December 9, 2022
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Pitching Ninja’s Filthiest Pitches: Framber Valdez’s curveball dazzles during LCS

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By Rob Friedman, aka “Pitching Ninja”
FOX Sports MLB Analyst

We’re entering the final stretch of the 2022 MLB campaign — the World Series begins Friday on FOX! As the Padres-Phillies and Yankees-Astros battled it out, we were treated to an outstanding display of dominant pitching in both the ALCS and the NLCS. 

Here are my filthiest pitches of the League Championship Series:

Framber’s hammers 

Framber Valdez had an outstanding regular season, setting a major-league single-season record with 25 consecutive quality starts. And he continued to set records in the postseason, breaking the MLB record for most curveball whiffs in a game with 16 in Game 2 of the ALCS. 

During the regular season, Valdez had the fourth-best curveball in baseball in terms of run value, with a whiff rate of 45.5% on the pitch. It’s no surprise he was able to dominate with his curve in the postseason. 

Here are all those curveball whiffs from Game 2 against the Yankees. A curveball tour de force! 

Wheeler’s dirty curveball to Soto

Zack Wheeler has had a great postseason so far, with a 1.78 ERA while racking up 25 strikeouts in four outings. Wheeler’s fastball draws a lot of attention (rightly so) with its bat-singeing velocity (regularly in the upper-90s, even touching 100 mph), but his curveball has also been vicious this postseason. 

Here’s a Wheeler curveball that got a sword from Juan Soto, a tough feat considering that Soto has some of the best eyes in baseball. 

This overlay illustrates why Soto took such a bad swing at this pitch. The curveball is nearly perfectly tunneled with Wheeler’s 97 mph fastball that was called a strike. To a hitter, the curveball looks just like that fastball — until it dives to the dirt at the last second, so you end up swinging at a ball that nearly hits you in the foot. 

Wheeler also dismantled Soto earlier in the series, getting him to take three premature “walk” struts to first base and then striking Soto out after falling behind 3-0 in the count. 

Wheeler’s dominant stuff helped carry the Phillies to their first World Series appearance since 2009.

Loáisiga’s mind-boggling, 100 mph sinker

Jonathan Loáisiga’s 100 mph sinker ran an incredible 21 inches and dropped 20 inches. That’s an impossible pitch to hit and one of the key reasons Loáisiga gets so much weak contact on his sinker.

Also, Johnny Lasagna regularly serves up flaming cheese.

Darvish’s slow curveball

Yu Darvish is the mad scientist of pitch grips. He has 12 or so pitches that he regularly throws, and he seemingly invents pitches on the fly. 

I’m a sucker for gorgeous, slow curveballs, and Darvish threw this beautiful, 67 mph curve to get a strikeout of Bryce Harper.

Here’s Darvish describing to me how he throws his slow curveball. 

Darvish also had this filthy slider that broke 16 inches. This home-plate view shows just how tough hitters have it!

Verlander’s unfair fastball and slider overlay

I love doing overlays of pitches because I think it helps fans understand how difficult hitting really is. With some yelling, “why did he swing at that?” when a hitter chases a pitch out of the zone, an overlay can help explain exactly what a hitter was seeing.

This overlay of Justin Verlander’s elevated fastball and nasty slider shows why a hitter would swing at a slider way out of the zone. You can see how well Verlander tunnels that slider with his 96 mph fastball, making those pitches virtually indistinguishable to the hitter.

You start out swinging at what you thought was a fastball, but since it’s a slider, you end up swinging at air.

Honorable mentions

A few years ago, I nicknamed José Alvarado “El Diablo” because his pitches looked like they were black magic. Now that he has improved the command of his pitches, El Diablo has taken his game to the next level.  

Alvarado’s 94-mph cutter is pure sorcery. During the regular season, Alvarado had a 55.7% whiff rate on his cutter, the highest whiff rate of any cutter in the majors. It’s a totally unfair pitch, as you can see here:

This overlay helps illustrate how impossible it is to hit off Alvarado. Here’s his 101 mph fastball overlaid with his 93 mph cutter. Because of the extreme velocity, you have a fraction of a second to differentiate these pitches and start your swing. It’s a recipe for a strikeout. 

Bryan Abreu absolutely destroyed Josh Donaldson on this elevated 99 mph rising fastball, getting a sword while having Donaldson bend the knee before greatness.

Ryne Stanek struck out the side with dominant stuff while progressively increasing his K celebrations. I love when pitchers pitch with emotion!

Lastly, Josh Hader set a postseason record with eight consecutive strikeouts. Here’s Hader annihilating the side against the Phillies. 

Simply overpowering stuff, topped off with an absurd, 93 mph changeup! 

Bonus

Giancarlo Stanton famously broke the Astros scoreboard after running down a ball in the outfield and pushing off against it. I decided to have some fun with it by taking that play and putting Stanton in a different situation: a change from game-saving catches to Earth-saving interstellar strength.

Rob Friedman is an MLB pitching analyst for FOX Sports whose work has been featured on many Major League Baseball broadcasts. Follow him on Twitter @PitchingNinja.


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