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Friday, August 08, 2014

Decline of the Curve

The fans laughed at the batter as he slunk back to the dugout, where he was greeted with his own teammates’ laughter and derision. Steineke shouted toward the opposing team’s bench, “That’s all right, Sonny. It ain’t over for you yet. You still got time to call Daddy, tell him you’ll be home in time for bailing hay, because, #######, Daddy, I ain’t never gonna be able to hit that f—-ing pitch.”
[...]
In early March, I drove down to Orlando, Fla., on an expedition to discover how, why and when the Unfair One became extinct. Who killed it? What killed it?

Even by Pat Jordan’s standards, this is a very good piece.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 07:49 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: general, history, pitches, pitching

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   1. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: August 08, 2014 at 10:38 AM (#4767017)
Buccholz had an awesome curve when he first came up. Does he still use it?

Best curveball ever has to go to the final strikeout of Kerry Wood's 20 K game.
   2. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: August 08, 2014 at 11:33 AM (#4767054)
Oh, I vote for Adam Wainwright's curve to Beltran to close out the NLCS. I can still see it.
   3. bookbook Posted: August 08, 2014 at 11:55 AM (#4767087)
As an old Orioles fan, I still remember watching Gregg Ollsen's big loopy curve.

Drove batters nuts. He lost it when he no longer could get it to fall in the strike zone, but he was great for a few years.
   4. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:03 PM (#4767097)
Oh gosh, this article is terrific.
   5. Batman Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:09 PM (#4767103)
As someone who goes all the way back to Tippy Martinez, I refuse to accept "old" as a description for anyone who remembers Gregg Olson.
   6. Greg K Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:11 PM (#4767106)
I remember Clayton Kershaw throwing one in Spring Training one year (I think before his MLB debut), that made Sean Casey look like a baffled and frightened child.
   7. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:16 PM (#4767112)
Phil Hughes had a great curve when he came up, don't know if he still uses it.
   8. Greg K Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:22 PM (#4767116)
When an overhand curve approaches the plate at the batter's letters and then begins going down, the batter essentially is looking down at the ball. He can't judge how far down it will drop from his eye level. But if it also moves right to left, a batter can see that break and adjust his swing.


This makes sense to me, as being the same principle that dictates its easier to track a line drive to either side of you than right at you.
   9. DL from MN Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:27 PM (#4767121)
It is an interesting assertion that he makes in the article that a curveball is less stressful on the arm than the fastball or slider. He could be right. Maybe the way to get pitchers to avoid injury is to teach them a curveball.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 12:43 PM (#4767133)
Really, really good read.
   11. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: August 08, 2014 at 01:13 PM (#4767162)
Utterly fantastic. I'd never thought about the change in mound height impacting curveball usage...

I hope for SOE's sake that he'll keep appearing there in the wake of their cuts.
   12. dr. scott Posted: August 08, 2014 at 01:17 PM (#4767166)
So many great things about this article. the most interesting thing is that most everyone agreed on the main reasons the BOC goes out of favor right down to Al Kaline. I was expecting a lot of different reasons, many of them contradictory.

Question. I was watching Lester pitch last night for one of the first times now that hes on Oakland. He looked to have a nasty BOC, or was that another downward breaking pitch that the batters were whiffing at?
   13. Dale Sams Posted: August 08, 2014 at 01:18 PM (#4767170)
Here's Buchholz's long-lost curveball.
   14. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: August 08, 2014 at 01:48 PM (#4767197)
Is Barry Zito officially retired? Despite an underwhelming stint in SF, I would think he would have received some offers as a back of the rotation guy.

   15. cardsfanboy Posted: August 08, 2014 at 02:09 PM (#4767210)
Excellent article. Everyone should read it.

I'm am surprised that Ryan's curveball was considered the best, my impression was that throughout the 70's that Blyleven was the consensus best curveball in baseball. Agree with Dr. Scott how often the pitching coaches(and Kaline) agreed about the causes of drop in curveball usage.
   16. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 02:24 PM (#4767219)

   17. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 02:25 PM (#4767220)
from TFA:
I said, "I saw Herb Score throw it for a strike one day in 1956, when he struck out a ton of Yankees. He had the best curve I ever saw in person."

The drinker said, "No, Koufax's was better."

"The best ever?" I said.

The drinker thought for a bit and then said, "One of the best ever. Camilo Pascual had the best curveball ever."

I agree with the last guy--Pasqual's 12 to 6 curveball was something to see. As I said in a thread a few months ago, when the centerfield camera first started to be used in the early 60's, his ball looks like it was rolling along a table and then suddenly fell off the end
   18. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: August 08, 2014 at 02:25 PM (#4767222)
He looked to have a nasty BOC, or was that another downward breaking pitch that the batters were whiffing at?


