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Pitching at Altitude, Part 4: Breaking Balls

Welcome to “Pitching at Altitude”, a six-part series where we’ll take a data-based approach to solving the near 30 year old dilemma that is pitching at mile high elevation.

Welcome to the fourth entry of my new data-based pitching series about the Colorado Rockies. After evaluating almost every pitcher on the roster during the extended “Crafting a Gameplan” series (which you can find here), this time we’re tackling a more widespread, fundamental topic: pitching at altitude. It’s no secret that this is a difficult thing to do, one the Rockies themselves have been grappling with for many years.

Even now, after 30 years, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer to pitching at high elevation. What we’re going to attempt to do in this series is use data and physics to truly understand the dynamics that make throwing a baseball at mile high elevation radically and uniquely different from any other place.

The series will be divided into six parts:

  • Part 1: The General Effects of Elevation
  • Part 2: Mile High Fastballs
  • Part 3: Sinkers & Cutters
  • Part 4: Breaking Balls
  • Part 5: Changeups & Splitters
  • Part 6: The Perfect Rockies Pitcher

Today, it’s time to talk about breaking balls, those being sliders and curveballs. If you haven’t checked out the other entries, I recommend you do so in chronological order, because we went over some important data concepts in them that will be used in most (if not all) chapters, and I wouldn’t want you to get lost. I will include small explanations, but these pieces are already very long to begin with. Without further ado, let’s continue and I hope you enjoy it!

After all that fastball fanfare, it’s time to look at breaking balls. If you asked the average fan which pitch is the worst at altitude, there’s a good chance many of them would answer “curveball” right away. The idea has remained steady to this day: if you throw a curveball, it’s simply not going to move the same at Coors Field.

This idea often translates to sliders as well, and the general notion that breaking balls are simply bad offerings at altitude is one that is relatively prevalent among many fans and people around the game.

You might’ve guessed it, but I disagree with that notion. This piece will be my attempt to explain why, actually, sliders and curveballs are among the better pitches out there when you have an outing at altitude. Instead of going through sliders and curveballs separately, however, we’ll first talk about how breaking ball movement is created and how that movement interacts with altitude.

I’m doing this because, at their core, sliders and curveballs are simply variations of a default breaking ball profile. Each with their own quirks, sure, but both sharing significant characteristics. It’s common for one pitcher’s slider to be similar to another pitcher’s curveball, or for the shapes and velos of these two pitch types to overlap in some way.

So let’s go over some theory first. How is breaking ball movement created? What kinds of spin can we induce on a breaking ball? What effects do these kinds of spin produce? Do seam effects play a role here too? And how does spin interact with and change at altitude?


Of course, these are mainly concepts we’ve already mentioned in Pt. 1, but now it’s time to apply them directly to breaking ball movement and the different profiles we can see. For the sake of simplifying things, here are the four main types of spin we’re going to go over in this section: topspin, sidespin, backspin and gyro spin. We’re also going to see how these kinds of spin interact with each other.

Spin Types

A very important concept to understand: in practice, no breaking ball possesses just one type of spin. This is because, well, human beings are the ones throwing the pitch. On your average breaking ball most, if not all of these spin categories — topspin, sidespin, backspin and gyro spin — will be present to a certain extent, even if it’s very slight.

What dictates the profile and movement of the pitch is the kind of spin that dominates over the rest. Let’s see what we have, then.


This is your traditional overhand 12-6 curveball spin, where you spin a breaking ball “forward”, if you will. In theory, a curveball thrown with perfect topspin will spin at what we’ll call 6 o’clock (a spin axis of 6:00), but in real life it’s all but impossible for a human being to create completely perfect topspin. You can get close, however, as seen in the release of this Hall of Fame curveball from Clayton Kershaw:

What does topspin do? It creates downward movement which, when paired with the effects of gravity, gives big vertical movement to a breaking ball. This kind of spin is most prevalent on curveballs, especially bigger and slower ones with big vertical depth. Now, as mentioned before, throwing a pitch with perfect topspin (6:00 in our imaginary clock) is basically impossible for a human being because, well, wrists and bodies have limitations.

