Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/1/12

We’re happy to welcome Albert Lyu back to the FanGraphs team. His work will again appear regularly here on the site.

Before Josh Johnson was lost for the season with shoulder injuries in May, he was ready to dominate the National League yet again as an early 2011 Cy Young Award candidate. He flashed a 1.64 ERA and a 2.64 FIP — and he was whiffing 8.35 batters per nine innings, while allowing 2.98 BB/9 and 0.30 HR/9. While much of his hot start through April and May last year wasn’t sustainable because of  a .239 BABIP and an 82.2% strand rate (LOB%), he did add a curveball to his arsenal that should keep NL hitters on their toes in 2012. Johnson was five outs from a no-hitter against the Braves in April, which left Chipper Jones to comment that Johnson had a new pitch to toy with.

Johnson had shown a curveball during his rookie season in 2005, but he dropped it early on. He thrived as an starter for several seasons with just three pitches: a mid-90s fastball, a high-80s hard slider and a mid-to-high-80s changeup. Mixing and matching three pitches at different speeds brought success — but adding the new curveball now forces Johnson’s opponents to change their approach against him even more. While his power slider can range anywhere between 85 mph and 91 mph, his curveball was in the high-70s.

Here’s an MLB.com video of Johnson’s 12-6 curveball, which appears on the first two pitches (later pitches in the video showcase his high-80s hard slider and his mid-90s fastball):

The PITCHf/x game charts below show how Johnson added his new, distinct pitch last season.

2010:

2011:

In the 2011 plot, you can see a cluster of pitches categorized as curveballs, which have a distinctly lower pitch velocity range than his other pitches (some of the red dots in that range are also curveballs, which have been miscategorized as sliders).

In previous seasons, Johnson went approximately 65% fastball, 25% slider and 10% changeup. In 2010, he achieved career highs in nearly all statistical categories by relying more on his slider and changeup — and dropping his fastball usage closer to 60%. His confidence in his secondary stuff increased even further during his two-month stint in 2011, adding a curveball that he used about 8% of the time.

Let’s take a look at how he’s used his curveball and how his situational pitch selection changed as a result of the additional pitch:

Situation All First Behind Ahead Runners Batter R L R L R L R L R L 2010 Fastballs 60% 61% 65% 71% 62% 69% 59% 54% 64% 61% 2010 Sliders 33% 20% 32% 15% 32% 10% 34% 27% 28% 20% 2010 Changeups 4% 15% 0% 10% 2% 17% 4% 15% 4% 13% 2010 Curveballs 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 2011 Fastballs 53% 61% 59% 63% 60% 74% 42% 43% 42% 64% 2011 Sliders 37% 16% 33% 5% 28% 6% 45% 32% 46% 18% 2011 Changeups 0% 14% 0% 16% 0% 18% 0% 12% 0% 14% 2011 Curveballs 8% 9% 6% 15% 2% 2% 13% 13% 4% 4%

In 2010, without a curveball, Johnson dominated right-handed batters as much as any starter in baseball — using mostly two pitches. Johnson had, by far, the best FIP of any starter in baseball in 2010. Amazingly, his 25.9 K% and 5.0 BB% against righties produced a 5.16 K/BB ratio that was 5th among all MLB starters in 2010. His changeup was reserved almost exclusively for left-handed batters, which is normal for opposite-handed matchups unless you’re Tim Lincecum or James Shields.

With the new curveball, Johnson now has a third pitch to use against the righties he already dominates, and he’s using it as a complementary out pitch to his slider when he’s ahead in the count. Against lefties, he was just as willing to use the curve and threw even more first-pitch curves than sliders. It’s rare for pitchers to go to a developing secondary pitch when they’re behind in the count, but if Johnson continues to improve his breaking stuff, we could see more curves in all counts as he gains confidence in it.

Johnson’s hot start to 2011 was cut short by setbacks in his right shoulder, which he claims were due to slouching with his 6-foot-7 frame. Hopefully, his right shoulder injuries had little to do with spinning a new breaking ball; and as long as Johnson is healthy for Opening Day, sit tight and enjoy the ride with the new-look Miami Marlins.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Greg Jennings: Ryan Tannehill has had his hands tied by coaches

Josh McDaniels 'happy' with Pats but wants to be a head coach again

WATCH: Jim Harbaugh in cleats throws out first pitch at Cubs game

Why Rickie Fowler will win the PGA Championship

Warren Sapp bitten on arm by shark

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Fitzpatrick, Jets agree to one-year deal

Baker considering removing Papelbon from closer role?

Greg Hardy struggling to find work, reportedly even in CFL

Jets players told not to discuss Ryan Fitzpatrick situation

Brock Lesnar won't be punished by WWE for UFC drug test

Report: Cowboys to be fined up to $250K for suspended players

Report: Ravens WR Mike Wallace failed conditioning test

WATCH: Kobe Bryant drives Ferrari around Italian racetrack

Terrelle Pryor shouts out Ohio State after ban ends

Justin Timberlake advocates for Memphis to join Big 12

Poll: Las Vegas residents don’t support public funds for NFL stadium

Conor McGregor talks trash to Nate Diaz on ‘Conan’

We asked Team USA: What other Olympic sport would you play?

Real Madrid can’t train at Norwegian school because of the kids

Newspaper uses Michael Jordan ‘crying face’ as image

Equipment manager Blake Griffin punched no longer works for Clippers

Report: Nicks signing one-year deal with Saints

Reds 'picking up the pace' on Jay Bruce trade talks

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

We asked Team USA: What other Olympic sport would you play?

Why Gary Bettman's CTE denial is cause for concern for NHL

WATCH: Inside the Nike SNKRS BOX in SF for Golden Air Celebration

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker