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

Per 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-Phillies and Yankees-Astros battled it out, we were treated to a remarkable display of dominant pitching in the ALCS and NLCS.

These are my dirtiest pitches in the League Championship Series:

Framber 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 strikeouts in a game with 16 strikeouts in Game 2 of the ALCS. During the regular season, Valdez had the fourth-best curveball in baseball in terms of runs and had a 45.5% whiff rate on that pitch. Therefore, it is not surprising that he managed to dominate the postseason with his curveball.

Here are all those curveball whiffs from Game 2 against the Yankees. Curveball tour de force!

Wheeler’s foul ball to Soto

Zack Wheeler has had a great postseason so far with a 1.78 ERA while collecting 25 strikeouts in his four outings. Wheeler’s fastball gets a lot of attention, rightfully so, for his bat velocity (regularly in the upper 90s, even up to 100 mph), but his curveball has also been vicious this postseason. This is a Wheeler curveball that got the sword from Juan Soto, a difficult feat because Soto has one of the best eyes in baseball.

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This layer illustrates why Soto has such a bad swing at this pitch. The curveball tunneled almost perfectly with Wheeler’s 97 mph fastball being called a strike. As a hitter, the curveball looks like that fastball, until it bounces to the ground at the last second, so you end up swinging a ball that nearly hits you in the foot.

Wheeler also dismantled Soto earlier in the series, forcing him to take a record three premature “walk” steps to first base, ejecting Soto after trailing 3-0 in the count.

Wheeler’s dominant pitching helped the Phillies reach their first World Series appearance since 2009.

Loáísiga’s incredible 100 mph sinker

Jonathan Loáisiga’s 100 mph tonilo traveled an incredible 21 inches and dropped 20 inches. Just impossible to guess and one of the key reasons why Loáisiga has such weak contact on his sinker.

Johnny Lasagna regularly serves flaming cheese.

Darvish’s slow curveball

Yu Darvish is a mad scientist of pitching. He has 12 pitches that he regularly throws, and pitches that he seemingly makes up on the fly. I’m a fan of beautiful slow curves, and Yu threw this beautiful 67 mph curveball to strike out Bryce Harper.

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

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Darvish also had this dirty slider that broke 16 inches. This display of the home plate really shows how strong the attackers are!

Verlander’s unfair fastball and slider layer

I like to do pitch overlays because I think it helps the fans understand how hard a shot really is. Instead of yelling “why did he swing at that?” when the attacker chases the ball out of the zone, the overlay can help explain exactly what the attacker saw.

This overlay of Justin Verlander’s elevated fastball and nasty slider shows why a hitter would swing a slider out of the zone. You can see Verlander fine tuning that slider with his 96 mph fastball, making those strikes virtually indistinguishable to the hitter. You start out swinging 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’s improved his pitch control, El Diablo has taken his game to the next level.

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

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This overlap helps illustrate how impossible it is to hit Alvarado. Here’s his 101 mph fastball paired with his 93 mph cutter. Because of the extreme speed, you have a split second to distinguish between these steps and start the swing. That’s a recipe for a sure shot.

Bryan Abreu absolutely destroyed Josh Donaldson on this 99 mph rising fastball, getting the sword as Donaldson knelt before his greatness.

Ryne Stanek hit the side with dominant stuff while progressively increasing his K celebrations. I love it when pitchers throw with emotion!

last, Josh Hader set a new postseason record with eight consecutive strikeouts. Here’s Hader destroying the side against the Phillies. Simply overwhelming stuff, topped off with an absurd 93 mph changeup!

Bonus

Giancarlo Stanton famously broke the Astros scoreboard after hitting a ball in the outfield and pushing away from it. I decided to have a little fun by taking that game and putting Stanton in a different situation: changing from game-saving catcher 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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