In fact, no qualified MLB pitcher in 2022 managed to average that perfect 6:00 spin axis on their curveball. No one even averaged within 15 minutes of that, with the best lefties clocking in at a 5:30 axis and the best righties at a 6:30 axis. This means that even in the most beautiful, over the top, 12-6 curveballs, there’s still some other elements of spin other than topspin. It’s just how this works, and we’ll see this is a trend in general.

A Rockies pitcher with a breaking ball of this class is lefty Austin Gomber, whose big rainbow curveball is about as close to a textbook topspinner as you’ll see. Its spin axis is at around 5:15/5:30 on average, paired with a very high spin efficiency (90%, or around that), and you get results like this, a curveball with well over 16 negative inches of Induced Vertical Break (IVB):

Ain’t that a beauty? Those -16 inches of IVB pair with gravity to create a ton of depth. Of course, slow curveballs are not the only ones with a spin direction in the 5:00-7:00 range. Germán Márquez’s 86-88 MPH curveball, after all, spins at a roughly 6:45 axis, and it could not look any more different than that beautiful loopy curveball we just saw.

I mentioned spin efficiency with Gomber, and that’s another thing to take into account, but we’ll dive into that later when we talk about gyro spin and the general interactions between spin efficiency and velo. First, let’s look at the opposite of topspin; backspin.


As I said, backspin is the opposite of topspin, so if perfect topspin would be 6:00, perfect backspin would be 12:00. As we know by this point in the series, backspin effectively makes the baseball fight gravity and stay up by virtue of the Magnus Effect. And right now, you’re probably thinking: “wait a minute, isn’t backspin the kind of spin we put on fastballs?”.

And that’s a fair question. My answer is that while backspin is something we’ll often desire and chase on four-seam fastballs, it’s also present on breaking balls, more specifically hard sliders. Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal is a great example of this:

Does anything stick out to you about those sliders? To me, it’s not just how hard they are (Skubal averages 89 MPH on this pitch), but also that they almost look like cutters at times, don’t they? That’s because Skubal creates an average of 8.2 inches of IVB on his slider, which is pretty much cutter territory.

You can really see in his release how Skubal stays behind the baseball a lot more than you would on a typical breaking ball, where the goal is usually to get around it:

Now, Skubal’s slider could very easily be called a cutter if you wanted to do it, but there are other examples of backspin playing a heavy role in breaking ball shape that are decidedly not cutters. An example of that would be former Mariners, and current Diamondbacks, reliever Paul Sewald, whose slider frequently signifies instant misery for right handed hitters:

Sewald’s sweeping slider averages 8.6 inches of IVB, right around Skubal’s mark, but it’s also about 82-83 MPH on average, roughly seven ticks below Skubal’s. In Sewald’s case, what makes his slider elite is the 12 inches of Induced Horizontal Movement (IHB) on it.

Combined with the extreme backspin it has, it creates a very unique and odd movement profile for a batter to face: a pitch that moves a lot horizontally, but doesn’t seem to drop at all. This type of shape frequently creates soft contact galore, particularly of the lazy flyball and pop-up variety, and it’s becoming quite popular across the game today.

So, yes, backspin is very much a thing on breaking balls (sliders, really) and in general, you can associate velo to it as well. If a slider is thrown very hard, chances are it has some level of backspin to it, giving it cutter-ish movement. If a slider is not thrown hard, but looks like it sweeps horizontally instead of breaking hard down, that’s likely because there’s an element of backspin to it keeping the ball up, and that’s frequently called a sweeper, a name I’m sure you’ve heard more times than you can count this year alone.

And if a slider is not thrown hard, doesn’t sweep horizontally, and has backspin, that’s called batting practice. Now, onto sidespin!