He does have one. He got away from it for a couple of years from about mid-2011 to mid-2013 and really fell in love with the cutter. He still doesn't use the BOC a lot but he's been doing a much better job of integrating it and being less predictable.
   19. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 08, 2014 at 03:05 PM (#4767261)
I can't get past the condescending attitude of the article. The author acts like he was killing people with his curve in the minors, while, in reality, he was walking more than he struck out. Also, all other pitches are nothing.
   20. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 03:30 PM (#4767290)
I can't get past the condescending attitude of the article. The author acts like he was killing people with his curve in the minors, while, in reality, he was walking more than he struck out. Also, all other pitches are nothing.


Have you ever read A False Spring? Jordan knows his failings as a minor league pitcher all too well.
   21. Batman Posted: August 08, 2014 at 03:43 PM (#4767311)
Phil Niekro was on that McCook team, which might be why specified "every hard-throwing pitcher."
   22. puck Posted: August 08, 2014 at 03:52 PM (#4767325)
Tom Gordon has a great one, too.

Do fewer pitchers throw straight overhand? Seems like lots of guys drop down, either to save their shoulder, or maybe get more sink on their pitches.
   23. winnipegwhip Posted: August 08, 2014 at 04:34 PM (#4767387)
Have you ever read A False Spring? Jordan knows his failings as a minor league pitcher all too well
.

I loved "A False Spring." What resonated most with me was the fact at the end that while Winnipeg was a distant outpost of the Northern League in those days it was viewed by players as a great place to meet fast women.

The funny thing was a year prior to reading Jordan's book I had read a book by a guy who travelled with the independent St. Paul Saints. They looked forward to going to Winnipeg because of the women.

Nice to know that despite generations apart The Peg didn't change in what is important.



   24. AROM Posted: August 08, 2014 at 04:59 PM (#4767408)
Looking at that minor league, overall there were 6 walks per 9 innings. That's just one minor league but walk rates in the 50's were much higher in the majors than today.

Everyone in the article says that the decline of the big overhand curve happened because umps won't call it a strike. Looking at the walk rates, seems like they weren't calling those curves strikes very often in 1959 either.

Maybe that's the reason - few pitchers can control it. What has changed is the tolerance for pitchers throwing a pitch they can't control.
   25. JE (Jason) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 06:52 PM (#4767505)
I hope for SOE's sake that he'll keep appearing there in the wake of their cuts.

What's the latest on the cuts? I saw that Megdal and Thurm were among those axed.
   26. Srul Itza At Home Posted: August 08, 2014 at 08:11 PM (#4767548)
Speaking of great 12-6 curveballs, anyone remember Doc Gooden and his Lord Charles curveball?
   27. The John Wetland Memorial Death (CoB) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 08:22 PM (#4767556)
Rod Scurry
   28. The John Wetland Memorial Death (CoB) Posted: August 08, 2014 at 08:56 PM (#4767568)
Dancin' Betances
   29. Dan Posted: August 08, 2014 at 09:44 PM (#4767588)
He does have one. He got away from it for a couple of years from about mid-2011 to mid-2013 and really fell in love with the cutter. He still doesn't use the BOC a lot but he's been doing a much better job of integrating it and being less predictable.


I wouldn't describe Lester's curve as over the top at all. He throws a pretty sweeping curveball that he likes to throw bending around the outside corner of the plate to RHH.

You can see a prime example of Lester's curve used to get a K to a RHH (swinging below the zone rather than called at the corner) in this video about 11 seconds in. It has a lot of horizontal break to the glove side, not overhand at all.
   30. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: August 09, 2014 at 07:07 AM (#4767637)
They looked forward to going to Winnipeg because of the women.


Now we know why the NHL was so desperate to put a team there again...
   31. Hysterical & Useless Posted: August 09, 2014 at 03:53 PM (#4767773)
As Srul notes, Doc Gooden had an amazing curveball. Absolutely froze hitters. Problem was, it absolutely froze umpires too. They simply wouldn't call it a strike; it just dropped too much. But it was gorgeous to see.
   32. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: August 10, 2014 at 07:27 AM (#4767933)
They looked forward to going to Winnipeg because of the women.


Now we know why the NHL was so desperate to put a team there again...
   33. GuyM Posted: August 10, 2014 at 12:02 PM (#4767987)
This was entertaining. But I would have more confidence in the reporting and analysis if he hadn't invented velocities for almost every pitcher. Like his 5-10 A-ball teammate who supposedly threw in the "upper 90s". He seems sure he knows exactly how fast Ryan, Palmer and other guys threw as well. Makes me wonder what else here was invented too.

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