A curveball is exactly what it sounds like – instead of going via a straight line to the plate a la fastball, a curveball is a breaking ball with a ton of movement, often curving down from up high, preferably resulting in a swing and miss on the part of a batter. While not every pitcher has a quality curveball in his pocket, it remains an important pitch for many.
Dominating With a Curve
Let’s take a look at a PITCHf/x advanced pitching statistic, wCU/C (weighted curveball runs per 100 pitches), for MLB pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched through Aug. 27, 2017, and see who dominates the curveball.
This scatterplot compares dominance against the percentage of time a pitcher throws a curveball. The ideal location here is the upper left quadrant – it represents pitchers who have had the best curveball pitches and who use them frequently. Aaron Nola, who plays for the Phillies, primarily (and successfully) relies on his curveball, averaging 78 mph. Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals also throws a ton of curves, often netting grounders.
In the lower right quadrant, you’ll note that these pitchers haven’t had much success with their curveball, but they also don’t tend to use them very often. Clayton Richard of the San Diego Padres is one of these pitchers – he primarily throws a sinker, but will occasionally mix in a curveball or two.
The upper right quadrant, though, shows pitchers who use curveballs often, despite the fact that they aren’t necessarily performing well with this type of pitch. Mike Fiers of the Houston Astros is one example – while primarily relying on his fastball, he still makes use of a curve on occasion, even though it’s not his best pitch.
This chart looks at the same data as the scatterplot above, but it may be clearer to see which pitchers are more dominant with the curveball when compared to others. Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians, for example, is the most dominant curveball pitcher we examined. He’s followed by Carlos Martinez of the St. Louis Cardinals, who has a dominant curveball but rarely uses it.
Clayton Richard is at the opposite end. As discussed above, Richard doesn’t have a dominant curveball, but he also rarely throws one. He’s right next to Jordan Zimmerman from the Tigers, who uses a curve but doesn’t always get fabulous results.
Throwing a Curve
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