Let’s go back to our imaginary clock. If perfect backspin was 12:00 and perfect topspin 6:00, sidespin is either 9:00 (for a RHP) or 3:00 (for a LHP). This is assuming we’re looking at it from the pitcher’s POV, obviously, otherwise those figures would be flipped.

Anyway, sidespin is just what it sounds like: getting the ball to spin sideways in order to create horizontal movement thanks to the Magnus Effect. On a breaking ball, this is glove side movement, and when done right you can end up with some frisbee stuff, like this slider from best-player-ever Shohei Ohtani:

Shohei spins his slider at a roughly 8:30 axis, with a spin efficiency in the 50-60% range. It’s among the most pure sidespin-heavy breaking balls in baseball, and you can see the effects it has. Like Sewald, Ohtani also induces some backspin on this pitch, roughly five inches of IVB, creating a true sweeper.

Of course, every single breaking ball in the majors has at least a slight degree of sidespin to it, but the more you near that 9:00 or 3:00 axis combined with a high-ish spin efficiency, the more sweep you’re going to create. This is a super popular pitch type in the game today, because it does everything well: it has the big movement to be good as a called strike pitch, it supresses quality of contact (lots of lazy flyballs), and it also draws swings and misses.


And finally, for spin types, let’s talk about gyro spin for a brief second. Gyro is short for gyroscopic spin, which is when an object spins like a bullet, or like a football thrown with a tight spiral. This Dinelson Lamet slider is a good example:

One of the more peculiar aspects of gyro spin is that it does not affect pitch movement and as such, the more gyro spin you put on a baseball, the more gravity is going to impact its movement. This means sharp, late, vertical movement like the one on Lamet’s slider you see above. You know how we’ve talked IVB and IHB? Theoretically, a pitch with 100% gyro spin would feature exactly 0 IVB and 0 IHB, and would instead get all of its movement from gravity and seam effects.

In practice, of course, even the sliders with the highest amount of gyro spin in the majors still tend to create at least a little bit of spin-based horizontal and vertical movement, whether that be by small amounts of sidespin, topspin or backspin.

How do you figure out if a breaking ball is gyro-heavy? Looking at active spin/spin efficiency numbers on Baseball Savant is a pretty sure way to figure that out. In general, once a breaking ball starts dipping below the 20% spin efficiency barrier, we can accurately call it a gyro ball. This applies mainly to sliders, but there are also some curveballs (Germán Márquez’s is a prime example) with high degrees of gyro spin.

You can also ID a gyro ball by its movement and velocity: they tend to feature almost exclusively short, sharp vertical break and they’re thrown harder than most sliders, frequently above 85 MPH and/or between 5-7 MPH off a pitcher’s fastball. This is a good example of a gyro slider from Guardians ace Shane Bieber:

On average, no pitch type has a higher percentage of gyro spin than the slider. Keep that in mind for when we talk about how certain pitch shapes fit at altitude!


The last thing we’re going to briefly mention is Seam-Shifted Wake (SSW), something we went over in detail as a concept in Pt. 1 and then again in Pt. 3 when we talked about sinkers. SSW also affects breaking balls and, like with sinkers, it can have an effect on pitch movement. It’s far more prevalent on sliders than curveballs, which are more based on true spin and Magnus Effect on average.

As with sinkers, the goal is to create pockets of low and high air pressure around the baseball by positioning the seams in a certain manner as the pitch is spinning towards home plate.

There are lots of ways to do this. SSW is becoming quite popular on sweeping sliders thrown with two-seam grips. In this case, Astros starter José Urquidy’s slider, which on average starts spinning at an 8:15 axis, ends up right around 9:15, with the seams interacting with the air in order to create sweep and that backspin we talked about before.

Even though teams understand this concept and how to apply it very well already (the Yankees in particular seem to be in love with the sweeping slider), I personally think we’re only scratching the surface of what can be done through spin and aerodynamics in order to create movement.

The possibilities are almost endless, and this is why teams usually favor pitchers with the raw ability to really spin a baseball. A 20-year-old who can spin a breaker at 3000 RPM isn’t going to be an automatic ace pitcher, but the simple fact that the athlete is capable of spinning a ball at that elite level is enough to create enormous potential for the future.

