Pitching Ninja’s filthiest pitches: Framber Valdez’s curveball dazzles during LCS

from Rob Friedman, aka “Pitching Ninja”
FOX Sports MLB Analyst

We’re entering the final stretch of the 2022 MLB campaign – the World Series begins Friday on FOX! As Padres-Philies and Yankees-Astros battled it out, we were treated to an incredible display of dominant pitching in both the ALCS and NLCS.

Here are my dirtiest pitches of the Champions League Series:

Framber’s hammers

Framber Valdez had an outstanding regular season, setting a major league single-season record with 25 consecutive quality starts. Valdez continued to set records in the postseason, breaking the MLB record for most curveballs in a game with 16 in Game 2 of the ALCS. During the regular season, Valdez had the fourth best batting average in baseball in terms of run value and had a 45.5% slugging rate on that pitch. So it’s no surprise that he was able to dominate with his curveball in the postseason.

Here are all those curveball noises from Game 2 against the Yankees. A curveball tournament!

Wheeler’s dirty curveball to Soto

Zack Wheeler has had a great postseason so far with a 1.78 ERA while striking out 25 batters over four outings. Wheeler’s fastball gets a lot of attention, rightfully so, because of its blistering velocity (regularly in the upper 90s, even touching 100 mph), but his curveball has has also been wild this postseason. Here’s a Wheeler curveball that took a swing off Juan Soto, a tough feat since Soto has one of the best eyes in baseball.

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This cover illustrates why Soto made such a bad move in this area. The curveball is nearly perfect with Wheeler’s 97 mph fastball being called a strikeout. As a hitter, the curveball looks just like the fastball, until it sinks into the dirt at the last second, so you end up swinging a ball that almost hits you in the leg.

Wheeler also dismantled Soto earlier in the series, causing him to take a record three premature “walks” to first base, striking out Soto after falling behind 3-0 in the count.

Wheeler’s dominant stuff helped lead the Phillies to their first World Series appearance since 2009.

Loáisiga’s astonishing 100 mph sinkhole

Jonathan Loáisiga’s 100 mph sinker ran an incredible 21 inches and dropped 20 inches. Just an impossible pitch to hit and one of the main reasons Loáisiga has so much poor contact with his sinker.

Johnny Lasagna regularly serves hot cheese.

Darvish’s slow curve

Yu Darvish is the mad scientist of pitching. He has about 12 pitches that he throws regularly, while apparently making up pitches on the fly. I’m big on great curveballs, and Yu threw this beautiful 67 mph curveball to hit Bryce Harper.

Here’s Darvish describing to me how he throws his fastball.

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Darvish also had this nasty slider that broke 16 inches. This view of home plate really shows how tough the hitters have it!

Verlander Fastball and Slider Overlay Unfair

I like to overlay pitches because I think it helps the fans understand how hard hitting really is. Instead of yelling “why did you rock with that?” when a hitter follows a pitch out of the zone, an overlay can help explain exactly what a hitter was seeing.

This overlay of Justin Verlander’s elevated fastball and nasty slider shows why a hitter will swing at a slider to get out of the zone. You can see how well Verlander tunnels his slider with his 96 mph fastball, making those pitches virtually indistinguishable to the hitter. You start swinging at what you thought was a fastball, but since it’s a slider, you end up swinging in the air… whiiiffff.

Honorable mentions

A few years ago, I nicknamed José Alvarado “El Diablo“Because his pitches looked like black magic. Now that he has improved command of his pitches, El Diablo has taken his game to another level.

Alvarado’s 94 mph cutter is pure magic. During the regular season, Alvarado had a 55.7% slugging rate on his cutter, which was the highest slugging rate of any cutter in the majors. It’s a completely unfair field, as you can see here:

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This overlay helps illustrate just how impossible it is to hit Alvarado. Here’s his 101 mph fastball lined with his 93 mph cutter. Because of the extreme speed, you have a split second to spot these steps and start your swing. It’s a recipe for a sure shot.

Bryan Abreu absolutely destroyed Josh Donaldson on this 99 mph elevated fastball, taking a swing while also making Donaldson bend the knee before his majesty.

Ryne Stanek hit the bullpen with dominant stuff, also progressively increasing his K celebrations. I love it when pitchers pitch with excitement!

finally, Josh Hader set a new postseason record with eight consecutive hits. Here’s Hader annihilating the side against the Phillies. Just incredible stuff, topping it off with an absurd 93mph changeup!

Bonus

Giancarlo Stanton famously broke the Astros’ scoreboard after running a ball down the field and driving it against him. I decided to have some fun with it by taking that game and putting Stanton in a different situation: a change from game-saving catches to Earth-saving interstellar force.

Rob Friedman is an MLB pitching analyst for FOX Sports whose work has been featured on many Major League Baseball broadcasts. Follow him on Twitter @PitchingNinja.


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