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Entries in sliders (4)

Friday
Dec202013

Jesus Montero Hacking His Way Back to Triple-A

Few trades in recent memory have been as sexy -- and subsequently disappointing -- as the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda deal consummated by the Yankees and Mariners in January of 2012. Back then, it looked like an old-fashioned challenge trade of potential franchise cornerstones -- your hitting prodigy for my fireballing ace. Instead, Pineda has yet to throw a single pitch in the majors for New York, missing the entire 2012 season following labrum surgery and trying to regain his stuff in the minors late in 2013. Montero, meanwhile, has played like a minor league lifer (career 0.3 Wins Above Replacement) and is buried on the Mariners' 2014 first base/DH depth chart behind the likes of Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound Montero's squatting days are already over, due to a mix of injuries (a torn meniscus in his left knee in 2013), downright Doumitian glove work, and the arrival of well-rounded top prospect Mike Zunino.

It's hardly a shock that Montero, who also served a 50-game PED suspension last year, is no longer catching. His work behind home plate has long been panned, and even his most ardent supporters were only hoping that he could fake it in a Mike Piazza kind of way. Montero can't, as his career caught stealing rate (14 percent) is barely half that of the league average (26 percent), and his called strike rate on pitches thrown in the strike zone (76 percent) is the lowest among all backstops over the past three years, save for Ryan Doumit

Montero's predictable slide down the defensive spectrum wouldn't be so bad if he had developed into the devastating hitter that scouts had long prophesized. But that hasn't happened: in 732 major league plate appearances, he has a park-and-league-adjusted on-base-plus-slugging percentage that's three percent below average. Ditching his catcher's mask raised the bar on Montero's bat -- as a DH/first base type, he has to swat homers and get on base to be worth a roster spot. It's hard to say who the 24-year-old is at this point. He's not a catcher, and he's not a slugger. Which is why he'll almost assuredly be a Tacoma Rainer in 2014, assuming GM Jack Zduriencik doesn't sell low on the former top-five prospect.

The hulking righty hitter has already proven that he can mash fastballs at the highest level. But if Montero is to escape Triple-A purgatory and eventually join Robinson Cano in the middle of the M's lineup, he'll have to start laying off curveballs, sliders and changeups thrown off the plate. The stud once likened to Piazza and Miguel Cabrera is now drawing parallels to young hitters undone by their hacking like Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young.

Against fastballs, Montero looks like a seasoned pro. While he chases heaters slightly more often (28.7 percent) than the average hitter (25.4 percent), he's also slugging .514 (about 80 points above the MLB average). Fourteen of Montero's 22 career homers have come off fastballs. When pitchers challenge him, Montero makes them pay with decent plate patience and serious power.

They rarely challenge him, though, as Montero has seen the fifth-lowest percentage of fastballs (42.2 percent) among AL hitters logging 500-plus plate appearances from 2011-13. There's a good reason for that approach -- Montero gets himself out against breaking and off-speed stuff by chasing pitches off the edges and in the dirt.

Montero's swing rate by pitch location versus breaking and off-speed pitches, 2011-13

MLB average swing rate by pitch location versus breaking and off-speed pitches, 2011-13

Montero has chased 42.2 percent of curves, sliders and changeups thrown outside of the strike zone, way above the 31.7 percent MLB average. That puts Seattle's hoped-for cleanup hitter in the same neighborhood as Francoeur (44.1 percent) and Young (44.8 percent), among other bad-ball swingers.

It's no secret that plate judgment is paramount for batters, but the difference between swinging at a ball and a strike is, well, striking. When hitters swing at a breaking or off-speed pitch thrown out of the zone, they slug .187. When they swing at a strike, they slug .474. Chase a curve, slider or changeup off the plate, and you hit like a pitcher. Swing at a strike, and you're suddenly Pedro Alvarez

Montero isn't a lost cause, but his plate approach needs a serious overhaul if he's going to rake in the majors. Currently, pitchers can toss soft stuff galore and watch with glee as he buries himself in the count or makes weak contact. There's no reason to let him pull a fastball into the bleachers when he's so eager to lunge at unhittable junk. Montero could still become a Paul Konerko-esque slugger, overcoming a rough big league introduction and crushing enough pitches to make a difference at a bat-only position. Short of learning to lay off soft stuff, though, Montero will join free-swingers like Francoeur and Young in top prospect infamy.

Friday
Sep132013

Slip slidering away

The slider is a great pitch.
It's the fastest breaking pitch thrown, but not as fast as a four-seam or two-seam fastball. It is faster than a curveball with a later horizontal break.
This season, batters are hitting .207/.249/.335 against the slider.

