Lance McCullers’ dominating curveball graces the Sports Illustrated cover this week.
This week’s Sports Illustrated cover does not feature another article about the Houston Astros winning the 2017 World Series. That was last year featuring Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Dallas Keuchel. Don’t forget the now infamous cover with George Springer three years ago predicting the Astros would be World Series Champs in 2017. The team is off to a good 31-16 start, but they have a long way to go to make that happen.
What Sports Illustrated may not have predicted was the number of veteran talent that Jeff Luhnow brought in this offseason. The Astros have had a larger influx of young talent, but they recognized that they needed to compliment that with veterans. One of the younger talents is gracing the cover of SI this week, but it’s not immediately clear who it is.
All hail McCullers’ curveball!
On the cover you see a hand gripping a baseball with a curveball grip. The header reads, Why the Curveball is Taking Over The Game. Then in the fine print summary of the story, you see Lance McCullers name. Just from the summary, the article will be about how the curveball is becoming one of the most lethal pitches in the game.
Of all the pitchers they could have picked to grace their cover, they picked our guy. It could be that fact that the Astros are the “it” team at the moment with the best record in baseball. Maybe the author Tom Verducci happened to be at an Astros game when he came up with this title. Most likely, it’s because McCullers has one of the best curveballs in the game.
I remember when people said that about Darryl Kile and Roy Oswalt. When you think of McCullers, you think of his blazing fastball at 94.3 mph according to Fangraphs. He can reach the upper 90’s at times, but it’s not the pitch that he throws the most. According to Fangraphs, McCullers throws the fastball only 41.4% of the time compared to his 45.4% usage of the curveball. The speed of the curveball drops down to 85.5 mph.
While McCullers does not have the pitch differential that Oswalt had, he throws more of a power curve. McCullers had this to say about his curveball from Verducci’s article.
"“I just try to rip over it and throw it as hard as I can,” McCullers says. “It’s an aggression pitch for me. It’s called an off-speed pitch, but I don’t view it that way.”"
We have seen current and former Astros struggle with breaking pitches, so why not use that more against his opponents. Some pitchers don’t trust their curveballs, but the use it just as a complement to their fastball. It appears that McCullers uses the fastball to complement his fastball.
All about the curveball?
The curveball is such an out pitch for McCullers that he throws it 68% of the time with two strikes according to Verducci. McCullers can top off at 88 mph with his curveball. Mike Fiers normally pitches around 89-90 mph with his fastball. Maybe watching Chris Carter swing and miss at curveballs for all those years has changed the Astros thinking.
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The Astros are third in the MLB in throwing the highest percent of curveballs and are last in throwing fastballs. While Charlie Morton is throwing in the high 90’s this year, his best pitches are his off speed options. Keuchel and Fiers are not known for their fastballs.
McCullers is 5-1 this year with a 2.43 ERA while striking out 65 batters in 59 1/3 innings. If there is a leader a curveball movement, it would be McCullers and the Astros. Outside of one tough start, McCullers has looked dominant. He had a shortened outing last game with a high pitch count, but only allowed one hit.
Keuchel is no longer the only name opposing offenses hope to miss, McCullers star is rising in front of our eyes. Great article, give it a read!
***Stats from Verducci’s article and Fangraphs***