The 5 Best Curveballs of 2021

A look back at the five best curveballs from 2021

Welcome to the pitch review series, where I’m taking a look at the best pitches of each pitch type from 2021! Today, we’re taking a look at the top five curveballs from last year!

If you’d like some more details on this  series, take a look at the top five changeups article (and also just in case you want to see some pretty awesome changeups).

Anyways, here are the top five curveballs from 2021!

 

5. Adam Wainwright

 

The fact that Adam Wainwright had one of the best curveballs in baseball last year should probably surprise no one. Wainwright has made his entire career on an absolutely killer curveball—it’s one of my favorite pitches in baseball to watch.

The curveball was Wainwright’s most-thrown pitch last year, as has been the case over the past few years, and with good reason. Last year, the pitch posted a 34.9% chase rate, 12.4% SwStr rate, a .255 wOBA against, and a .124 ISO against.

Like I said, unsurprising that Wainwright had an awesome curveball last year. What is surprising is how good of a season the 40-year-old pitcher had, with a 3.05 ERA in 32 starts and breaking 200 innings for the first time since 2014.

From 2016 to 2019, it looked like Wainwright’s time as a dominant starter in the league was coming to an end, and understandably so—he was getting older, it’s the natural curve of a career.

Then, all of a sudden, he posted a 3.15 ERA in the shortened 2020 season, but given it was just 65.2 innings and came with a 4.11 FIP and 4.39 SIERA, I think many of us thought it was kind of a flukey season.

But boy were we wrong—again Wainwright did even better, and even though his 3.05 ERA came with a 3.66 FIP and 4.13 SIERA, I’m less inclined to say it’s luck than I was before.

The curveball was working wonders, and while none of his other pitchers were top-notch strikeout pitches, they all performed pretty admirably, with none of them posting a wOBA against over .334.

Now, the .204 ISO against his cutter and .221 ISO against his fastball give me a little concern about commanding the pitches, but that’s not enough of a concern for me to ditch Wainwright entirely.

He’s going to turn 41 at the end of August, and normally I’d say avoid at all costs, but the guy showed last year he’s still got some gas left in the tank. He’s risky, given how volatile the pitching position is, all he needs is one bad throw to cause a career-ending injury (we all remember Cliff Lee), but I’m intrigued to see what happens next.

 

4. Corbin Burnes

 

When I think of Corbin Burnes, I think of his filthy cutter, and with good reason, because the pitch is absolutely ridiculous and has been the pitch Burnes has built his career on so far.

But last year, Burnes started using his curveball more than ever before, making it his second most-thrown pitch, and it worked beautifully, posting a 35.1% chase rate, 19.4% SwStr rate, .114 wOBA against, and .050 ISO against.

And on top of that, Burnes’ cutter was just as fantastic as it’s always been, and in conjunction with a solid changeup and a great slider, it’s no wonder Burnes posted a Cy Young season. What’s even more wild is his 2.43 ERA, which is again, amazing, came with a 1.63 FIP.

So yea, Corbin Burnes is absurdly good.

 

3. Joe Musgrove

 

I have been a fan of Joe Musgrove’s for many years now (and I’m far from the only one in the fantasy industry). It seemed like years Musgrove had all the pieces to be a good pitcher but just couldn’t quite put things together, until we saw a glimmer of hope in the 2020 season that turned into a full shine in 2021.

Through 31 starts, Musgrove posted a 3.18 ERA with a 27.1% strikeout rate and a 1.08 WHIP, easily the best season of his career, and one of the main drivers of that season was this curveball.

Last season, Musgrove started pitching backwards and I’m so happy he did. His fastball was no longer his primary pitch, but instead, it was a mix of his slider and curveball, and both were fantastic. The slider posted a 41.5% chase rate, 18.5% SwStr rate, and a .228 wOBA against while the curveball posted a 31.2% chase rate, 14.9% SwStr rate, and a .182 wOBA against.

With those two pitches are his primary offerings, it’s no wonder Musgrove had such a good season. Though, if you want to worry about him, all you need to do is look at his fastballs, none of which are particularly good.

His four-seamer posted a .386 wOBA and .227 ISO against, his cutter had a .371 wOBA and .236 ISO against, and his sinker had a .447 wOBA and .257 ISO against.

That does concern me a bit. He’s got two fantastic breakers, but I worry that, without at least an average-to-decent fastball, he starts to gravitate more towards his 3.90 xERA or even higher rather than his 3.18 ERA.

 

2. Julio Urías

 

We finally got a full season’s worth of starts out of Julio Urías and it was just as magical as I hoped it would be, with an excellent 2.96 ERA coupled with a 1.02 WHIP and 3.13 FIP.

Urías basically throws three pitches: an average fastball, a really good changeup that works well as a strikeout pitch (41.2% chase rate and 14.9% SwStr rate last year), and a top-notch curveball.

Given how good Urías’ curveball is, you’d expect it to be more of a swing-and-miss pitch, but surprisingly, it isn’t (that’s what his changeup is for). Last year, the pitch logged a solid 30.6% chase rate and 11.3% SwStr rate, but where it really shines is inducing weak contact. Last year, the pitch also had a .183 wOBa and .079 ISO against it.

Basically, the only remote weakness Urías has is his fastball, which had a .346 wOBA and .205 ISO against. Those aren’t great, and suggest that he has a bit of trouble commanding the pitch, but when your secondary offerings are as good as his are, who cares, right?

 

1. Charlie Morton

 

If ever I want to make the case to someone that baseball, and especially pitching, is art, Charlie Morton’s curveball is one of the pitches I’ll point to.

That pitch is gorgeous to me. It’s so smooth, so quick, and so nasty. It’s been the reason Morton has been such a good pitcher the past few years, and it was once again amazing in 2021.

Pick a metric, Morton’s curveball was great. A 36.6% chase rate, 17.7% SwStr rate, 40.3% strikeout rate, .180 wOBA against, .060 ISO against, it’s a beautiful pitch, and it absolutely deserves to be at the top of this list.

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)

Ben Palmer

Managing editor at Pitcher List. Lifelong Orioles fan (which can be....painful at times) and a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music and watch way too many movies.

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