Pitchers who love the slider

Pitchers who have thrown the most sliders through 9/12/13
P
Yu Darvish (TEX) 1169
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 1108
Ervin Santana (KC) 1143
Bud Norris (BAL) 995
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 810
Ricky Nolasco (LAD) 832
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 747
Mat Latos (CIN) 726
Kevin Correia (MIN) 715
Matt Cain (SF) 748

Throwing it doesn't mean throwing it well

Half of the top 10 have a higher BAA
Pitchers who have thrown the most sliders through 9/12/13
P AVG OBP SLUG
Yu Darvish (TEX) 1169 .151 .212 .236
Madison Bumgarner (SF) 1108 .215 .282 .321
Ervin Santana (KC) 1143 .170 .204 .307
Bud Norris (BAL) 995 .259 .295 .378
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 810 .275 .357 .468
Ricky Nolasco (LAD) 832 .181 .208 .295
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 747 .263 .297 .410
Mat Latos (CIN) 726 .182 .207 .268
Kevin Correia (MIN) 715 .267 .306 .462
Matt Cain (SF) 748 .194 .234 .325
I hope you notice there are some very good pitchers on this list
2013 pitchers (min 400 sliders)
P PA AVG OBP SLUG
Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) 505 131 .288 .313 .520
Dylan Axelrod (CWS) 515 137 .288 .350 .512
Ryan Dempster (BOS) 810 252 .275 .357 .468
Homer Bailey (CIN) 464 131 .273 .290 .414
Lance Lynn (STL) 444 134 .273 .331 .430
Dillon Gee (NYM) 495 139 .272 .288 .412
Jason Hammel (BAL) 429 121 .268 .322 .491
Kevin Correia (MIN) 715 225 .267 .306 .462
Kyle Lohse (MIL) 747 231 .263 .297 .410
Jason Marquis (SD) 578 193 .260 .344 .414

Then there are slider aficionados

These pitchers are having very good seasons and you can see how the slider has helped them
2013 Most Effective Sliders Pitchers (min. 400 sliders)
PPAAVGOBPSLUG
Justin Masterson (CLE)792220.110.183.180
Patrick Corbin (ARI)666217.121.190.201
Jhoulys Chacin (COL)486166.123.170.221
Chris Sale (CWS)865217.140.207.235
Max Scherzer (DET)546141.141.177.200
Sergio Romo (SF)418123.144.171.220
Francisco Liriano (PIT)786239.150.232.215
Yu Darvish (TEX)1169358.151.212.236
Tyson Ross (SD)541179.152.223.177
Adam Ottavino (COL)570162.158.217.226

No report on Sliders would be complete without the Indians mascot

Friday
Jan042013

Cutters, Sliders Fuel MLB's Strikeout Surge

Bad news for fans who adore high-contact pests: Players punching out at Scutaro-esque levels are a dying breed. Strikeouts have spiked in the majors with the percentage of plate appearances ending in a K increasing from 17.5 in 2008 to 19.8 in 2012, highest in MLB history.

At this pace, poor umpire Jim Joyce is going to be hoarse by May. 

What's behind the strikeout surge?

It appears that pitchers are fanning hitters by throwing more two-strike cutters and sliders in place of fastballs. 

  • In 2008, pitchers threw fastballs or sinkers 52.8% of the time in two-strike counts.
  • In 2012, they threw fastballs 48.6% of the time in such situations.
  • The percentage of two-strike curveballs and changeups thrown has remained about the same between 2008 and 2012.
  • Pitchers are tossing considerably more cutters with two strikes (1.8% of two-strike pitches in 2008, and 5.5% in 2012) and sliders (19.4% in 2008, 20.7% in 2012).

As the table below shows, those cutters and sliders are driving the increase in Ks across the game.

The number of batters striking out on sliders has increased by about 22% from 2008 to 2012. Hitters struck out 342% more often against the cutter in 2012 than in 2008.

Increase in strikeouts by pitch type from 2008 to 2012

Here's another way of putting it: 

  • Cutters accounted for about 1.7% of total strikeouts in 2008, and 5.1% in 2012.
  • Sliders made up 23.6% of total Ks in 2008, and 25.2% in 2012.
  • Fastballs, meanwhile, have fallen from 45.3% of total strikeouts in 2008 to 41.9% in 2012. 

Cutters and sliders are fueling MLB's strikeout surge, but in different ways. Pitchers are freezing hitters with two-strike cutters thrown over the plate. By contrast, batters are chasing -- and whiffing -- more often against sliders.

The increase in Ks via the cutter has come mostly from pitches taken in the strike zone.

In two-strike counts, pitchers threw a cutter over the plate 38.8% of the time in 2008. By 2012, they threw in-zone cutters in two-strike counts 43.2% of the time.

While pitchers are throwing more cutters in the strike zone, hitters have actually gotten worse at recognizing balls and strikes. Batters swung at two-strike cutters thrown in the strike zone 90.1% in 2008, but that decreased to 88.4% in 2012.

When pitchers go out of the zone, batters are chasing fewer cutters and making more contact when they do swing.

Cutters in two-strike counts

Pitchers are throwing about the same percentage of sliders over the plate in two-strike counts, and hitters are actually swinging at more strikes.

However, batters are chasing more two-strike sliders out of the zone (41.7% in 2008, 44.4% in 2012) and whiffing more often (45% in 2008, 48.4% in 2012):

Sliders in two-strike counts    

 

In summary:

  • In two-strike counts, pitchers are throwing more cutters and sliders and fewer fastballs/sinkers.
  • Those cutters and sliders accounted for a higher percentage of overall strikeouts in 2012 (about 30% combined) than in 2008 (about 25%), while fastballs/sinkers accounted for fewer Ks (about 45% in 2008, and 42% in 2012).
  • Pitchers are throwing more two-strike cutters in the zone and batters are swinging at fewer of them, resulting in more looking strikeouts.
  • Batters are chasing more two-strike sliders thrown out of the zone, and they're missing those pitches more often.