Adam Wainwright’s Curveball Has Improved

Adam Wainwright’s Curveball Has Improved

As Adam Wainwright is trying to reinvent himself it seems his most famous pitch may be being reinvented as well. We all know why he’s changing it but let’s look at how.

Adam Wainwright is famous for his curveball. He has been ever since he threw this one to Carlos Beltran in the 2006 NLCS:

You’re welcome.

Twelve years later, that curveball is changing. Maybe. Maybe it’s just a small sample size fluke. But so far, Adam Wainwright has thrown sixty-five curveballs, and so far, they’re moving more. A lot more. This is his curveball’s horizontal and vertical movement grouped by month over the course of his career:

There’s a point on the far left (May 2007) where sixteen curveballs broke an average of about four inches horizontally, then a few more outliers in that direction, and then a mess of data points right around nine inches of horizontal break that represent the vast majority of  the curveballs Adam Wainwright has thrown in his career.

And then there’s one point well to the right of all the others. That’s this month. This month, Adam’s curveball has had an average of 12.06 inches of horizontal break. His next highest month topped out at 10.41 inches of horizontal break. That’s a pretty substantial difference (especially since he’s thrown quite a few curveballs compared to the other outliers).

Nothing else seems to have shifted much. The release point is a little bit over to the side, but not much; the speed is about average; the vertical movement hasn’t changed; it’s just breaking an extra two inches to his glove side.

The only other slight outlier is in his usage — he’s throwing his curveball a hair over 36% of the time, the highest monthly percentage of his career (albeit not by much):

*The graph with monthly data points wasn’t showing 2018’s data point. While Wainwright’s April has shown a substantially higher usage than any other year, he has had months where his curveball usage has pushed into the low and mid-30s before.

That said, it doesn’t look like Waino’s getting unprecedented results with the pitch. It isn’t getting a ton of whiffs, or limiting contact any better than normal, although it may be generating a few more ground balls than it has on average:

*Again, the monthly data didn’t show 2018, so we’re relying on yearly data. As before, Wainwright’s groundball rate on his curveball dwarfs every other year, but he has had months as good or better than this April before.

It’s still a good pitch for Wainwright, and it does appear to be better than it has been in the recent past (meaning the end of last season), but it doesn’t seem like he’s reinvented himself with the pitch. At least not yet.

In short, I’m not sure that the extra inch and a half is making a whole lot of difference. But it’s there. Maybe it means something. Or maybe not. I don’t know. I actually wanted to write about Adam Wainwright losing some velocity on his fastball when I found that his curveball was breaking an extra few inches and decided that would be a more interesting topic. I’ll keep an eye on it and if anything else changes, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

It’s going to be an interesting season for Adam Wainwright. Fellow STL Hat Trick writer Brian Swope believes that this could be a big rebound year for Waino. If not it will be a disappointing end to a fantastic career for Wainwright.

Graphs courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

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