Jimmy Nelson Found a New Pitch

The list of guys with new pitches every spring runs deep (27 last year on Jason Collette’s excellent list). The list of those that continue to throw those pitches during the regular season is a little bit shorter (23 last year). And the group that see real success from adding that extra pitch is even shorter — ten pitchers added more than a percentage point to their swinging strike rate thanks to a new pitch last year.

This year, the Spring Training list was once again full. Brewers’ starter Jimmy Nelson is on there, and he’s often been called a two-pitch guy since his changeup is not a plus pitch. Now he’s added a spike curve to his mid-90s fastball and above-average slider. He used it plenty in his first start, so he’s already made the jump to the second list. Can his new pitch mean continued success this year?

Attached to Adam McCalvy’s great spring piece on Nelson’s new curve is this interview about the spike curve and why the pitcher gravitated towards it. The grip is key, as the spike grip keeps the Brewer’s breaking balls from morphing into one pitch. Zack Greinke told us that he quit throwing the cutter because it was screwing with his slider, so this is something we’ve heard before.

But for the pitch to be successful, we might want it to be very different from the slider. Or, at least, for the pitch to be successful against lefties, we would want it to look more like a big 12-to-6 curveball than a slurve or a power curve. At least, that’s what the research on platoon splits for pitches says.

Let’s compare the movement we got from Nelson’s first curves to his slider, and the average slider and curveball values for right-handers last year.

Pitch Velocity Horizontal Movement Vertical Movement
Jimmy Nelson Slider 86.5 4.4 0.6
Average RHP Slider 83.9 2.6 1.4
Jimmy Nelson Curve 81.9 5.9 -8.0
Average RHP Curve 77.3 5.6 -5.6

The velocity separation is not quite as large on Nelson’s two breaking balls, and that might be expected from a knuckle curve. The idea according to A.J. Burnett, at least, is to throw the pitch like a fastball, and just as hard. So Nelson’s breaking balls are about two mph closer in velocity than the average right-hander’s.

At least in terms of movement, though, he’s set. The vertical drop on his curve would have ranked 43rd of the 189 pitchers that threw the curve 100 times or more last year, and drop like that is good for ground balls. By that same study, velocity is good for curves, and Nelson’s 81.2 mph would have been 26th of 190 last year. Looks like a good curveball.

You’d also expect a curve ball with that kind of drop to have reverse platoon splits. Against lefties last week, Nelson used the curve 15 times against one slider. He used nine curves against six sliders against righties. Not only is that taking to a new pitch with gusto, it’s a good sign that he has found something to battle lefties with.

Let’s look at the pitch in action, with the slider on the left (88 mph) and the curve on the right (82 mph).

NelsonSliderNelsonCurve

If he can command the curve, Nelson has a more complete arsenal today than he did last year. The early returns on this one are positive, too. Just one game, but he threw 31 sliders and curves, and the breakers were in the zone 45% of the time. That’s double the zone percentage on his 27 changeups thrown to date.

Jimmy Nelson threw one changeup against the Pirates in his first start. And that’s okay. He may have found the pitch he needs already in that knuckle curve.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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JV
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JV
1 year 1 month ago

I know you said last week that you had zero shares of Nelson, but are you now buying Eno?

Eric Hosmer
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Eric Hosmer
1 year 1 month ago

You ain’t getting me to buy Eno!

vince
Guest
vince
1 year 1 month ago

That is a filthy curve! The question is whether it is a reliable weapon…

Evan E
Guest
1 year 1 month ago

This might be a dumb question, but won’t hitters pick up on that finger profile and see the pitch coming?

Jamie
Guest
Jamie
1 year 1 month ago

60’6″ is pretty far away. Note how pitchers sometimes have trouble reading the catcher’s signs, even though the catcher is holding his hand perfectly still, against a solid background, for several seconds.

Evan E
Guest
1 year 1 month ago

1) I’m a Brewers fan, I’m probably overly negative on believing anything good about my own team :~)
2) This is a team who didn’t recognize Axford’s pitch tipping until it was too late and he was on St. Louis.
3) These hitters are pros, I hear about players who can see the seems rotating a certain way, arm angle, etc. etc. I don’t believe every hitter or team has that edge, but certainly some do? In most cases you’re probably right, I just have that “too good to be true” doubt inside of me.

Ryan
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Ryan
1 year 1 month ago

They don’t pick it up with Wainwright and his whole index finger is up and away from the ball.

Cason Jolette
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Cason Jolette
1 year 1 month ago

OT: Any concerns over your boy Hutchinson right now? Looks like his velo is down a little bit to begin the year and I’d like to drop someone to pick up Ottivino. My most droppable players are Hutchinson, Paxton and Cecil. Thanks buddy.

Ryan Brock
Member
Member
1 year 1 month ago

So is Jimmy Nelson the early leader to be the next guy to follow the ‘Richards plan’ and break out? http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/garrett-richards-and-being-right-for-wrong-reasons/

oh Hal
Guest
oh Hal
1 year 1 month ago

Why are 2 seam and 4 seam fastballs considered one pitch?

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