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Calvin Faucher has an extraordinary curveball

A deep dive into the other player in the Nelson Cruz trade

@MightyMussels

On July 22nd of last year, the Tampa Bay Rays made one of the most noteworthy splashes in franchise history by acquiring Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins. Cruz has since left the Rays in free agency and reportedly signed with the Washington Nationals just a few days ago.

Not all is lost, however, as the Rays were also able to acquire a second player in this trade, right-handed pitcher Calvin Faucher.

The Twins selected Faucher in the 10th round of the 2017 MLB draft out of UC Irvine. He didn’t have a whole lot of success in the Twins organization, as he pitched to a 4.64 ERA over his total 159 innings at various levels. His 2021 season was off to a particularly rough start, and his 7.04 ERA and 5.73 FIP with the Twins AA affiliate illustrate that point.

But the Rays saw something in his metrics, and made Faucher a target.

His season was a completely different story for the right-hander after coming over to Tampa Bay. Faucher posted a stellar 1.44 ERA and 2.33 FIP over 25 innings with his new club, and was able to cut his walk rate by over half, from a 15.8% clip with the Twins to just a 7.4% clip with the Rays in 2021. A very impressive turn around for the 26-year old.

Faucher performed so well in that short time that the Rays opted to add him to their jam-packed 40-man roster in November, fearing that he would be selected in the Rule 5 draft (which has since been cancelled due to the lockout) if left unprotected. That certainly speaks to how highly the organization thinks of him.

As far as why the Rays went out of their way to first acquire Faucher and second add him to the roster, that largely has to do with how excellent his curveball is.

Baseball America recently published an article detailing some of the best curveballs in the minor leagues and Faucher’s made the list. Here’s what they had to say about it:

Calvin Faucher, RHP Rays | 85.3 mph CB Avg. | 3,000 rpm | 34% Whiff Rate | 55% Strike Rate

I don’t believe it would be too much of a stretch to assume Faucher’s signature curveball was a large part—if not exclusively why—Faucher was acquired as a secondary piece in the Nelson Cruz trade last summer. Ranking No. 24 in the Rays system, Faucher’s curveball is a true hammer, with 70-grade curveball velocity and an average spin rate well above 3,000 rpm. This translates to a steep downward bite as Faucher generates over a foot of negative induced vertical break. While the results could be better, as Faucher struggled pre-trade with Minnesota, he seemed to figure something out after joining the Rays organization. That said, his whiff and strike rates on the season were above-average for a curveball. There’s definitely reason to be optimistic about Faucher’s future outlook as he fooled highly regarded prospect Adley Rutschman multiple times on the pitch in his final appearance of 2021. Highly rated by stuff-based models, Faucher, now on the Tampa 40-man roster, could see innings with the big league club throughout 2022.

Wow! That is some high praise. The most interesting part of this write-up to me is the data that is included. Faucher’s curveball averaged a whopping 85.3 mph with a spin rate over 3,000 rpm. Both of those values are rather eye-popping.

For more context, only ten big league curveballs were thrown that hard on average in 2021 and only twelve big league curveballs topped the 3,000 rpm mark. Faucher has an innate ability to spin the ball and both of these figures back that up. To what extent these features were present before his acquisition, and to what extent the Rays coaching staff was thereby able to help the pitcher develop these characteristics, is not clear from the write-up, but the talent speaks for itself.

On top of the spin rate and velocity figures, the other nugget in that blurb that interests me is that Faucher was able to generate -12 inches of induced vertical break (IVB) with the pitch. IVB is defined as the vertical movement of a pitch in comparison to a theoretical straight pitch.

There are only three major league curveballs that get more drop than Faucher’s does, the combination of velocity and drop that he is able to produce is nearly unprecedented.

To illustrate this, I’ve plotted the average velocity and induced vertical break values for each curveball that was thrown at least 30 times in the 2021 MLB season. Along with those, I’ve included the values for Faucher’s curveball that were mentioned in the Baseball America article:

Data Source: Alex Chamberlain’s Pitch Leaderboard

Faucher’s curveball lives right on the periphery of this scatter plot, which speaks to the uniqueness of the pitch. I’ve also highlighted Tyler Glasnow’s curveball for comparison purposes. Faucher throws his breaker with more velocity, but a little less than drop than Glasnow does, but overall the shapes are pretty similar.

The only MLB curveball that averaged both more velocity and drop in 2021 than Calvin’s did was Chicago Cubs reliever Tommy Nance’s hook (the dot right below Faucher’s). Nance has an excellent curveball himself, and it is probably the closest big league comparison to what we can expect Faucher’s to look like. Check out the wicked velocity and movement on this thing:

Nance’s curveball did not induce good results last year, but he only threw 123 of them, and only 14 of those were even put into play. That sample size is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions from, and it’s logical to assume his curve will perform better with more opportunity because of it’s unique characteristics.

There isn’t a whole lot of good video out there on Calvin Faucher, but here’s a neat shot of his breaking ball from the hitter’s perspective:

This special pitch gives Faucher a good chance to play a role in a big league bullpen and perhaps even as soon as this year.

In addition to the curveball, he possesses a fastball with above average velocity but poor movement according to Baseball America. Maybe the Rays will be able to help him adjust the shape of that pitch, or maybe the entire arsenal will play up because of his improved strike-throwing ability.

Another interesting note about Faucher is that the Rays actually stretched him out pitch count wise much further than Minnesota did in 2021, possibly with the goal of getting him into a starter’s form.

On August 1st, Faucher threw 3.2 innings and 54 pitches while allowing zero runs and just one hit for the Durham Bulls. That is the longest outing of his minor league career so far. It’s not yet clear if the Rays view Faucher as more than just a single-inning reliever or possibly as a bulk pitching option for the club. In either such role, he’ll have a strong chance of making his major league debut in 2022.

Calvin Faucher is in big league spring training this year and figures to face a number of quality hitters. His performance and usage will be interesting to follow as he isn’t too far down the MLB depth chart as things stand today. Faucher was promoted to AAA for the first time in his career at the end of last season and figures to begin 2022 at the same level.