by contrast, is 26%.

Pitch location of Kershaw's curveball

Wainwright

  • While Wainwright gets a fair number of swings and misses with his curve (33% miss rate), he excels at getting hitters to expand their strike against the pitch. Wainwright has baited batters into chasing his curveball off the plate 38% of the time, tying him with Jose Fernandez for third-highest among starters. Minor (42%) and Burnett (39%) rank first and second, respectively.  

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Wainwright's curveball

MLB average swing rate by pitch location vs. curveballs

  • Wainwright buries his curve at hitters' knees, tossing the pitch to the lower third of the strike zone 63% of the time (the MLB average is about 56%). By keeping his curve down, Wainwright has also generated plenty of grounders (53%) and kept the ball in the park (two homers allowed on curveballs in 2013).
  • Part of the reason why Wainwright stays low with his curveball is that the pitch falls off the table like few others in the game. Wainwright's curve drops an average of 9.5 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin, about four inches more than the big league average and more than all starters save for Barry Zito and Chris Tillman.