LOS ANGELES, January 25, 2014 — The curveball is a special pitch. The best curveballs leave the best hitters looking like the most foolish whether the swing and miss terribly at a ball that drops or watch, paralyzed, as the giant slow arcing ball tumbles in for a called strike. A bad curve that hangs will ruin a pitcher’s day, but a good curve will dance in the batter’s head forever.
Here is a look at the top five curveballs in baseball today.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: The right-handed Wainwright’s curve broke into the national spotlight when he was the closer in the postseason for the Cardinals when they won the World Series in 2006. The following year the 6’7” closer was converted to a starter. Wainwright’s curve boasts a huge drop and mixes in a good amount of horizontal movement, which usually drops at the batter’s knees on the left side of the plate.
Wainwright’s uses his cut fastball the most, 29.75%, but his curve ball is a close second, 27.01%, and is Wainwright’s out pitch. He throws the curve 49% of the time when he has two strikes on a left-handed batter and 39% of the time against righties. Hitters are batting just .160 against Wainwright’s curve. Hitters swing and miss on the Wainwright’s curve 14.79% of the time. Wainwright has used the curve to strike out the hitter out for 97 out of his 195 strikeouts this year.
Doug Fister, Tigers: The 6’8” pitcher from Northern California was drafted by and came up with the Seattle Mariners where he was a very solid pitcher who was hidden from the bright lights of stardom by the ever-present rain of the northwest. He gained national recognition only once he was traded to the Detroit Tigers during the 2011 season.
Fister mainly relies on his sinker, which he uses 44.16% of the time. His second pitch is his curveball, which is used 19.77%. Hitters have swung and missed 16.2% of the time on the curveball. Fister has struck out more hitters with his curveball, 52, than any other pitch and batters are hitting just .203 against it.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: The Dodgers passed on drafting Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer in 2006 and instead opted to use the seventh pick in the draft to take a kid out of high school named Clayton Kershaw. The lefty broke into the majors two years later at the age of 20. Kershaw was wild at first and wasted a lot of pitches. He has since refined his talents on the mound to become one of the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best.
Kershaw’s curve, or Public Enemy #1 as Vin Scully calls it, keeps getting better too. He has even worked with the great Sandy Koufax on perfecting the pitch. There is nearly a 20 mph difference between Kershaw’s average fastball velocity and the velocity of his curve, which has 12-to-6 drop. Kershaw uses his Curve only 12% of the time, but has used it to strike out batters for 70 out his NL-leading 208 strikeouts. Batters are hitting just .083 against Public Enemy #1.
Jose Fernandez, Marlins: The Cuban born rookie for the Marlins has done nothing but impress since spring training. The Marlins drafted Fernandez with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Before this year, Fernandez never made it further than high A in the minors. He relies primarily on his fastball, which averages about 96 mph, and curveball, which moves more horizontally than it does vertically and averages about 82 mph.
Jose Fernandez uses his curve about 34% of the time. When he gets two strikes on a batter, Fernandez uses his curve 53% of the time against both lefties and righties. Jose Fernandez has struck out 121 of the 182 batters he struck out with his curveball. Batters are hitting just .116 against Jose Fernandez’ curve.
A.J. Burnett, Pirates: The oldest player of this group, the 36-year old Burnett has been around the block, playing for four different teams in his 15-year career. Burnett was drafted by the New York Mets in 1995, but was traded to the Florida Marlins. Burnett broke into the majors with the Marlins and spent seven seasons there. He played for the Blue Jays and Yankees before landing in his current city, Pittsburgh. Burnett was on the DL when the Marlins won in 2003, but pitched for the Yankees when they won in 2009.
A.J. Burnett relies heavily on the curve and the sinker. He throws his curve 36.26% of the time, but with two strikes, lefties see the curve 57% of the time while righties see it 54% of the time. A.J. Burnett has struck 183 batters, 113 of them were with the curveball. Batters are hitting .159 against Burnett’s curve.
Pitch stats were pulled from Brooks Baseball
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News and also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music, and food. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball