Padres’ Drew Pomeranz breaks down curveball’s success despite low spin rate

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Credit: USA Today Sports

Drew Pomeranz was one of the most reliable bullpen arms for the Padres in 2020, despite featuring a curveball with a career-low spin rate.

Included as part of a bullpen overhaul during the 2019 offseason, Padres general manager A.J. Preller inked left-handed reliever Drew Pomeranz to a four-year deal.

He began the 2016 campaign in San Diego as a starter and was traded to Boston at the deadline. In 2017, Pomeranz made 32 starts for the Red Sox, but he’s slowly transitioned to the bullpen since then. With stops in San Francisco and Milwaukee before the 2020 season, the Memphis, Tennessee native has become one of the most reliable and dominant relievers in the game.

“My whole thing has been to try to simplify things,” Pomeranz said with regards to moving from a starter to a reliever. “Mentally, I’m going out with not a lot of thoughts in my head. It makes things easier, [I] just kind of throw as hard as I can. It’s really just made things a lot simpler out there.”

He posted a 1.45 ERA in 20 appearances last season with the Padres to go along with a 14.0 K/9 and collected four saves.

Pomeranz made his second appearance of the spring exhibitions on Tuesday, fanning two in his only inning of work.

The Padres bullpen is jam-packed again this year, and Pomeranz could be a candidate to close games. It’s something that manager Jayce Tingler will have to determine as the rosters are trimmed and as spring training unfolds. Back to simplifying, the 31-year-old is a two-pitch pitcher these days after featuring five pitches just two years ago. He relies heavily on his four-seam fastball, about 80 percent to be exact, but he also complements his primary pitch with an outstanding curveball.

In terms of advanced analytics, a 2110 RPM spin rate on a curveball is well below-average compared to guys like Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, and Charlie Morton, who feature spin rates of 2500 RPM and above. Regardless, Pomeranz yielded a .222 average against, a negative 13-degree launch angle, and 82.9 average exit velocity off his curveball last season. Simply put, hitters were either whiffing on the pitch or hitting weak groundballs. Prior to his outing on Tuesday, Pomeranz discussed why his curveball has so much success despite the low spin-rate.

“I don’t throw it like a normal traditional break,” Pomeranz explained. “I push it with my index finger. Before there was all this spin rate stuff, I always knew I threw mine different[ly]. In years past, it breaks just as much as any big curveball, but the spin is way lower. It’s just the way I throw it.”

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