CLEVELAND – The curveball can be one of the riskiest pitches to throw, an offering that can make or break a hurler’s performance.
Just ask Josh Tomlin.
When left up in the zone, even lesser known players like Jorge Bonifacio can crank it out of the park with ease…
Result: Solo home run on a 1-2 curveball (pitch four in the sequence)
Pitch Velocity: 75.9-mph
Exit Velocity: 104.2-mph
Distance: 437 feet
Launch Angle: 29 degrees
Hit Probability: 86%
Manager Terry Francona joked about the monster blast, a minor part of the game that proved meaningless given the Indians 10-1 over Kansas City and Tomlin’s fifth career complete game.
“And today was one of those days where we say maybe he’ll give up a solo, and boy did he ever,” said Francona. “But it was one run.”
Right from the outset, Tomlin’s curveball made him look like the back end of the rotation starter with premier command and a 1.40 ERA in September of 2016, a period where a shorthanded rotation was in dire need of help.
“He's always been that stopper for us,” Jason Kipnis said. “Anytime we've needed a win, you look at him and it doesn't matter who he's going against. He was locked in.”
Aside from the Bonifacio home run, locked in would be an understatement.
Tomlin’s curveball produced six of his 10 swinging strikes, five of his 13 called strikes and nine of his 29 batted balls in play, most of which were beat into the ground – 9 IP, 6 H, 1 R/ER, 0 BB, 3 K (111 pitches, 79 strikes, 71.2%, 10 groundouts, seven flyouts).
“My changeup was a little hard early on in the game, so the curveball was key for me to kind of keep hitters off balance,” said Tomlin. “It has that change of speed enough where it can get them out in front and then just makes the fastball play a little bit better.”
The locations of the bender justified Tomlin’s comment after the contest…
Sample Size: 39 pitches (35.1% usage rate)
Average Velocity: 75.1-mph
Minimum Velocity: 73.3-mph
Maximum Velocity: 76.7-mph
Average Exit Velocity: 76-mph
Minimum Exit Velocity: 45.8-mph
Maximum Exit Velocity: 104.2-mph (the home run)
Strike Percentage: 51.3% (20 strikes, 19 balls)
Considering Tomlin’s career-high 19.6% usage rate on the curveball entering play – a mark well below his 35.1% usage rate on Sunday – the use of off-speed tends to directly correlate with his performance every five days.
“He used his curveball a little bit more, but he also threw his fastball in a little bit more and it opened up the plate,” Francona said. “It was really fun to watch him pitch.”
When the curveball is not diving toward the dirt like it did in his third victory of 2017, the results can be tough to swallow, especially in his 2.1 innings of six-run ball on May 17 against Tampa Bay…
Sample Size: 9 pitches (17.6% usage rate)
Average Velocity: 74.2-mph
Minimum Velocity: 73.1-mph
Maximum Velocity: 74.9-mph
Average Exit Velocity: 80-mph
Minimum Exit Velocity: 70.6-mph
Maximum Exit Velocity: 89.4-mph
Strike Percentage: 33.3% (3 strikes, 6 balls)
The radar gun is not going to blow up, hitters are not going to strike out and the ball is not going to stay in the yard every time Tomlin is on the mound.
Face it, he throws his fastball at an average 87.4-mph and curveball at an average 74.3-mph, both career-lows that may be an indicator toward his early-season struggles in 2017.
“He doesn’t maybe throw as hard as everybody else,” said Francona. “You gotta get hits to beat him.”
Those hits can be tough to come by when the curveball is running like it did in his best start of the campaign.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you did your part to try to help the team win,” Tomlin said. “It’s good to see games like this obviously, but you can’t get too high on the highs and too low on the lows. You have to stay even keel. It’s a long season.”