While studying Dereck Rodríguez’s numbers in an attempt to better understand his success, I came upon this very unusual set of numbers:
Bryan, you idiot troll monster, what the hell is this referring to?
That is top 5 teams in MLB sorted by curveball spin rate. As you can see, the Giants have thrown 1,410 curveballs (according to StatCast), and average 2,619 revolutions per minute on the pitch as a team.
A pitcher’s Spin Rate represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute.
The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory.
As more data have become available, most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates. In fact, some data suggest that Spin Rate correlates more closely than Velocity to swinging-strike percentage.
The Giants don’t strike out many hitters — 7.75 K/9 (23rd in MLB) or 20.4% K rate (22nd in MLB) — but they are well below league average when it comes to HR/FB (the rate at which flyballs are home runs). The league average is 12.6%, the Giants are #1 at 10.3%. They are tied for 25th as a team with a 33.3% flyball rate, so you have to say that they’re a great team at getting groundballs and getting weaker contact on balls hit in the air.
We know that a lot of that 10.3% is attributable to pitching at AT&T Park (indeed, their rate at home is 9.3% and 11.1% at home), but it looks like their ability to spin a curve also has a lot to do with it as well; and to that end, it makes sense why Dereck Rodriguez has been so successful.
The average spin on a curveball (based on 2016 data) is 2,308 rpm. As you can see, the Giants have 10 pitchers who’ve thrown a total of 1,096 curveballs with greater spin, on average, than the typical major league curveball.
Dereck and Andrew’s successful debuts appear to be tied to their success in throwing a breaking ball. There are clearly other factors at play, too, such as park factors and pitch sequencing and, of course, it always comes down to execution, but if we allow that they are executing at or near the peak of their current ability, then what we see is that the Giants have two starters in their rotation who have an above average pitch in their arsenals.
We’ve seen Ray Black’s devastating fastball-curveball combo and what makes it work so effectively is the amount of spin he has on each pitch. He can’t help but throw with movement. This list doesn’t even include Mark Melancon (for some reason I can’t explain), but after going to his individual page, it shows a spin rate of 2,730.
We have Pablo Sandoval to thank for Dereck Rodriguez opting to sign with the Giants in the offseason, and we have the mighty curveball to thank for the modicum of success the Giants pitching staff has had in 2018.
In Curve We Trust.