To this point, Framber Valdez’s curveball might easily be among baseball’s most dominant pitches. Every fifth day and year after year, he’s been using it as his biggest weapon on the mound, but it’s been even better in 2021.
In three starts this year, the young left-hander is now 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA across 18 1⁄3 innings of 12 hits and three earned runs, with four walks and 22 strikeouts. And his key to achieve these numbers and be so dominant on the hill is —again— his curveball.
So far, Valdez’s thrown this offering 27% of the time and he’s finished 25 at-bats with it. The results? No hits, 17 strikeouts, 50.0 whiff percentage, and a .094 expected batting average.
However, Framber’s curveball usage has changed a bit entering 2021. For example, he’s no longer using it that much to begin counts as it’s gone down from 26.6% to 16% and, according to Baseball Savant, he’s using his sinker to welcome hitters, which might be a logical decision.
Then, the lefty kills you with his marvelous weapon, which has reached historical levels of chase percentage in ‘21 (seen in the picture below). In 0-2 counts, he uses his curveball at 64.7% of the time — it’s 60.9% with two strikes in general. What I also like about him is how brave he is with that pitch: In 3-2 counts, that number is a still-strong 55.6%.
Speaking of how much Valdez uses his curveball, he ranks 30th in the MLB in terms of curveballs thrown since 2018 (men with minimum 2500 total pitches), with 1017. Even though that’s far behind Charlie Morton’s 2523 curves in that span, Framber has lots of fewer innings than first-place hurlers.
In fact, when you sort the results by curveball%, Valdez climbs to ninth place (out of 187 pitchers) with 32.5%.
Over the same period (since 2018), no pitcher with at least 1000 curveballs has a lower opponent batting average than the Astros’ pitcher: .106. That number surpasses men such as Morton (.153), Tyler Glasnow (.152), Blake Snell (.147), and Corey Kluber (.127). When it comes to opponent slugging percentage, Framber ranks first as well (.201).
I know that, due to the injury he suffered in spring training, the regular season is just starting for Valdez. But upcoming outings should be pretty interesting to see as it seems he hasn’t stopped improving.