The anticipated return of Wainwright’s curveball

It’s been a crazy offseason in St. Louis. Along with some new faces—or old ones in new roles—the Cardinals fans will be reacquainted with the second dome on their two-headed ace. New elbow not withstanding, it stands to reason that the youthful Adam Wainwright will return as 1a, not 1b, over the slowly, but gracefully, aging Chris Carpenter.

And it’s not just some team’s ace coming back, not just a Cy Young candidate, but one of the best curveballs in baseball. He’ll rejoin a rotation that has some pretty snazzy curveballs, if not as effective.

Let’s unpack that highly technical term, “snazzy”. We’ll use Wainwright as a baseline, using two primary measurements—speed and movement. Specifically, vertical drop.

Speed will be based on the closest estimate to release point speed (a few feet further back than shows it) and movement based on the combined effects of gravity and spin. This is also measured over a longer span of time. We’ll call it drop and speed.

Here are the major league leaders in curveball drop over the last two seasons, minimum 500 curveballs.

Pitcher Drop (in) Speed (mph)
Randy Wolf -62 68
Ted Lilly -60 71
Livan Hernandez -60 67
Barry Zito -59 73
Dave Bush -59 69
Jaime Garcia -57 74
Brett Myers -56 76
Adam Wainwright -55 75
Kyle McClellan -55 74
Chris Carpenter -55 75

Speed is obviously correlated to movement—faster pitches have less time for both spin and gravity to do their thing. But Wainwright falls into a nice group along with three of his teammates. Next on the list would be Roy Oswalt, who should sign with St. Louis just to give the Cards a royal flush of big curves.

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