In my opinion, pitching is probably the best part of baseball (or close to it), and one of my personal favorite things to do, and one of our favorite things here at Pitcher List, is filthy pitches. That’s why I’m doing a series looking at the best pitches of each pitch type from the previous season.
These pitches are ranked by pVAL, which I think is probably the best (or at least easiest) way to rank pitches. If you’re curious about the specific details on how pVAL works, check out this article, but the short dumb version is pVAL measures how effective (for lack of a better word) the pitch was during that season.
It’s important to note a couple things: pVAL is not gospel, no stat is, and it’s also not predictive, which is explained quite well in detail here. However, the stat is useful and it works as a way to talk about some of the best pitches in baseball, which is objectively fun.
Anyways, now that we’ve gotten through all that, we’re starting with curveballs and here they are:
No. 5: German Marquez
German Marquez may not have been good last year (like, at all), but his curveball certainly was. Not only did it have the 10th-best chase rate in all of baseball at 49.3%, it also came with a 24% SwStr rate, .138 wOBA against, and a .089 ISO against on its way to a 14.0 pVAL, the best of his career.
As for the rest of Marquez’s season? Not great. He posted a 4.76 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 3.85 SIERA and a 24.3% strikeout rate; certainly not what people hoped for after a sort-of breakout season in 2018.
The problem? All of his other pitches. His slider, which was excellent in 2018, was terrible last year, with a .366 wOBA and .259 ISO against. His fastball was similarly terrible with a .359 wOBA and .201 ISO against.
No. 4: Aaron Nola
This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if you’re familiar with Aaron Nola, as he’s had one of the prettiest curveballs in baseball for a few years now (in fact, it was the best curve in baseball last year). His curve wasn’t as good as it was in 2018, but Nola himself wasn’t quite as good last year as he was in 2018.
Last year, Nola posted a 3.87 ERA with a 4.03 FIP and 4.14 SIERA, a far cry from his 2.37 ERA he had in 2018. Still, the strikeouts were there, as he posted a 26.9% strikeout rate last year and logged 229 strikeouts on the season.
That was still thanks in part to his curveball, which had a 47.6% chase rate, 40.8% zone rate, 16.3% SwStr rate, a .259 wOBA against, and a .127 ISO against.
So where was the problem is Nola’s curveball was working so well? It was his fastball. It was substantially worse last year than in 2018, posting a .369 wOBA and .244 ISO against last year compared to a .275 wOBA and .119 ISO against in 2018.
No. 3: Sonny Gray
After a terrible season with the New York Yankees that saw him post a 4.90 ERA, Sonny Gray had a major bounceback with the Cincinnati Reds with a 2.87 ERA and 29% strikeout rate (the latter being the best of his career).
Part of that success was thanks to this fantastic curveball, which has always been one of Gray’s best pitches. Last year the pitch had a 32.5% chase rate, 40.1% zone rate, 12.1% SwStr rate, .169 wOBA against, and .068 ISO against, on its way to a 16.2 pVAL, the best of his career. It wasn’t a huge strikeout pitch, but it was very effective at inducing weak contact.
The other key to Gray’s success last year was his slider returning back to form, with a 37% chase rate, 18.8% SwStr rate, .175 wOBA against, and .094 ISO against.
However, despite that, it’s worth noting that Gray’s 2.87 ERA came with a 3.97 SIERA and 3.42 FIP, both of which suggest some regression may be coming this year. I still personally believe in Gray’s stuff, but I think he’s more of a mid-3’s ERA pitcher than a sub-3 ERA pitcher.
No. 2: Stephen Strasburg
This is another pitch that shouldn’t shock anyone. If there’s anything Stephen Strasburg is good at, it’s throwing a curveball, because he’s got a beautiful one.
Last year, the pitch had a 40.6% chase rate, 43.2% zone rate, 15.3% SwStr rate (making it a money pitch *cue sound effect*), a .202 wOBA against and a .079 ISO against, culminating in a fantastic 23.2 pVAL, the best pVAL he’s ever had on a single pitch in his career.
In fact, Strasburg didn’t have a single pitch in his repertoire with a negative pVAL (aside from a slider he threw 12 times, but I’m not counting that). That’s part o the reason why he was so good last year, posting a 3.32 ERA, 3.49 SIERA, 3.25 FIP, and 29.9% strikeout rate.
This just in: Stephen Strasburg is very good.
No. 1: Charlie Morton
If you’ve been following baseball, and especially if you’ve been reading our nastiest pitches articles, you probably saw this one coming from a mile away. Charlie Morton’s curveball is a work of art, it’s basically the closest I’ve come to seeing witchcraft happen in real life.
You don’t need me to tell you how incredible it is, but I’m going to anyway. Last year the pitch had a 41.9% chase rate, 42.7% zone rate, 16.9% SwStr rate (making it a money pitch), .185 wOBA against, and a .077 ISO against, on its way to a 24.8 pVAL, the fifth-highest pVAL of any pitch in all of baseball.
I mean honestly, pick a metric, it was incredible. Strikeout rate? 41%. Walk rate? 2.4%. wRC+ against? 22. wRAA? -38.5. The pitch was absurdly good, and it’s been that way for years now. I think it’s pretty easy to call this the best curveball in the game right now.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)