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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

The Science Behind the Rise of the Slider

Batters are hitting just .209 against the slider, the lowest mark against any of the five pitches thrown at least 2% of the time. Pitchers and their coaches are following the data. For the first time in recorded history, fastballs (not including cutters) are being thrown less than half the time. Since 2015, which marked the start of the Statcast Era, fastball use has declined from 57% to 48%. Almost all that decline can be accounted for by an increase in sliders.

Slider usage has increased eight consecutive years, but the increase has been especially marked in each of the past two seasons: up 1.4% last year and up 2% this year. This chart leaves no doubt about the steadiness of this trend:

Why is this happening? Despite the fascination media and fans have with velocity, velocity has far less influence on run prevention than spin. So, even with heaters increasingly hitting triple digits these days, an average slider is harder to hit than an elite fastball.

Wrap your head around that for a minute. Now keep in mind that four-seam fastballs thrown at 97 mph and above are still rare. Only 10% of all four-seamers are clocked at such high velocity. And yet the average slider grades out as the better pitch:

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: July 05, 2022 at 12:24 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sliders

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. sotapop Posted: July 05, 2022 at 03:17 PM (#6085628)
Fun story. Thanks for posting it.
Also, wow... I've liked Kurt Russell in a lot of movies, but can't see him in the role-- too good-looing, not world-weary enough. Also can't imagine Annie picking Tim Robbins over Russell.
   2. sotapop Posted: July 05, 2022 at 04:04 PM (#6085634)
ooops. wrong thread. multiple tabs open.

   3. Walt Davis Posted: July 05, 2022 at 04:18 PM (#6085640)
This is also fairly interesting with Matt Wisler (of all people!) starring in Kevin Costner's place.
   4. 57i66135 is a hard word for me. Posted: July 06, 2022 at 05:34 AM (#6085712)
a bad slider is an average changeup, whereas a bad changeup is an XBH.


the limiting factor for the slider was never effectiveness (nearly 15 years ago, brad lidge was hoofing up sliders 70% of the time because his arm was falling off and it was the only way he could get outs towards the end of his career), it was only ever tradition (#shirleyjackson) and/or self-preservation that held sliders back, but organizations don't really care about keeping pitchers (especially the more fungible relief pitchers) healthy anymore, so now everyone can just pump, pump, pump-pump-pump, pump-pump, pump it up.
   5. McCoy Posted: July 06, 2022 at 09:10 AM (#6085717)
The "rise of the slider" seems to happen every generation. Ted Williams bemoaned the rise of the use of the slider. 70s saw the sinker/slider pitchers. Then the world fell in love with the slurve.
   6. JJ1986 Posted: July 06, 2022 at 11:50 AM (#6085733)
Going from 19% of pitches being sliders to 21% of pitches sliders is not really a 2% increase.
   7. Nasty Nate Posted: July 06, 2022 at 12:44 PM (#6085741)
The "rise of the slider" seems to happen every generation. Ted Williams bemoaned the rise of the use of the slider. 70s saw the sinker/slider pitchers. Then the world fell in love with the slurve.
When was the rise of the splitter? 90's?
   8. Nasty Nate Posted: July 06, 2022 at 12:45 PM (#6085742)
The rise of the riser was in the 80's, in wiffleball, for me.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: July 06, 2022 at 05:32 PM (#6085798)
When was the rise of the splitter? 90's?

I think that's hard to say. Sutter "introduced" it in the late 70s but it was a "trick" pitch and a pretty slow one. The first guy I recall getting a rep for the "modern splitter" is Mike Scott in the mid-late 80s. (Many said it was more a "scuffer" than a "splitter.") That did catch on but then he and a couple of other splitter pitchers got hurt and it briefly went out of fashion (I mean what else but a new pitch could possibly lead to pitcher injuries????. But Clemens kept rolling on.

But unless they just can't tell the difference between a fastball and a splitter, it's not thrown much anymore. According to fangraphs data, fewer than 2% of all pitches are splitters dating back to 2004.

Going from 19% of pitches being sliders to 21% of pitches sliders is not really a 2% increase.

Based on my many years of experience as a quant, this is a hopeless battle with the real world. It's not that hard to distinguish between a 10 percent change and a 10 percentage point change but the average punter will instinctively think a 10% increase is a 10 percentage point increase. I generally think it's better either to just reference the percentage point increase (while making it clear they are points) or my preference of "a 10% increase in slider usage (from 19% of all pitches to 21%)."

