Pittsburgh Pirates: Luis Oviedo’s Underrated Curveball

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 15: Luis Oviedo #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch during the game against the San Diego Padres at PNC Park on April 15, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All players are wearing the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 15: Luis Oviedo #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch during the game against the San Diego Padres at PNC Park on April 15, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All players are wearing the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed pitcher Luis Oviedo’s curveball is one of the most underrated offerings in the organization.

Luis Ovideo’s first look in the majors wasn’t all that pretty. The Pittsburgh Pirates had acquired the young right-hander via trade from the New York Mets during the rule 5 Draft. Since he had to stay on the 26-man roster for the entire season, the Pirates essentially forced him into major league playing time despite never pitching to a single batter above Low-A.

The results of making a guy who should have spent the year at Double-A pitch in the majors went about as you’d expect. He only tossed 29.2 innings allowed 29 earned runs on 26 walks, 33 hits, and four home runs. Still, Oviedo is young and will get more minor league seasoning next year. But one thing from his season that stands out that nobody is talking about is just how good his curveball was last season, and it was arguably the most underrated pitch in baseball last season.

Oviedo threw his curveball 22.1% of the time. Oviedo’s curve had a massive amount of drop. Averaging out at 65.2 inches of movement, it had 5.2% more drop compared to the average. It also ranked 14th in vertical drop. But just how bad he made batters look against it is just downright impressive.

Batters managed just a .130 batting average against it. They also only had a .277 wOBA when he threw the offering. That was a better wOBA against than on Rich Hill’s curve. When batters did get a hit, it usually wasn’t an extra-base hit as he had just a .217 opponent slugging percentage with the pitch. For reference, Julio Urias had a -21 run value with his curveball and had a .233 slugging percentage against.

Batters barely touched the ball too. They had a whiff rate of 41.3%. When they were able to make contact, they made hard contact just 20% of the time. This was Oviedo’s strikeout pitch as well. He struck out 43.3% of batters with the offering. Then there’s his impressive 31.6% put-away rate.

But do you know what the most impressive part about all of this is? He should have been better.

Baseball Savant uses expected stats based on the exit velocity and launch angle of batted balls similar to the ones given up by the pitcher or hit by the batter. According to Baseball Savant, Oviedo’s curveball had an expected batting average against of just .056, an expected slugging percentage of .087, and an expected wOBA of .217. Tyler Glasnow had an xBA of .080, xSLG of .105, and xwOBA of .088 on his curveball for comparison.

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Simply put, Luis Oviedo’s curveball has the potential to be an elite pitch. Batters can’t hit his curveball, and when they do, it’s not for quality contact. Believe it or not, he should have gotten better results with the pitch than he did, and it could be a crucial part of his future. Oviedo may need to improve his fastball or change-up, but he has arguably a top 5 curveball in the league.

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