What’s up everyone!
I’m in the middle of my annual pitch review series where I’m taking a look at the five best pitches of each pitch type from 2022, as ranked by PLV! Today, we’re going to be looking at the five best curveballs from last year.
If you’d like a closer look at what this article series is about, check out the first article in the series on the five best changeups of 2022. And if you’d like an in-depth primer on what PLV is and how it works, check it out here.
Otherwise, let’s get to the five best curveballs of 2022!
5. Joe Kelly
Joe Kelly did not have the best year last year. After posting a fantastic 2021 with the Dodgers, pitching to a 2.86 ERA over 44 innings out of the bullpen with 13 holds and two saves, Kelly came over to the White Sox and absolutely bombed with the worst season of his career.
Over the course of 37 innings and 43 games, Kelly pitched to a 6.08 ERA with 15 holds and one save. Yikes.
Now, it’s worth noting that 6.08 ERA came with a 3.06 FIP and a 3.55 xERA, but looking at Kelly’s repertoire, it’s not exactly encouraging outside of this curveball:
But hey, Kelly’s curveball was sick. Last year, the pitch posted a 36.2% chase rate, 16.1% swinging-strike rate, 32.2% CSW, and a .303 wOBA against, so at least he had that going for him.
4. Aaron Nola
On a list of the best curveballs in baseball, it’s no surprise to see Aaron Nola here. It’s one of my favorite pitches in all of baseball to watch, it’s a work of art as far as I’m concerned.
It was also an absolutely filthy pitch last year, posting a 49.8% chase rate (good for the second-best chase rate in all of baseball last year), a 20.7% swinging-strike rate, 39.2% CSW, .258 wOBA against, and a .127 ISO against. Basically, name a metric and Nola’s curveball was good in it (as it is nearly every year).
Nola posted a great bounceback year last year with a 3.25 ERA, 2.58 FIP, and 2.65 xERA over 205 innings, and given he’s had just one bad year over five seasons, I’m inclined to think he can be awesome yet again.
Framber Valdez was absolutely killer last year, posting a career-best season with a 2.82 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 3.02 xERA through 201.1 innings, and while his whole repertoire generally grades out as above average or better from a PLV perspective, this curveball really stands out:
It’s an awesome pitch, posting a 39.9% chase rate, 22.8% swinging-strike rate, 33.6% CSW, and a .198 wOBA against. But one pitch does not a great pitcher make (or, at least, not always). Valdez also introduced a new pitch this year, his cutter, and it worked well, posting a 33.5% chase rate, 17.9% swinging-strike rate, and a 30.4% CSW alongside a .155 wOBA against.
As a result of the new pitch, Valdez cut down on his changeup and fastball and went primarily with a sinker/curveball/cutter approach and it worked wonders. Assuming the curveball and cutter can continue being good this year, it should make up for his mediocre sinker and Valdez could still be a pretty useful starter.
Hey you guys wanna see an awesome PLV graph? Of course you do!
Yep, that’s Shane McClanahan, and in case you ever foolishly doubted whether he’s legit or not, he’s definitely legit—that repertoire is fantastic.
Let’s start with the curveball, since that’s why we’re here. Last year, the pitch was surprisingly less of a swing-and-miss pitch, only inducing a 22.9% chase rate and 10.4% swinging-strike rate. But you know what it did have? A 35.6% CSW. So what does that mean?
Well if you know what the CS in CSW stands for, you know that means the curveball got loads of called strikes. In fact, it was a called strike 25.2% of the time last year, above the MLB average for curveballs at 19.7%. The pitch was also great at inducing weak contact, producing a .184 wOBA and .209 xwOBA against.
If you want his strikeout pitch, that’d be his changeup, which posted a 41.4% chase rate, 24% swinging-strike rate, and 35.5% CSW last year, not to mention a .154 wOBA and .193 xwOBA against.
Basically, Shane McClanahan is pretty good.
1. Julio Urías
Is this a curveball? Is this a slider? Is this a slurve? Depends on who you ask, but we here at Pitcher List classify this as a curveball, and it’s a heck of a curveball at that.
Last year, the pitch worked well as a swing-and-miss pitch, posting a solid 30.6% chase rate and 10.1% swinging-strike rate alongside a 34.6% CSW. The pitch was also solid as a weak contact pitch, with a .259 wOBA and .246 xwOBA against.
That curveball—plus a killer fastball and a good swing-and-miss changeup—helped propel Julio Urías to yet another fabulous year in 2022, posting a 2.16 ERA with a 2.78 xERA (though a 3.71 FIP) through 175 innings.
Could you find reasons to be concerned about Urías this year? Sure. That 3.71 FIP and 3.80 xFIP don’t look great compared to the 2.16 ERA, but I mean, the guy has been fantastic basically since he came up to the majors, and I don’t have any reason to believe he won’t be awesome yet again, assuming he stays healthy.
Graphic adapted by: Chris Corr (@Chris_Studios on Twitter)