Curveball completes Shields' elite swing-and-miss arsenal
ANAHEIM -- Based on what Padres manager Bud Black knew of James Shields, he knew that he was getting a pitcher with a diverse mix of pitches, but two that often rate as exceptional.
"On video and just the game that I remember of Shields, it was the fastball-changeup combo that was devastating," Black said. "When I saw him throw [the curveball] in Spring Training, I saw how good it was.
"Now I'm seeing it become a real weapon for him."
Shields has the second-highest number of swings and misses induced this season with 157 -- trailing only Corey Kluber of the Indians (159). His swinging-strike rate (15 percent) is the highest in baseball.
But it's not entirely fastball or changeup that's doing the trick in 2015.
"As long as I get outs, I don't really care what I'm throwing," Shields said after his last start against the Dodgers on Sunday.
But it's clear his curveball has become a wipeout pitch for him in 2015.
He is throwing more curveballs this season (24 percent) than any of his previous eight seasons in the big leagues. Last season with the Royals, he used the pitch just 12 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball.
Specifically, his curveball has induced 44 percent of his swing-and-misses, up from 37 percent a year ago. The changeup is getting 42 percent of his swing-and-misses, up from 32 percent last season.
In a start against the Cubs on May 19, 40 percent of Shields' pitches were curveballs. That was the most curveballs he's thrown in a single game since breaking into the big leagues in 2007. Then, on Sunday against the Dodgers, 35 percent of his pitches were curveballs.
That Shields -- who is 6-0 this season -- has been able to accumulate so many swings and misses doesn't surprise his manager at all.
"The spin, the revolutions, the tightness of the spin ... it's real," Black said of Shields' curveball. "If you have an effective breaking pitch, that's where the most swing-and-miss numbers occur. In most cases, the fastball, is not a swing-and-miss pitch."