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.