Just because the 2020 season hasn't started yet, doesn't mean baseball fans have to forget what it's like to watch the best of the best. This week, MLB.com is highlighting some of the nastiest pitches in baseball -- a different pitch type every day, with five pitchers featured for each
Just because the 2020 season hasn't started yet, doesn't mean baseball fans have to forget what it's like to watch the best of the best. This week, MLB.com is highlighting some of the nastiest pitches in baseball -- a different pitch type every day, with five pitchers featured for each (no repeats), picked by our reporters. Fastballs were up first.
Up next: curveballs.
The curveball might be baseball's most beautiful pitch. And after you watch these, how could you think otherwise?
A great curve is a piece of art, and you're about to see some of MLB's finest artists at the canvas.
Here are five of the nastiest curveballs in baseball.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Why he's so nasty: 68 inches of drop
This pick isn’t really about the numbers, though Kershaw’s have been excellent. In his career, his curveball has held opponents to a .134 batting average and .192 slugging percentage, with more than 600 strikeouts and a whiff rate near 37%.
No, this is more about aesthetics. Kershaw’s curve is a thing of beauty -- a slow-moving hook that drops from the heavens. It’s been 12 years since the left-hander unleashed a gorgeous one to freeze veteran Sean Casey in Spring Training 2008 (before his rookie season), prompting legendary announcer Vin Scully to chuckle in astonishment before dubbing the pitch, “Public Enemy No. 1.” The curve has been dazzling ever since. It’s not even Kershaw’s go-to breaking ball -- that would be his slider -- but it is the pitch people will remember most long after he retires.
-- Andrew Simon
Charlie Morton, Rays
Why he's so nasty: 8.1 inches of horizontal movement above avg.
Morton threw his curveball more often than any other offering in 2019, and for good reason. With a spin rate (2,886 rpm) that was well above the MLB curveball average (2,523 rpm), the big sweeping hook neutralized all comers, regardless of what batter's box they were standing in, and helped the veteran right-hander finish third in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
Generating a 38.1% swing-and-miss rate with the pitch, Morton used his curveball to rack up 136 of his career-high 240 strikeouts last season -- the most curveball strikeouts in MLB. And when hitters did manage to make contact against Morton's curve, they rarely did damage, recording a .151 average with a .228 slugging percentage.
-- Thomas Harrigan
Tyler Glasnow, Rays
Why he's so nasty: 2,907 rpm spin rate
Unfortunately, we only got to see 12 regular-season starts from Glasnow last year due to injury, but when he did pitch, he showed us just how great he can be. And his curveball is a big reason why. His curveball had an average spin rate of 2,907 rpm, ranking fourth among starting pitchers to throw at least 250 curves last year.
Forty-five of the 76 strikeouts Glasnow got last season were on his curveball -- that’s 59% of his strikeouts. Through May 10, the date of his last start before an extended injured list stint, Glasnow had 37 strikeouts on his curveball -- second in the Majors behind his teammate Morton, who had just one more than Glasnow. To that point, he had a 33.6% putaway rate on the pitch, the highest of any pitcher to throw more than 100 two-strike curveballs. That means when he threw a two-strike curveball more than a third of the time that batters struck out.
Glasnow induced a 43.9% whiff rate on swings against his curve, which ranked seventh-highest among starters to get at least 50 swings against their curves in ‘19, and was far above the Major League average whiff rate on curveballs of 31.9%.
No matter what stats you look at, the message is pretty clear: good luck hitting a Glasnow curveball.
-- Sarah Langs
Aaron Nola, Phillies
Why he's so nasty: 445 called + swinging strikes on curves
Nola's curveball gets tons of break -- his vertical movement last season was three inches above average, and his horizontal movement was two inches above average -- but what really sets him apart is that he has supreme command of it even with how much it moves.
The Phillies ace used his knuckle-curve to get 445 total called and swinging strikes in 2019, the most of any pitcher. Nola, Charlie Morton (431) and Stephen Strasburg (422) were the only ones above 400. Nola struck out over 100 batters with his curveball for a second straight season, and his 109 curveball Ks were second only to Morton's 136.
-- David Adler
Ryan Pressly, Astros
Why he's so nasty: 10.0 inches of horizontal movement above avg.
Pressly’s hook sweeps side to side at a level above anyone else's -- he gets 10 inches more horizontal movement than curveballs thrown at similar velocities and release points. His curveball also has four more inches of drop vs. average, and it comes in faster than all but about 20 other curves. Translation: this thing is maxed out in the movement department, and it’s about as slippery as any pitch in the game.
Pressly, a former Rule 5 Draft pick, developed this devastating out pitch and became a bullpen star. Last year, Pressly threw 100 curveballs when the count got to two strikes, and batters struck out 37 times and mustered just two doubles and three singles. If you’re geared up for Pressly’s high-90s heat and he whips this thing at you instead, start planning your walk back to the dugout.
-- Matt Kelly
Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.