Julio Urías is barely 24, nevertheless it seems like he’s been within the massive leagues for a decade. Known as to the majors at solely 19 within the 2016 season, he’s been part of the Dodgers’ future and current for a half-decade. Whenever you begin that younger, a lot of your improvement occurs on the main league degree. In Urías’ case, which means every kind of adjustments. Immediately, although, I wish to concentrate on one: a curveball that has shape-shifted over time earlier than arriving at a tremendously fascinating ultimate type.
When Urías got here up, he threw a curve with two-plane break, one thing between a curve and a slurve. As you may see on our useful Pitch Type Splits, it featured 7.4 inches of horizontal break and solely 2.9 inches of drop. In his subsequent three seasons, all injury-affected, he turned the pitch into extra of a traditional curve — extra drop than horizontal motion. 2020 noticed a return to his unique curveball form. 2021? Effectively, it’s bizarre:
Curveball Motion by 12 months
|12 months||H Mov (in)||V Mov (in)|
Is it a return to his previous type? Is it an acceleration of his previous type? Is it one thing else completely? Let’s delve too deeply into some gifs and math and discover out.
First, check out a curveball from 2019, the final yr that he threw a “typical” curve with extra drop than run:
It’s a fairly pitch to take a look at, no less than to Kevin Newman and me. Newman, actually, appreciated watching it a lot that he let it drop in for a middle-middle first pitch strike. That pitch wasn’t one I chosen at random; greater than half of the curves Urías threw in 2019 had been on the primary pitch of a plate look. He used it to get forward, then went to it sparingly later in counts.
In 2020, that utilization sample modified. He nonetheless used the pitch to start out batters off — extra steadily, actually. Right here’s a kind of:
You don’t want that desk from up above to let you know that the form is totally different. This curve is extra slurve-y than the earlier yr’s mannequin, left-to-right break with some drop blended in. With that new form, he used the pitch extra in each depend — although he confronted 100 fewer batters in 2020 than 2019, he threw 5 instances as many curves on 0-2, 15 instances as many curves on 1-2, 5 instances as many on 2-2, and so forth.
On the identical time, he drastically curtailed his slider utilization. Provided that the brand new curve behaves, properly, slider-ishly, right here’s a thesis: Urías blended his slider and curve and used the brand new pitch in counts the place both pitch would beforehand have been acceptable. The online impact, from a linear pitch weights standpoint, was optimistic: he was 0.7 runs beneath common together with his two breaking balls mixed in 2019, then 2.2 runs above common with them in 2020.
You could possibly, after all, advance an alternate concept: possibly pitch classification merely merged the 2 pitches, and Urías wasn’t actually mixing them in any respect. Extra curves, with extra common horizontal break and sooner common velocity? Appears like half curves and half sliders to me.
However that’s not the case. Per Baseball Savant, he didn’t throw a single curveball in 2020 with fewer than 10 inches of horizontal break, as measured by their PFX_X calculation. In 2019, 85% of his curveballs had lower than 10 inches of horizontal break. This wasn’t a statistical merge of two unchanged pitches; it was a brand new hybrid pitch that mixed their traits, one thing Urías confirmed this spring.
This yr, issues have taken an additional flip — a sideways flip. That “curveball” now principally seems to be like an 81 mph slider. Right here, check out this 0-1 bender he threw to Chris Owings:
The motion is wholly left-to-right, a slider if I’ve ever seen one. And although we’re nonetheless classifying the pitch as a curveball, contemplate this: Zack Greinke throws a slider with roughly the identical common velocity as Urías’ curveball. Greinke’s slider has roughly common drop. It additionally drops greater than Urías’ curve, whereas breaking much less horizontally. In different phrases, this new pitch is behaving like a slider, no matter he desires to name it.
There’s some proof that the slider-y bent of the pitch has paid off. Think about dividing his curveball into two halves: curves within the higher half of vertical motion and curves within the backside half of vertical motion. In an admittedly small pattern (32 pitches per half), batters are swinging and lacking twice as steadily within the higher half. Once they swing, they’re developing empty twice as steadily as properly — in different phrases, they swing on the two halves equally usually however do a lot worse hitting the one which break down much less.
What does that seem like to the bare eye? Eh, not a lot, to be sincere with you. Right here’s the highest-positive-break curve that drew a whiff:
Received it? Okay, right here’s the one which broke down probably the most whereas coaxing a swing and miss:
These, uh, look fairly much like me. I’ll grant that Ryan McMahon swung over the second pitch whereas Raimel Tapia swung beneath the primary, however Rockies batters lacking pitched baseballs is hardly proof of something given their struggles this yr. Their vertical break (excluding gravity) differed by about three inches. That’s not an enormous hole. Perhaps the truth that Urías is getting barely higher outcomes when giving it much less drop is only a pattern measurement artifact reasonably than something distinctive about pitch form. The general pitch hasn’t been gangbusters, both; it’s drawing whiffs at a decrease price than it did final yr and barely ending batters off.
That mentioned, it’s far too quickly to attract any conclusions about new pitches, and there are optimistic indicators too. Batters haven’t been capable of make onerous contact on the pitch in any respect, so he’s been ready to make use of it within the zone; he’s throwing it for a strike 57.8% of the time, an enormous price for a breaking ball. It additionally comes out of his hand with roughly the alternative spin of his different two pitches, a four-seam fastball and a changeup, which helps the entire package deal play up. The person numbers may not soar off the web page, however the three pitches tie collectively properly.
Extra essential than any early-season pitch-level outcomes, Urías appears to belief the pitch. After throwing solely 18% curves in his first begin, he’s used it 27% of the time in his most up-to-date two begins. He’s already thrown it a whopping 17 instances on 0-1, a key depend in relation to turning the at-bat in his favor. It’s a well-suited pitch for that; as I discussed, he instructions it properly and peppers the strike zone. Down 0-1? It’s your alternative whether or not you’d favor to look at a breaking ball for a strike or take a hack at a pitch that nobody does any harm on.
For now, it’s extra a curiosity than anything. Julio Urías throws a “curveball” that appears like a frisbee of a slider. He’s used it to switch each his slider and his curveball, and he’s taken up the previous curveball utilization sample — early in counts to steal strikes — whereas additionally utilizing it in counts the place he beforehand favored sliders. Pitchers love including new pitches. For Urías, subtracting and simplifying is the brand new rage.