Breaking balls key for Wainwright, Harvey

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Adam Wainwright will look for his 10th win of the season Thursday against Matt Harvey and the Mets.

Thursday afternoon, two of the early National League Cy Young favorites go head-to-head as Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals face rookie Matt Harvey and the New York Mets.

Wainwright has finished in the top three of the NL Cy Young voting twice but is on pace for the best season of his career.

Highest Single Season K/BB Ratio
Qualified Pitchers Since 1900

He has 91 strikeouts and just seven walks in 96 innings pitched and is on pace to set the Modern Era record (since 1900) for K-to-BB ratio (13.0), set by Bret Saberhagen (11.0) in 1994.

It’s more than twice as good as the next-closest starter this season, Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma (6.2 K-to-BB).

Last season Wainwright ranked 35th among starters in walk rate, issuing just 52 free passes in 32 starts. At his current pace this season, he'd need to pitch 713 innings and make 96 starts before he walked his 52nd hitter.

How Wainwright is Doing It

We know that Wainwright's curveball is one of the best weapons in the game, with the fifth-biggest vertical break among starting pitchers this season (9.5 inches).

But he mixes things up, not relying on one pitch. When he was at ESPN this week, Wainwright told us that he works hard to avoid falling into a pattern. And he’s done a good job of that this season.

Adam Wainwright's Curveball
Since Start of 2012

He’s thrown curveballs at least 30 percent of the time in three of his starts, and fewer than 21 percent in five others.

Three times, he’s thrown changeups at least 10 percent of the time, but in three others he hasn’t even thrown one.

Another thing he told us is that he’s throwing his cutter harder this season and the numbers back that up. His cutter is maxing out at 92.2 MPH this season, up from 91.0 last season.

And with that, the effectiveness of the pitch has increased greatly. Opponents are hitting almost 90 points lower against his cutter this season and are swinging-and-missing almost twice as often against it.

Primetime Matchup

Opposing Wainwright for the Mets will be the young phenom Harvey. He’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 13 starts this season (only three pitchers have more).

Matt Harvey
Curveballs & Sliders This Season

But has the league started to figure him out?

His ERA and opponents’ batting average has risen each month this season -- it's early in June but in two starts he has a 3.75 ERA and opponents are hitting .340 against him.