During this postseason Josh Tomlin has relied on the curveball more than ever before. His starts against Boston and Toronto featured the highest percentage of curves thrown in any starts of his career. And we should expect more of the same against the Cubs.
His increased curve usage is partially driven by matchups. The Red Sox, Blue Jays and Cubs all feature lineups packed with power hitters, so the curveball decreases the odds of Tomlin getting burned by the longball. Additionally, Toronto ranked 29th in MLB in batting average versus the curve. The Cubs rank 25th.
But there’s more to his recent increased usage than matchups.
MLB.com’s Mike Petriello dove deep into the stats in an article earlier this week. If you’re not a stats geek, it’s probably not the article for you as its packed with numbers, but there are some very important takeaways worth knowing. Here are the basics:
- Tomlin’s curveball is spinning at a much faster rate late this season and in the playoffs.
- A higher spin rate has a strong correlation to a lower expected batting average.
So how does this apply to the Cubs lineup specifically?
For those unfamiliar with the stat “exit velocity” it’s exactly what it sounds like: how hard you hit the ball.
Obviously hitting the ball harder increases your odds of getting a hit—especially extra base hits.
Every Cubs hitter on the chart has an average exit velocity under 90 mph. This is extremely significant for Tomlin because it reduces the odds of him giving up a home run significantly. In 2015, when the ball was put in play with an exit velocity under 90 mph only 13 balls left the yard—that’s .03 percent (and no, I didn’t mess up a decimal point. That’s three-hundredths of a percent!).
Now obviously Tomlin can’t throw only curveballs. These are still major league hitters and they’ll hit it if they know its coming. But if Tomlin is able to waste his fastballs in spots where the Cubs can’t do damage, he could be in position to dominate Game 3 with his curveball.