In this case, where I'm trying to explain where the 9 percentage point drop in fastballs went, I probably would just use percentage points. But I'd have made the starting points the same -- i.e. we are told about a 9 percentage point drop in FBs, told "almost all" of that went to sliders and are then informed about a 3.4 percentage point increase in sliders and 3.4 is not "almost all" of 9. (It is about a 7 %point incr in ssliders over the same time period so "almost all" is good enough.) "The 9 %point drop in FBs coincided with a 7 %point increase in sliders with half of that increase occurring in the last two seasons."
   10. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 06, 2022 at 06:08 PM (#6085812)
Roger Craig was the guru of the splitter. He taught it to Mike Scott and then had several of his pitchers throw it when he managed the Giants in the late 1980s.
   11. SandyRiver Posted: July 07, 2022 at 01:16 PM (#6085898)
Back when some still dismissed the slider as a "nickel curve", in The Long Season Jim Brosnan said that it was "not as fast as a good fastball nor breaking as much as a good curveball, but easier to throw and control than either."
   12. Walt Davis Posted: July 07, 2022 at 07:55 PM (#6085923)
Back to my nerd point in #9 ... ya gotta be careful when reading this sort of stuff in the media. The game can be played in either direction. A 10% increase in slider usage sounds a lot more impressive than 19% to 21%. X "increases the risk of a certain type of cancer by 50 percent" is really dramatic ... but it's probably going from a 1 in 10,000 chance to a 1.5 in 10,000 chance. On the other hand, a 2 percentage point change in the unemployment rate would be huge ... as might be a change in cancer rates from 1 in 10,000 to 1.5 in 10,000.

Baseball is generally a game of tiny differences having big impacts -- 20 points of BA is just a hit every two weeks as we all know ... which somehow might be a full win over a season. A 2 %point increase in sliders is only about 3 pitches per team-game. It doesn't seem possible that could have any real impact but if that leads to just one fewer hit a weak, that's about 20 fewer runs allowed per year.
   13. The Yankee Clapper Posted: July 07, 2022 at 08:41 PM (#6085933)
Back when some still dismissed the slider as a "nickel curve", in The Long Season Jim Brosnan said that it was "not as fast as a good fastball nor breaking as much as a good curveball, but easier to throw and control than either."
BITD, some suggested sliders increased pitcher injuries, making it a somewhat disfavored option.
   14. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: July 07, 2022 at 09:26 PM (#6085939)
BITD, some suggested sliders increased pitcher injuries, making it a somewhat disfavored option.


I think BITD it was also considered something you could only use effectively against same-sided batters (e.g. righties to righties or lefties to lefties) since it broke away. Of course, Steve Carlton threw (hard) sliders in to right-handed hitters all the time, and Larry Anderson got to the point that it was all he threw.
   15. DanG Posted: July 08, 2022 at 10:41 AM (#6085978)
When was the rise of the splitter? 90's?
From Jack Morris' SABR bio:

To this point, Morris had relied on a standard repertoire of a fastball, slider, and change-up. In the early 1980s, he began having some problems with his slider and was on the lookout for a new pitch. “My slider started flattening out. I couldn’t get the big break anymore. I was having some inconsistency with my slider, hanging a few too many. I was looking for that ‘out’ pitch. My fastball was still good, change-up was still good, but I was looking for that ‘strike three’ pitch.”

It was about that time he discovered the forkball, or split-fingered fastball. Although his pitching coach with the Tigers, Roger Craig, is often credited with teaching him the splitter, Morris says the credit belongs to his Tigers teammate, Milt Wilcox. In the Chicago Cubs organization in the mid-1970s, Wilcox had crossed paths with Bruce Sutter, who would make a Hall of Fame career out of the splitter. “He watched Sutter throw it,” Morris said of Wilcox. “He [Wilcox] couldn’t throw it himself because his fingers were too short.” One day Morris was throwing in the bullpen when Wilcox asked if he’d like to try the forkball. “I threw about eight or nine pitches and nothing happened.” Morris was ready to give up, but Wilcox suggested some adjustments with the grip and release. “I threw one and the bottom dropped out. I thought, ‘I gotta work on this thing because this is ridiculously nasty.’ And I threw about six more in a row that all worked the same way. . . . I saw what this thing could do, and I said, ‘I’ve got to master this thing.’”

Morris said he started working on the pitch at the end of the 1982 season and started throwing it regularly in 1983, the first year he won 20 games. “In 1983 and 1984, I pretty much had it to myself in the American League. It was a total gift. It was like nobody knew it was coming. It was awesome. It was so much fun. And then everyone else started trying to learn how to pitch and then hitters started to adjust to it. My forkball was above average. I could almost tell guys it was coming, and they still couldn’t hit it. . . . When I threw it right, nobody hit it.”

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