Tyler Skaggs and the new look on his curveball

tyler skaggs

Stuart Wallace is an associate managing editor and writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @TClippardsSpecs.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the spring training outings of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Tyler Skaggs, as he impressed many with some additional giddyup to his fastball. Averaging a little over 90 miles per hour over 2013, the young lefty was occasionally touching 95 with his four-seam fastball in his spring tuneups, averaging 93.62 MPH to go along with additional uptick in velocity  with his sinker (92.53 MPH in 2014, up from 89.39 MPH in 2013). While a rise in velocity is always an attractive addition to a pitcher’s repertoire, it remains to be seen whether Skaggs will be able to maintain it consistently throughout the season.

Another aspect of Skaggs’ repertoire that appears to have been overhauled over the winter ever so slightly is his curveball. Arguably his best pitch, it’s a big, 12-to-6 breaker that shows a lot of late bite, which Skaggs is able to locate on the corners quite well to both lefties and righties. Using PITCHf/x data of the pitch from his 2013 MLB outings and this year’s spring training starts, let’s take a look at how well Skaggs has been able to locate the pitch; first, 2013 data:

tyler skaggs pitch location 2013

…and here’s the curve in 2014 thus far:

tyler skaggs pitch location 2014 spring training

We see that in a limited number of pitches, Skaggs might be having better luck in locating the pitch against lefties, with him leaving the pitch up to righties compared to 2013. These spring training offerings are such a small sample size, so care must be taken to make any brash statements about the results; let’s keep looking at the PITCHf/x data on the curve, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. First, some stats against lefties:

tyler skaggs chart 1

…and the same stats against righties:

Tyler skaggs chart 2

Counts aside, it appears that Skaggs is throwing the pitch much like his fastball and sinker—harder. Like the four-seamer and sinker, the curve looks to be clocking in about three miles per hour faster so far this season. Skaggs is also appearing to use the curve a little more frequently thus far in 2014 than he did last season.

Aside from the velocity, is there something else Skaggs might be doing with the pitch to make it a little tougher to put wood on? Let’s have one more peek at the PITCHf/x data, this time focusing on Skaggs’ release point on the pitch, For this, let’s compare the horizontal (H. Rel) and vertical (V. Rel) components of the release point, looking at the difference between his curve in 2013 to 2014 (CU 13-14), as well as difference between the curve and his fastball in 2013 (FB-CU 13) and 2014 (FB-CU 14). Pitch movement components (HMov and VMov) are also included for comparison. Again, we start with lefty hitters:

tyler skaggs chart 3

tyler skaggs chart 4

…and now righties:

tyler skaggs chart 5

tyler skaggs chart 6

With this information, we find Skaggs possibly tweaking his release point in 2014, giving them a more low ¾ angle release, especially with the curve. It also appears that the movement on the curve against both sides of the plate has become a little more left-right versus north-south as compared to 2013. While these slight changes appear against both left and right-handed batters, it seems to be a more wholesale change against lefties. With a release point a little less on top, Skaggs potentially gives lefties a tougher look at the pitch, as it is now coming out of the hand a little more behind them more so than in 2013. Considering Skaggs’ third pitch is a still-in-progress changeup (which he rarely throws against lefties), the need to keep lefty batters honest against the fastball and curve is a crucial aspect of his development as a starter. For some, this comes with the development of a third pitch. For Skaggs, it might arise from a tiny mechanical wrinkle that will allow him to continue his success against both sides of the plate with his limited but devastating repertoire.