The Toronto Blue Jays' starting rotation in 2012 was both pained (Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison underwent Tommy John surgery) and painful to watch (they ranked 10th in the American League in ERA). GM Alex Anthopoulos hopes he solved those rotation woes by taking on salary in the Marlins' latest roster purge, acquiring Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle as part of a 12-player deal.
Johnson will team with the Jays' other brittle-but-brilliant ace, Brandon Morrow, to give the club arguably the game's best pair of sliders among starting pitchers. Johnson and Morrow unleash upper-80s breakers that they bury at hitters' knees, producing precious little hard contact. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has his Picassos, but Anthopoulos and the Jays are fine slider connoisseurs.
Both right-handers feature power sliders, with Johnson averaging 86.9 MPH (10th-highest among qualified starters) and Morrow sitting at 87.2 MPH (sixth-highest). But these guys do more than merely throw hard -- they command their sliders exceptionally well. Take a look at Johnson and Morrow's pitch location with their sliders this past season:
Johnson's slider location in 2012
Morrow's slider location in 2012
Johnson threw his slider to the bottom third of the strike zone about 78% of the time, trailing only Zack Greinke among starters. Morrow also stayed low, locating the pitch down about 66% of the time. For comparison's sake, the MLB average for starters is about 54%.
Why does that matter? Pitchers thrive when they keep their sliders down. MLB starters surrendered just a .266 opponent slugging percentage on low sliders this past year, far lower than their .472 mark on middle-zone sliders and .367 slugging percentage on high sliders. By routinely cutting off batters at the knees with sliders, Johnson and Morrow limited extra-base knocks. Morrow had the lowest opponent slugging percentage on his slider among all starters, and Johnson also cracked the top 15:
Lowest opponent slugging percentage among qualified starting pitchers, 2012