Saturday, August 17, 2013

Clayton Kershaw has the best curveball in Major League Baseball

When the term "unhittable" is thrown around, it sometimes comes across a bit hyperbolic. Yes, guys like Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander (well, maybe not this season) are for the most part, unhittable.

When one thinks of the most unhittable pitches in baseball, a few come to mind right away:
All of those are great offerings. Dodgers' lefty Clayton Kershaw, who has a legitimate four-pitch arsenal, has the most unhittable curveball in the game. Literally. He'll put it to the test against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight.

Kershaw has thrown the pitch 342 times this season. Opposing hitters are 9-for-116 with 59 strikeouts. That amounts to a .078 batting average. Oh, all the hits have been singles and he hasn't walked anyone with it, so the rest of the triple slash works out to .078/.078.

When Kershaw burst onto the scene in 2008, he was primarily a fastball-curveball pitcher. He made tons of noise in spring training 2008 with this curveball to Sean Casey (sorry for the poor quality).




Nasty.

This is Kershaw's curveball usage in his career.



And his slider usage.



(Thanks to Brooks Baseball for the data/charts)

Kershaw didn't really throw a slider until May 2009. That coincides with the drop off in his curveball usage. He had gone from a fastball-curveball guy to a fastball-slider guy -- and it was (and still is) a great pitch for him. For comparison's sake, Kershaw has thrown his slider 688 times this season. Hitters are 29-for-171 with four home runs and 10 walks. Still dominant, but not as dominant as his curveball has been.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kershaw doesn't throw the curve to left-handed hitters all that much. Of his 342 curveballs, he's thrown just 68 to lefties (roughly 20 percent).

Since May of last year, Kershaw hasn't thrown his curveball at less than 11.18 percent of the time after two years of 4.21 to 9.88 percent of curveball usage. He's where he needs to be with the pitch. He obviously has supreme confidence in his fastball and slider to get outs. His curveball, while not a surprise pitch by any means, keeps hitters honest and keeps them from sitting on the fastball and slider.

It's no surprise Kershaw has emerged as one of baseball's best pitchers. He has three plus pitches, including a plus-plus offering in his curve, and a budding fourth plus-pitch in his changeup (even if the numbers don't completely back it up).

"Public Enemy No. 1," as Vin Scully dubbed it, is certainly Kershaw's best weapon. I'm glad he's back to throwing it more frequently than he had been in recent years.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue

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