If you’ve read Who Did It Best? before, you’ll know that the theme is always defence related. But watching Clayton Kershaw stirs strange things to the moral fabric of a man, and I watched him mow down the Padres in a complete game shutout a couple of nights ago. So the rules are bending. Take a gander at the GIF that inspired this post, featuring the stooge Brett Wallace, and you’ll understand.

Kershaw.BrettWallace

Vin Scully will sometimes call Kershaw’s curve a “change-curve”. I have no clue what that is but I can only guess it’s a designation to make sure this curve is not to be confused with other curves. The most shocking statistic about Kershaw’s hook isn’t its crazy break (up to 5.5 ft. of horizontal movement + gravity), or its absurd value (he accumulated 17.2 curveball runs above average last season), but the fact that he only uses it 13% of the time on average. That’s like playing Super Smash with Jigglypuff and declining to use his one hit KO down-B move.

I wish I had access to the kind of PITCHf/x data and HD video that would allow me to somewhat scientifically compare the best curveballs from all of baseball history and make an attempt to definitively rank them, but I don’t. So instead of doing that, I’ve giffed some GIFs of my favourite curveball-throwers and am going to rank those. Also, while I am including statistics on each pitcher’s curveball, they are purely descriptive statistics that are meant to give some context to these purely aesthetic rankings.

These are all fairly recent pitchers due to video constraints, and my young memory, and these do not necessarily represent the best curveballs that each pitcher has thrown. Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Bert Blyleven, and all the legendary hooksmen of yore are unfortunately not in this post, so if you’re looking for HD GIFs of a Koufax curve stop reading now. If you’re still reading, welcome to Week 4 of Who Did It Best?

6. Andy Pettitte

Petitte.Wilkerson

  • Career Curveball Usage: 13%
  • Career Curveball Velocity: 75 MPH
  • Career Vertical Break + Gravity: -47.94 inches*

Quick note: “Vertical Break + Gravity”, per Brooks Baseball, describes the vertical movement effected by the pitcher plus the effect of gravity. This adds up to the actual drop you see when you watch a curveball move, which is the kind of stat we want in order to rank these curves by aesthetic value.

*These stats only go back to 2007 so in Pettitte’s case take it with a grain of salt.

Though steroids do aid longevity, Andy Pettitte’s longevity is still shocking. He played 18 Major League seasons and in addition to setting the Yankees all-time strikeouts mark (2,020), he won the most games of any pitcher in the 2000s and is MLB’s all-time postseason wins leader (19).

He was known for his five-pitch mix and exceptional command, but it was the hard, sweeping hook that set him apart. Even when he threw it right in the middle of the strike zone hitters could only wave at it.

5. Gio Gonzalez

Gonzalez.Rollins

  • Career Curveball Usage: 23%
  • Career Curveball Velocity: 79 MPH
  • Career Vertical Break + Gravity: -53.65 inches

Gonzalez has been a model of consistency since 2010, and the fielding independent statistics love him due to his whiff-inducing curveball. He rode the filthy hook to a league-best 2.82 FIP in 2012, and relies on the pitch in two-strike counts to get silly swings like the one above from Rollins.

4. Yu Darvish

Darvish.Cabrera

  • Career Curveball Usage: 10%
  • Career Curveball Velocity: 70 MPH
  • Career Vertical Break + Gravity: -52.58 inches

Darvish has so many pitches to choose from that he only uses his curveball around 10% of the time. The GIF above is a slower version of the curve that Miguel Cabrera whiffs badly on—his usual curve comes in a little hotter with sharper break. The great part about Darvish is that no matter the speed or break of the pitch he’s about to release it all looks the same to the batter until it’s too late.

3. Adam Wainwright

Wainwright.Duda

  • Career Curveball Usage: 25%
  • Career Curveball Velocity: 74 MPH
  • Career Vertical Break + Gravity: -59.68 inches

People love to call Waino’s hook a 12-6 curve because it breaks straight down (think of the numbers on an analog clock), but that’s not really accurate. The GIF above is more of a 1-7 curve if that’s a thing, and its a classic two-strike offering from Wainwright against righty batters. Look how Lucas Duda freezes when he thinks the pitch is coming in high and in. Wainwright typically tosses his 12-6 curve on the outer half to lefty batters for swinging strikes.

2. Justin Verlander

Verlander.Vogt

  • Career Curveball Usage: 17%
  • Career Curveball Velocity: 80 MPH
  • Career Vertical Break + Gravity: -48.42 inches

Verlander has the fastest average curveball on this list, and in his younger days the speed differential between his hook and slider was only 2 MPH. I call Verlander’s curveball a “leaner” because it starts so high that it makes batters lean back and away as if turning their eyes from a hot smoking hobo fire.

Verlander.Youkilis

Had to include this one of Verlander completely fooling Youk on this hook that drops like a fire mixtape straight into the zone. Look at how the catcher sets up with his mitt touching the dirt, fully confident in Verlander’s ability to hit his spot. A thing of beauty.

1. Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw.JarrettParker

  • Career Curveball Usage: 13%
  • Career Curveball Velocity: 74 MPH
  • Career Vertical Break + Gravity: -59.17 inches

Who else could it be? I love watching Kershaw’s body unfurl as he lets his hook go; it’s almost like his skeleton is arching to mirror the movement of the pitch. Again: this might be the nastiest pitch in baseball and he only uses it 13% of the time. The pitch has averaged 74 MPH on his career, but it looks way, way faster.

 

Bonus GIFS

I’ve noticed this season that there are a lot of young arms throwing nasty curveballs. Don’t know if that’s a development trend or what, but three names in particular come to mind.

Chris Bassitt

Bassitt.Pence

Aaron Nola

nola

A.J. Griffin

griffin

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