Teaching spin is not easy, and in many ways it’s not possible past a certain point -you’re either naturally good at it or you’re not. Rockies prospects like Jordy Vargas or Jackson Cox are good examples of youngsters with this ability, and just that alone makes them noteworthy. Mix that with arm strength and athleticism, and you have yourself a top pitching prospect.

By now, if I explained myself well, which I hope I did, the types of spin and ways to create movement on a breaking ball should be clear to you. Now it’s time to see how these spin types and the breaking balls they generate are affected by altitude. Let’s see what we have here.

How Spin Types & Breaking Balls Interact With Altitude

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll probably have a good idea of what’s coming here. As we’ve seen multiple times already:

  1. Magnus Effect is noticeably impacted by altitude. This is, of course, because the air is thinner at high elevation. This means the baseball has less air to interact with and, as such, Magnus-based movement sees a consistent cut of anywhere between 2-4 inches on average. We saw this with backspin and four-seamers already, but the quirk here is that this also applies to topspin and sidespin, as well as backspin. This is why the traditional idea that curveballs don’t break at Coors is true, because the thin air strips some of that Induced Vertical Break away from those big, slow curveballs. Altitude will also make those sweeping sliders every organization is crazy about now sweep a couple of inches less.
  2. SSW will be impacted, but it will retain some of its properties. SSW is going to be impacted by the thinner air as well, especially spin axis deviation that induces extra backspin or horizontal movement, but its effect will still be present to some degree. You just have to keep in mind that every breaking ball will move a little bit less horizontally no matter what, SSW or not.
  3. At altitude, gyro spin translates the best. This is because at altitude, gravity remains virtually identical. As such, the more gyro spin the breaking ball has, the easier its transition to altitude. This is part of why Germán Márquez’s breaking balls have always been “Coors-proof”, if you will: they both have a high degree of gyro spin, making for a consistent movement profile between home and road.

That’s the theory. In practice, here’s what that theory means for different types of breaking balls:

  1. Big, slow curveballs will suffer heavily at altitude. This is for an obvious reason: they’re topspin and Magnus dominant and, unlike other harder breaking balls, they can’t rely on velocity to be productive.
  2. Sweeping sliders will lose sweep but likely drop the same, if not a bit more. Whether we get to that movement via Magnus movement or SSW, the effect will be similar: less horizontal and a loss of some of that induced backspin that makes for a true sweeper.
  3. Hard sliders with backspin will drop more. The more cutter-ish type of slider profiles pretty well at altitude, provided it’s thrown hard. An interesting part of this kind of breaking ball? Since four-seam fastballs lose a couple of inches of carry and drop more as well, the vertical movement difference between heater and breaker actually stays pretty stable at Coors, though with both dropping a bit more. Something to keep in mind.
  4. Gyro-heavy breaking balls will barely be affected. Finally, the more gyro spin a breaking ball, the better it will translate to altitude in a vacuum. This means that if you pitch for the Rockies, bullet spin is your friend.
  5. The harder the breaking ball, the better. This could be a general statement and it would be very true (velocity is a hugely important factor in breaking ball quality), but it’s twice as important at Coors, where Magnus movement is affected. We talked about this with four-seamers: if one of your variables that makes a pitch effective is reduced, the others better be good to counter that.

And because things in this world tend to be poetic, it just so happens that the harder a breaking ball, the more gyro spin it tends to have. Here’s a chart from Baseball Savant that shows the average spin efficiency of all qualified pitches in MLB for the 2022 season, matched up with the pitch’s average velocity.

It seems like lot to take a look at, but I for now I want you to focus on the blue and yellow dots, because those are curveballs and sliders respectively. The X axis is the pitch’s velo, and the Y axis is that particular pitch’s spin efficiency.

Baseball Savant

Here is the full sortable leaderboard, if you’re interested.

