David Price’s new curveball

When you have as much raw ability as David Price does, learning a new pitch can be a dangerous weapon. So far this year, Price has begun to toy with a curveball. Although he only threw it 3.9% of the time last year and never in 2008, he’s now thrown it 17.9% of the time in 2010, transforming the way he pitches. David Golebiewski described the change as follows:

Rather than tossing a four-seamer 71 percent of the time and mixing in sliders about 20 percent, Price has thrown a two-seamer about 24 percent and has gone to a 76-77 MPH curveball (thrown about 18 percent) as his breaking pitch of choice. His percentage of four-seam fastballs is in the low forties, and his slider percentage is less than half of what it was last season.

So less fastball and slider (and changeup as well), more curveball. Considering Fangraphs had Price’s slider pegged for -8.1 runs last year, it’s not surprising that Price and the Rays saw it necessary to work on a new breaking pitch. Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn’t too thrilled about the development in the beginning, but seems to have come around:

Manager Joe Maddon admits he had doubts when LHP David Price started working on a curveball the second half of last season. Young pitchers normally add pitches in the minors, but Price, who will make his fifth start of the season tonight against the Royals, spent so little time in the minors he had to work on the pitch after getting to the majors. He kept improving it, and he threw it with his best command yet Sunday (4/25), when he pitched a four-hit shutout against the Blue Jays.

“He’s put that together rather quickly,” Maddon said Friday. “Honestly, I was a little skeptical when I first heard about it, because it’s tough to learn here. It’s a tough pitch to command, and the way he throws it, it’s (an especially) tough pitch to command.

“(But) when he does something, it doesn’t surprise me. He’s so motivated to be great – not just good. It’s not easy to do what he’s done in that short amount of time.

“That speaks to aptitude also.”

Price is 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA since July 31, and it might not be coincidence that his rise as a starter parallels the addition of the curve to his mid-90s fastball, slider and change-up.

“We had to use it in the pen and stuff before you take it out there,” Price said. “There were a couple of starts when I didn’t throw it at all and a couple of starts where I felt pretty good with it and I threw it a lot.

“Right now, if I don’t have it in the first, I can still find it. So that’s good.”

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers behind David Price’s new curveball. Although it’s been worth -0.5 runs according to Fangraphs thus far this season, it seems to be improving:

Start	Team   V-Break	Count	Strikes	Swngs  Linear Weights
4/09 	NYY	-8.07	20	11	0	0.2394
4/14 	BAL 	-4.36	17	11	2	1.8297
4/20 	CHW 	-4.92	18	14	1	-0.2637
4/25 	BAL 	-6.89	15	14	1	0.6823
5/01 	KCR 	-5.93	21	14	0	-0.7144
5/07 	OAK 	-6.46	24	17	2	-1.5988

All the above data is from Brooks Baseball. V-Break is the vertical break of the pitch, “swngs” is the amount of swinging strikes, and linear weights “correspond to how many runs were likely to score on a particular pitch based on average run expectancy when each pitch was thrown and what happened as a result. Negative scores indicate more effective pitches.” As we can see, Price has begun to throw his curve more often recently. He rarely gets it for swings and misses when he does get strikes, but much of the time (possibly because it is relatively new) it catches the batters off guard and falls in for a strike. I’m not sure what the optimal V-Break would be, but it seems as though the extremes of -8 and -4 were not working early on, and Price has found more of a comfort zone in the middle around -5/-6.

The best video of the pitch is Price fooling Garret Atkins at around the twenty-four second mark in this video and inducing a groundout at the twenty-seven second mark in this one. Price throws the curve 35% of the time on 0-1, 29% of the time on 2-2, and a staggering 18% of the time on 0-0. The new curve’s main function right now is to make hitters uncomfortable and off balance (as well as change their eye levels) for when Price gears back and throws a ninety-five fastball; however, if Price can command the bite on the pitch enough to begin fooling righties to chase it, it can become another serious weapon in his arsenal.

Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat
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Mike Fast
13 years ago

Very interesting, Pat!  It looks like he started sprinkling in the curve throughout July and August last year and then really committed to the pitch in September.

I love stories about players making adjustments like this one at the major league level, particularly when we can find the data that describes how and what they did.

13 years ago

Pat you have it right. I still feel it is still a get-me-over curve but it serves its purpose by messing with the hitter’s timing. Interesting that he throws it 1 out of 3 times when getting strike one.

Craig Glaser
13 years ago

He’s thrown it about 18% overall but he’s only thrown 9 in 187 pitches to lefties (147 fastballs) so he’s thrown it about 23% of the time to right handed batters.

So basically he goes fastball with a few sliders against lefties and fastball-curveball with a few sliders and change-ups against righties.

He also seems to have pretty good control with the curveball, throwing it mainly middle-in and waist or lower.

13 years ago

Go Dores