Ross Stripling Talks Curveballs

Ross Stripling was featured here at FanGraphs last week, with the article focusing on Clayton Kershaw. Stripling shared how his former Los Angeles Dodgers teammate influenced his own career, as well as some of the things that make Kershaw elite. The Hall-of-Fame-bound southpaw’s innate ability to manipulate a baseball was part of that conversation, which took place prior to the start of the season.

Not included in that earlier piece was what Stripling — now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays — told me about how he manipulates one of his own pitches. The 31-year-old right-hander’s signature offering is a classic 12-6 curveball, which is among baseball’s best when he’s on top of his game. Here, in Q&A format, is that part of our multi-subject exchange.


David Laurila: You have a pretty good curveball yourself. How would you describe it?

Ross Stripling: “It’s a spiked curveball, and I don’t waver on the grip. I’ve never actually learned if it’s considered a knuckle curve or not, but I put my knuckle on the ball. Most people will put just their fingertip on the ball and call that a spiked curveball. I curl my finger, and put my whole top knuckle on the baseball. I also grip it as hard as I can. From there, I just rip it.

“Clayton tries different curveball grips pretty consistently, then usually goes back to the one that I think he’s always used. But he’ll piddle around with grips. I’ve been in the outfield with him, playing catch, and he’ll throw me 10 straight knuckle curves. Three of them will be good and seven of them won’t be very good. He’ll get kind of agitated, and then he’ll get encouraged. It will be like, ‘There it is!’ Then, by the end, he’ll be like, ‘Nah, I’m just going to stick with mine.”

Laurila: It’s interesting that he’ll experiment with different grips.

Stripling: “Yes. He’s so consistent with his fastball and his slider. I mean, he can hit a nail from 60 feet, six inches with both of those pitches, whereas with his curveball, he just doesn’t feel like he can do that. So I think it probably frustrates him, even though that’s actually normal. I mean, I throw as many curveballs as anyone in the big leagues, and I can’t do that. It’s just a really hard pitch to command. My guess is that it frustrates him not being able to execute it as often as he can those other two pitches.”

Laurila: A lot of pitchers aim for a spot on the catcher when they’re looking to locate their curveballs in a certain area.

Stripling: “Everyone has different ideas on the curveball. Some people say that you look at the glove, and that’s where you try to finish it. Some people say you start your ‘strike one’ at the umpire’s face, and your shorter one at the catcher’s face. Some people ask their catcher to give them a high target, and that’s where they’re going to start their curveball; they’ll aim there and let it fall below that.

“Again, it’s a hard pitch to command. And really, Clayton and I both throw from very high arm slots. Our curveballs are breaking 16 to 20 inches, and you’re telling me I’ve got 60 feet, six inches to control 20 inches of break, and try to land it on a 17-inch plate? That’s a hard thing to do, man. The amount of break that those pitches have makes it hard to be extremely consistent.”

Laurila: Which spots do you aim for?

Stripling: “If I’m trying to throw a strike curveball, I’lll aim at the umpire’s face. If it’s a two-strike count and I want it to bounce on the back of the plate, I’ll be starting it at the very top of my catcher’s chest pads. Other than that, it’s the same pitch; I’m throwing it the same way.

Laurila: Why don’t you have a shorter-breaking version that you can more consistently throw for strikes?

Stripling: “That is a good question. The answer would be… it’s my arm angle that creates that curveball. Now, I could change my grip to more of a slider grip, and get more of a slurve that’s not going to have not as much 12-to-6 movement. It would have more lateral movement, and I could probably control it better, but that isn’t really the break I want. I want the 12-to-6 movement. I want to be able to make them look the same. I want to be dropping in the one for a strike, and then two pitches later throwing that one that I’m burying. The hitter has already seen the one for a strike, so he’s like, ‘OK, here’s that same pitch.’ Then it’s ‘Oh, no, it’s short.’ He swings at it, and either rolls it over or misses it.”

Laurila: Do you know what the spin rate is on your curveball?

Stripling: “I don’t. I think it’s fairly high, but that’s not something I pay much attention to. Normally, I can see [how good it is] by the amount of break. You’re going to get negative -16 to -18 inches of vertical break on my curveball, and I want very little horizontal break, like maybe five inches or less. I want it to go straight down. So if I’m starting to see more horizontal break, or only 12 inches of vertical, then I know something is up. My curveball wasn’t great last year, either. I wasn’t happy with how I threw it, although that’s purely results-based; it’s not analytics-based. I have no idea how it was moving or spinning based on the TrackMan stuff. I just know I need it to be better this year.”

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.

Comments are closed.