Can you see it? The dynamic that interests us here is how, as a breaking ball’s velo grows, its spin efficiency tends to go down, meaning there is more and more gyro spin put on that baseball. You could trace a diagonal line to mark that tendency, and it only serves to reinforce points 4 and 5, because they go hand in hand: hard, gyro-oriented breaking balls are an ideal fit for Coors Field.

Now that the general effects of altitude on a breaking ball are (hopefully) clear enough, it’s time to talk specifics about sliders and curveballs. What breaking ball do we choose depending on how a pitcher throws? How do we use this breaking ball?


Let’s start with the slider, a pitch that is very popular for the simple fact that it’s a great fit in just about any arsenal, and for just about any pitcher. The kind of slider you can/should throw (sweeper, backspin cutter-ish, or gyro ball) depends on a variety of factors, but let’s first look at some raw results for slider performance at Coors.

The Basic Results

The Rockies have thrown a ton of sliders in recent years, and there’s a reason for that. Here are some basic stats:

MLB Sliders (2015-2022)

Venue Run Value (per 100) wOBA xwOBA Exit Velo (MPH) Launch Angle (º) Whiff% Chase% Velo (MPH) Per. Velo (MPH)
Venue Run Value (per 100) wOBA xwOBA Exit Velo (MPH) Launch Angle (º) Whiff% Chase% Velo (MPH) Per. Velo (MPH)
NOT COORS -0,39 ,268 ,263 86,3 16,0 35,0% 33,3% 84,6 84,1
COORS 0,10 ,299 ,268 86,0 12,0 34,2% 34,2% 85,4 85,4
Difference 0,49 0,031 0,005 -0,3 -4,0 -0,8% 0,9% 0,8 1,3

(Run Value is the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count. The higher, the more runs it will produce. wOBA stands for weighed on-base average; basically, OBP that takes the manner you reached base into account. xwOBA is expected wOBA, which takes walks, strikeouts and contact quality into account.)

How ‘bout those sliders? This is the first pitch type we’ve seen in this series where the plate discipline stats at Coors are just about equal to their sea level counterparts, and we have also stumbled upon the first pitch type to generate a Coors wOBA below .300, which is impressive.

Sliders are excellent pitches in general, and they have one of the smallest penalties of any pitch type at altitude because of how consistent their movement profile is. But there are a lot of slider types, so how do we choose while also keeping altitude in mind?

Slider Choice & Strategy

How you choose the slider type you want to throw depends on what you do well as a pitcher and what the rest of your arsenal looks like. Here are some basic pointers:

  • Supination dominant pitchers can pretty much do whatever they want. Guys who excel in supination (getting around the ball) are likely to have natural breaking ball feel, enabling them to do virtually anything. These are the pitchers best suited for multiple breaking balls; for example, a big sweeper and a sharp cutter-ish slider to pair with it. Some of these guys, like a Joe Musgrove or Shohei Ohtani, throw even more varied shapes.
  • Pronation dominant pitchers and hard sliders are good fits. Athletes who lean towards pronation, on the other hand, are going to have a more difficult time getting around the baseball and creating glove side sweep/depth at good enough velocity. For these guys, who almost always have natural changeup feel, a hard slider is a natural choice, giving them a weapon for same-handed hitters to pair with a fastball that likely runs in some manner. In particular, a hard gyro slider is close to perfect. Max Scherzer, Sandy Alcántara and Luis Castillo are three MLB aces with this profile.
  • Low slot guys and sweepers are natural pairings. Lower slots typically default towards sidespin, so this makes sense. It’s important, however, to keep arsenal coherence in mind. If your slider sweeps a ton and your fastball runs to the armside, it’s likely that you’ll need another pitch (maybe a tight cutter) to bridge the gap between the two. Otherwise, batters might be able to identify your pitches too early in ball flight.
  • Fastball shape and general plan of attack is important. The slider’s interaction with the fastball is very important. For example, if you have a fastball with vertical carry and are thus a north-south pitcher, does it make sense to go towards the sweeper area, even if you theoretically could do it? Or does it make more sense to throw a gyro slider, which is more vertical and better matches the plane of your fastball?
  • Keep pitch roles in mind. No pitch exists in a vacuum. Sweepers are dominant against same-handed hitters, but they also don’t fare as well against opposite-handed hitters. Gyro sliders tend to have smaller platoon splits and draw more chases than the average slider, but they also get hit a bit harder. Basically, the question is: what do you need/want this breaking ball to be? A chase pitch? A called strike? A weapon for same-handed hitters? A middle ground between a fastball and another bigger breaking ball? The answer will dictate your choice.

