Fast-Rising Tigers Prospect Alex Lange Nerds Out on His Curveball

Alex Lange was asked about his breaking ball on a Zoom call yesterday, and the more he said about it, the more I wanted to know. Initially, the fast-rising, 25-year-old Detroit Tigers prospect told the small cadre of reporters that he doesn’t consider the pitch a slider, as it’s often categorized. Rather, he considers it a curveball “because of the spin axis.” Lange added a few details, albeit without getting especially nerdy.

I asked Lange — a likely Top 10 in our forthcoming 2021 Tigers Top Prospect rankings — if he’d like to nerd-out on the plus offering. He was happy to oblige.

“Analytically, you look at the pitch and it’s not very good,” said Lange, who was drafted 30th overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2017 and subsequently dealt to Detroit two years later as part of the Nick Castellanos deal. “The spin efficiency is anywhere from 45% to 55%, and when you think of a breaking ball, or a curveball, you’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not very good.’ The depth on it is negative-10 to negative-12 inches of vertical break, so you’re like, ’Nah, it’s not very good.’ But when it’s thrown hard with the spin axis being as close to six as it gets sometimes, that’s where we’re getting the swings-and-misses and takes on it. That’s because you’re not seeing the dot. You’re seeing the ball rotate just like my four-seam rotates, but in the opposite direction. And it’s hard, and it’s late. I think that’s why it’s effective. I just try to stay on top of it, rip it straight down, and get 12-to-six action on it, and try to pair it with the heater.”

As expansive as that answer was, followups were order. I asked the right-hander about the spin rate on his curveball.

“It’s anywhere from 2,450 to 2,700 [rpms],” Lange replied. “So it’s not this astronomical 3,000 breaking ball that some guys throwing now. I’m looking for 83 to 85 [mph], potentially 86, just top to bottom, working, and being able to tunnel the heater on top of it, throwing the breaking ball down off of it.”

The heater merits mention, even though I didn’t ask about it. Lange topped out at 97 mph when he took the mound in Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener in Lakeland.

I proceeded to ask the former LSU Tiger about his grip.

“I spike my curveball,” Lange explained. “I’ve always done it. I’m right over the top of it, right over that four-seam, just try to come straight down over the top and create that front spin. Any differential in the spin, I believe the hitter is going to be able to see. If I’m able to create as much of a mirror image, the front spin to the backspin of the curveball, as I can… if I can tunnel those together and create the illusion that it’s the same pitch, and it’s thrown hard, and there’s no real pop to it, I think that’s when it’s most effective.”

One more followup: Is curveball spin sometimes overrated?

“You know, you look at vertical approach angles, and some guys that have high spin,” said Lange. “You look at a guy like [Jacob] deGrom, whose vertical break I believe is like 17-and-a-half, which is above-average but not considered elite, but his vertical approach angle is almost zero. The ball isn’t really falling as much, the ball isn’t dropping toward home plate,.. but I just want to create front spin, making sure that it’s giving the illusion that it has the ability to tumble down.

“As far as why spin is good and why it’s bad… I think it’s good and bad,” continued Lange. “I mean, I’m still learning a lot of this stuff; I’m not 100% on everything. But that’s kind of how I use it, how I’ve interpreted the data. I’m not chasing spin. I just want to make sure my axis is right, and that I’m getting top-to-bottom, and not too much horizontal movement on it. The more depth I can get, and the more consistently I can keep it top-to-bottom, the more chance I have to be successful.”

I thanked Lange for nerding out.

“I love it,” the righty responded. “Thank you for the question.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

This was a really cool article