Dirtiest Ninja 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-Phillies and Yankees-Astros battled it out, we were treated to an outstanding display of dominant tilting in both the ALCS and NLCS.

Here are my dirtiest Championship Series pitches:

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 curveballs in a game with 16 in Game 2 of the ALCS. During the regular season, Valdez had the fourth-best curveball in baseball in terms of run value and had a whiff rate of 45.5% on that pitch. So it’s no surprise that he’s been able to dominate with his curveball in the postseason.

Here are all those meandering gusts from Game 2 against the Yankees. Curveball Tour!

Wheeler’s dirty curveball to Soto

Zach Wheeler has had a great postseason so far with a 1.78 ERA while racking up 25 strikeouts in his four outings. Wheeler’s fastball gets a lot of attention, rightfully so, because of his bat speed on fire (regularly in the upper 90s, even touching 100 mph), but his curveball has also been vicious this postseason. Here’s a Wheeler curveball that got a sword from Juan Soto, a difficult feat since Soto has one of the best eyes in baseball.

This overlay illustrates why Soto threw such a bad swing on this pitch. The curveball tunneled almost perfectly with Wheeler’s 97 mph fastball, which was called a strike. As a hitter, the curveball looks just like that fastball until it dives into the dirt at the last second, so you end up swinging at a ball that almost hits you in the leg.

Wheeler also dismantled Soto earlier in the series, getting him to take a career-high three premature walks to first base, pulling Soto after trailing 3-0 in the count.

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

Loáisiga’s mind-boggling 100 mph dive

Jonathan Loaisiga’s 100 mph sinker traveled an incredible 21 inches and fell 20 inches. Just an impossible shot for a shot and one of the key reasons why Loáisiga gets so much low contact on his sinker.

Johnny Lasagna regularly serves flaming cheese.

Darvish’s slow curve

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

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

Darvish also had that dirty slider that broke 16 inches. This view of home plate really shows how hard hitters they have!

Verlander’s foul fastball and slider

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

This overlay of Justin Verlander’s elevated fastball and nasty slider shows exactly why a hitter would swing at a slider out of the zone. You can see how well Verlander tunnels this slider with his 96 mph fastball, making these 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 through the air…whiiiffff.

Honorable mentions

A few years ago I called Jose Alvarado “El Diablo” because his pitches looked like black magic. Now that he’s improved his pitch management, 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. This is a completely unfair representation, as you can see here:

This overlay helps illustrate just how impossible it is to hit Alvarado. Here’s his 101 mph fastball overlaid with his 93 mph slider. Because of the extreme speed, you have a split second to distinguish these pitches and start the swing. This is a recipe for a sure hit.

Brian Abreu absolutely destroyed Josh Donaldson on this 99 mph rising fastball, getting a sword while also causing Donaldson to bend the knee to its majesty.

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

Last, Josh Hader set a new postseason record with eight consecutive hits. Here’s how Hader destroyed the team against the Phillies. Just overpowered stuff topped off with an absurd 93 mph change!

Bonus

Giancarlo Stanton broke the Astros’ scoreboard after fielding a ground ball and fielding it. I decided to have some fun with this by taking that game and putting Stanton in a different situation: changing from game-saving tricks to Earth-saving interstellar power.

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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