With apologies to the recently departed curveball addict Barry Zito and multiple slider maestro Kiko Calero, I'm of the opinion that Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street have the best breaking pitches on Oakland's pitching staff.
I have to admit, I'm completely fascinated by their movement. When either of those hurlers takes the mound, I've been known to call members of my family, friends, and whoever happens to be around into the room. I'll beckon them to "Just watch the break on this pitch...", and though they aren't nearly the baseball nut that I am, they're usually impressed.
Street's slider whips down and away from flailing hitters, causing many to check their bats for holes. Duchscherer's swooping curve drops down from nowhere to leave the once confidant batter looking downright befuddled and embarrassed. Hence my nickname for the Duchscherer hook: Death from Above.
Both Street and Duchscherer have used their powers to erase dozens of batters in the past couple of seasons. Duchscherer has a K/9 of 8.7 since shifting into a full-time relief role at the beginning of 2005, while Street has a 8.4 mark since making the team out of spring training in 2005.
They both average just a hair under strikeout an inning, but here's where it gets interesting... While Street's slider is nearly unhittable (when he's in the groove), Duchscherer's slow curve relies more on misjudgement by the hapless hitter.
Take a look at the percent of all of their strikeouts that are swinging:
Here's another way to look at that. These are sparklines, (which I'm very fond of) with the red marks denoted as swinging K's and the gray marks designating a looking punchout.
Street - 2005
Street - 2006
Duchscherer - 2004
Duchscherer - 2005
Duchscherer - 2006
It appears that when Street was getting his feet wet, batters laid off everything he threw at them, hoping he couldn't get his stuff across for strikes. When it became apparent that he indeed could, they started hacking at it. And missing.
In Duchscherer's All-Star season of 2005, he struck out nearly as many batters by making them watch it into Jason Kendall's mitt as he did my making them miss the ball. Duchscherer had as many looking K's by the All-Star break as Street would have all year in his Rookie of the Year campaign.
There's one story about Duchscherer's curve that I can't seem to tell often enough. Last March, I was in Arizona watching spring training baseball, as usual. The A's were playing the Padres, and over the course of two and one third innings of work, Justin Duchscherer struck out, consecutively, Mark Bellhorn, Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron, Brian Giles, Mike Piazza, and Ryan Klesko. Four of those were looking, most were with the Death from Above curve, and all were impressive.
(I had to look back in my scorebook to make sure I wasn't imagining things, and as far as I can tell, I'm not. The official box confirms it.)