If you thought I was going to be rolling my eyes at the Rockies for throwing so many sliders, you were wrong! I have a lot of things I’d change about their pitching philosophy, but throwing lots of sliders isn’t one of them.


Up next, the curveballs. They share some similarities with sliders in concept, so this will be brief. Let’s look at some of that data for the results at Coors compared to sea level first.

The Basic Results

MLB Curveballs (2015-2022)

Venue Run Value (per 100) wOBA xwOBA Exit Velo (MPH) Launch Angle (º) Whiff% Chase% Velo (MPH) Per. Velo (MPH)
Venue Run Value (per 100) wOBA xwOBA Exit Velo (MPH) Launch Angle (º) Whiff% Chase% Velo (MPH) Per. Velo (MPH)
NOT COORS -0,06 ,263 ,258 86,8 9,3 31,8% 28,1% 78,9 78,0
COORS 0,48 ,286 ,250 86,4 12,0 34,8% 32,4% 79,4 79,0
Difference 0,54 0,023 -0,008 -0,4 2,7 3,0% 4,3% 0,5 1,0

Now, that is what I call a curveball being thrown at you fine readers. How many of you expected curveballs to be virtually just as good as sliders at Coors? The expected wOBA is actually lower than it is at sea level, something no other pitch type can claim.

This is a spoiler for tomorrow’s entry, but hey; the curveball is the only pitch we’re going to take a look at this series whose basic plate discipline stats are better at Coors than they are at sea level. I suspect Germán Márquez’s beastly curveball is doing some of the work here, but this is a sample of almost 16.000 Coors curves, so one man can’t do it all.

Curveballs are actually chased more at Coors, and my theory for it is quite simple: since fastballs and curveballs lose IVB on both ends, they end up having a lot less movement differential! Therefore, it would be logical to assume that batters are fooled more often.

The higher average launch angle also tracks with the lesser depth on the curveball. This whole thing is a very interesting revelation, at the very least because you can now claim in a petulant manner that “actually, curveballs are kind of better at Coors” whenever this topic pops up and you won’t be all the way wrong.

Curveball Choice & Strategy

A lot of the decisions here will be similar to the sliders, but there are some that belong more to the curve instead. Let’s see what we have here.

  • Curveballs tend to have pretty neutral platoon splits. Therefore, if you’re a pitcher with a fastball and a slider who can’t quite figure out his changeup, maybe developing a better curveball will be a good answer for you. In particular, hard curveballs (82+ MPH) are excellent against the opposite hand. If you go and check the pitch usage patterns of many of the better pitching orgs in the bigs, you’ll see that curveball usage increases against the opposite hand, only to be reduced in favor of more sliders against the same hand.
  • Curveball velo is extremely important. This goes times a million at Coors Field, obviously, but the difference is pretty staggering once a curve crosses the 80 MPH threshold, with wOBA going down by about 60 points and strikeout and chase rates going through the roof compared to sub-80 MPH hooks. Harder curveballs can still be used for called strikes, but unlike slow curveballs, they can also be swing-and-miss pitches that draw chases.
  • It’s often worth it to sacrifice some movement for velocity. A big, slow, rainbow curve might be pretty to look at, but its utility is limited by the fact that batters simply won’t swing, whiff or chase it as often as a harder one with shorter break. This is not to say that a bigger curveball is useless (far from it), but you have to be aware that at altitude, it’s not going to be quite as sharp, and its utility is more limited. Big slow breaking balls are mainly there for called strikes, not chases or whiffs.
  • Pitchers who throw from higher arm slots often have a natural advantage. Assuming we’re not talking about an extreme pronator, hurlers with higher arm slots have gravity on their side, enabling them to create steep angles even without outlier break. For them, trading in some break for extra velocity via adding a higher degree of gyro spin is even more doable than usual. Austin Gomber is a perfect example of this possibility, and he’s been doing just that this year.

