LOS ANGELES -- In Wednesday's Game 2 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, the Astros' batsmen are tasked with going up against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill and his mid-70s sweeping curveball. As it turns out, the Astros are pretty adept at handling curves, just as Hill is adept at throwing them. So consider this "matchup within the matchup" something to watch as the early and middle innings of Game 2 unfurl.
As for the Astros' and their faculties against the curve, consider some 2017 numbers:
|Stat||AVG vs. curve (MLB rank)||SLG vs. curve (MLB rank)||wOBA* vs. curve (MLB rank)|
(*wOBA - Stands for "Weighted On-Base Average. wOBA assigns proper value to every possible offensive event that happens while a batter is at the plate. Those proper valuations of singles, doubles, homers, walks, etc., distinguish wOBA from more traditional measures like AVG, OBP, and SLG. Also, for simplicity wOBA is scaled to look like OBP, which means that, say, .400 is elite at the individual level and .290 is pretty poor.)
So as you can see the 2017 Astros are not troubled by the curve. The only team better than Houston in those measures above? Coincidentally, it's Hill's Dodgers. To be sure, it's impossible to decouple the pitch type from the sequence that leads up to it, so don't take these numbers as inerrant gospel. The best evidence, however, suggests that Houston can hit Hill's pet pitch.
Speaking of Hill's pet pitch, let's maybe qualify that a bit. Here's a look at Hill's usage trends over the course of this season:
The curveball is mostly what allowed Hill to go from washout toiling in the independent leagues to a guy who's under contract for almost $50 million and starting a World Series game. As you can see above, however, he's ramped down usage of his curve throughout 2017. Now, his fastball (with well below-average velocity) is his primary offering. Hill is a guy who thrives by disrupting balance with changes in levels and speed, and the curve, even though he's thrown in just a third of the time in the postseason, still serves that purpose.
On Tuesday, Hill summed up the dilemma pretty nicely -- i.e., the temptation to throw lots of curves, even against a team that feasts on them:
"Strategically I think what you're risking is for the opportunity for the hitter to see multiple breaking balls in a row, and it would almost become automatic like they are able to see the same pitch over and over out of your hand. So you may lose a little bit of deception, but with that said on that point, you are also in an environment where you have to go with your best pitch. And if your best pitch is a breaking ball, if it happens to be a breaking ball, you've got to go with your best, right?"
On an individual level, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer have all been among the league's best at hitting curves. Perhaps it's no accident that those four guys are . One of the interesting things to watch in Wednesday's opening frame is whether Hill deprives those four hitters of the curve, at least when not ahead in the count. With his sub-90 fastball, Hill can't just shelve the curve against Houston, but how he picks his spots with it will be critical, especially on another hot night in L.A. when the ball figures to carry.