This Sunday Vicente Padilla of the Red Sox showed off his lollipop curve, throwing several in a four-inning appearance against, among others, Prince Fielder. When pitching to right-handers he throws a standard curve ball in the mid 70s, but when facing left-handers he splits his curve between that one and a slow curve around 50 mph.
His lollipop curve would grade as the slowest recorded on FanGraphs, slower ever than Tim Wakefield’s 60 mph curve. The pitch Padilla throws to lefties has a modest downward movement, but has a higher break, as you can see on his pitch charts.
|Vicente Padilla pitch movement|
The other pitches give perspective on how much higher the curve breaks versus left-handers. In the graph below you can see the separation of the two curves over the years starting in 2008 and 2009.
|Padilla vertical movement by year|
As you can see there is a closer grouping of curves in 2007 and 2008, but in 2009 and 2010 the two separate and his slow looping curve gets slower. While the data here can’t tell us how good the new looping or lollipop curve is, we can look at how he has done against left-handers over the past five or six years.
Padilla has never been a great pitcher against left-handers, although that hasn’t stopped teams from using him against lefties. He has faced 3,072 left-handers and 3,081 right handers in his career. His stats against right-handers have been good, with a career FIP of 3.74 against them. On the other hand, his FIP against left- handers before 2009 was 5.71 and he struggled to get outs.
Since the addition of the looping curve, his numbers have improved. They aren’t stellar, but he’s been able to become a passable pitcher against lefties. In 2009 and 2010 his FIP against lefties fell to 4.93 with the addition of the looping curve. His strikeouts per bases on balls is still low at 1.77, but compared to his career rate of 1.35 against lefties, he has improved.
We’ll need to separate out his looping curve data from his regular curve to see what kind of swing data there is, but the overall data seem to show an improvement against lefties with the arrival of the “trick” pitch. Do hitters even swing at the slow curve? What do they do with it if they make contact?
This season, Padilla will be throwing in a relief role for the first time consistently since 2001. That skews the data, since his previous bullpen work was more than 10 years ago, but he was much better in the relief role. His career xFIP as a reliever is 3.15 versus 4.39 as a starter. It’s fair to say Padilla might be the surprise addition to the Red Soxbull pen this season, packing a surprising looping curve that is sure to draw attention, but also gets results when he faces tough lefties. It might not be enough to make Padilla a great closer option, but if the bullpen struggles to close out games, Padilla could find himself in that role and certainly could succeed with his looping curve.