And those were the curveballs. Again: throw them hard if you can, throw them against the opposite hand, and really consider their role depending on their velocity and shape. Now, for a little epilogue!


So that’s breaking balls for you. There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to the shape and profile of the breaking ball you can/should throw, and just as many questions you should ask when thinking about what kind of breaker might be best for a particular pitcher:

  • Is this pitcher more east-west or north-south in approach?
  • Is he a natural in supination or not?
  • Do we want a pitch for called strikes, or for chases and whiffs?
  • What breaking ball shape would best complement this pitcher’s natural fastball shape?
  • Is this a weapon for same or opposite handed hitters?
  • And if you’re the Rockies, obviously, how does this hypothetical breaking ball translate to altitude?

I also want one thing to be very clear: just because I said I would favor hard, gyro-oriented breaking balls if I were the Rockies doesn’t mean that every single Rockies pitcher should throw the same breaker, or that sweepers should never be thrown at altitude.

If the Rockies were to somehow sign Shohei Ohtani in the offseason, his sweeper would be noticeably affected by Coors, and guess what? He should still throw it like 40% of the time! An elite pitch is an elite pitch, and you shouldn’t abandon it or avoid it just because it might be a little bit worse at altitude. That’s called pitching scared and being predictable.

In my opinion, breaking balls (in all shapes and velos) are the key to cracking the code in order to pitch at Coors. Yes, they’re affected by altitude, but they’re still clearly the best performing pitches there, much better than fastballs (which, as we saw, are affected even more).

Sliders and curveballs for strikes, chases, whiffs, hitter counts, pitcher counts, runners on, bases empty, you name it. That aggressive breaking ball usage will also likely make fastballs play up, especially up in the zone. The breaking ball often sets up the fastball, not the other way around. Either that or they set each other up.

As I’ve said before: you can’t pitch scared or conservatively at Coors Field. You have to be forward-thinking, aggressive and not be afraid to try something different. Throwing a hell of a lot of breaking balls barely qualifies as different, obviously, since just about every team is doing it nowadays, but it’s not just about the amount of breaking balls; it’s how you use them. A slider or a curveball is not just a pitch for when you’re ahead in the count, it’s not just a chase pitch, it’s a multi-faceted weapon that will often be a much better option than a fastball.

That’s certainly the case for more than a few Rockies pitchers. Germán Márquez’s knuckle-curveball is one of the nastiest in baseball, it’s his best pitch by a wide margin, and he’s only thrown it 22% of the time as a big leaguer. That number needs to be a lot closer to 35-40%, in my humble opinion.

There are so many frontline starters who are currently throwing a million breaking balls and dominating. The aforementioned Shohei Ohtani is throwing his slider more than his fastball now. Same goes for 2022 Cy Young runner-up Dylan Cease. Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber throws close to 67% breaking balls. Clayton Kershaw throws more sliders than fastballs now. Rays ace Shane McClanahan threw more breaking balls than fastballs last year.

And on and on it goes. MLB has been in the modern era of pitch usage for years now. It’s time for the Rockies to truly enter it for good.

So, with the fastballs and breaking balls done, what’s left? That would be changeups and splitters for Pt. 5, and then our big recap in the form of a “Perfect Rockies Pitcher” in Pt. 6. I know these pieces are long, and trust me, I do my best to be as concise as possible. I hope I explained myself well and you learned something new (or confirmed a suspicion) today. Thank you for reading. Until next time!

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