Colby Lewis’s Sliders

April could not have gone much better for Colby Lewis, or his main promoter, Carson Cistulli. While other FanGrahps authors think his Cy Young chances range from 2% to skim, Carson continues to “pimp his dawg” (or whatever youthful slang Carson would use to describe his support). And for good reason: he sits just behind Brandon Morrow on the AL K/9 leaderboard with 10.47, and, although he has had some HR/FB luck, he still has a solid 3.60 xFIP.

Compared to his previous time in the MLB, he is getting tons more swings outside the zone and swinging strikes — not surprising given his huge strikeout rate. This increase seems due, at least partially, to increased slider use. In his pre-NPB days he threw it 7% of the time, but through five starts this year he is throwing it a hair below 30% (according to the BIS classifications as well as my classifications of the pitchf/x data). By linear weights of the BIS classifications it is his nastiest pitch, already worth 5 runs above average, and I see it getting swinging strikes 20% of the time. The average slider last year got a swinging strike 13% of the time. Overall, Lewis is getting just under 12% swinging strikes compared to a league average of 8%.

Lewis, like most RHPs, throws his slider more often to RHBs, 35% of the time compared to 25% fo the time to LHBs. Here are the locations of his sliders to RHBs, with contacted pitches and whiff pitches marked. Unlabeled pitches were taken.

When Lewis leaves his slider up-and-in it has not been missed, but when they are down-and-away he gets tons of swinging strikes. This is a common pattern with sliders, and Lewis has done a pretty good job of keeping his down-and-away.

Patrick Newman, also a FanGraphs author, has a great pitchf/x-like tool for the NPB and with it we can go back and look at Lewis’s starts there. You can find it here, choose any date and see his pitch type and velocity over the course of a game. A cursory look through this shows a healthy dose of sliders, so it seems to me that this increased use of sliders was something that he started in Japan. So far it has worked wonders for him back in MLB.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

16 Responses to “Colby Lewis’s Sliders”

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  1. Sam says:

    This has nothing to do with this article, so I apologize in advance. However, I have to know, does the runs created stat on this site include stolen bases? If so, then could someone give an overview of what goes into that stat?


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  2. t ball says:

    When Lewis was signed it was said he had added a Cutter in Japan that had been a part of his success over there, and I know this is a pitch favored by Maddux and the Rangers right now. Lewis’ page shows zero cutters right now, is there some classification issue here?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Huh, cutters and sliders are often confused by both pitchf/x and BIS so all those extra sliders really being cutters would could definitely be the case. I will poke around in the numbers some more. Thanks.

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      • Adam says:

        One problem could be that he throws a Shuuto(Japanese cutter/slider hybrid)not a true cutter.

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      • t ball says:

        The last start of his I watched on gameday it seemed that the pitches classified as cutters were in the 88-90 mph range and the sliders in the low-80s.

        It’s confusing because in media reports after the Seattle game his fastball and slider are mentioned, but not his cutter, but in preseason reports adding the cutter was mentioned as a significant factor in his success in Japan.

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    • Mike Fast says:

      I see no sign of a Lewis throwing cutters this year in MLB. That group of pitches is a classic slider: 8 mph off the fastball speed, very little vertical spin deflection, just a few inches of horizontal spin deflection.

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      • t ball says:

        I believe that is true, but that’s why I’m so confused. Did he use it in Japan and then ditch it over here? I’ll have to try and ask this during a chat session with someone from the team if I get the chance, or maybe one of the beat reporters. The guys that cover the Rangers are pretty open to digging for that type of stuff.

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      • Lucas A. says:

        I’m wondering if Lewis just refers to his slider as a cutter. I know CC Sabathia calls his slider a cutter, and Sabathia’s slider is pretty slurvy.

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    • t ball says:

      Ok, I have an answer. Apparently, in a Dallas radio interview last week Lewis said it’s not a real cutter, it’s a slider. He alters the release a bit but doesn’t use a different grip.

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  3. Jason says:

    A Shuuto is not a Cutter/Slider combination. It runs like a 2-seam fastball

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  4. phil says:

    The graph: what’s the viewers’ perspective…form the pitcher’s eye or the batter’s? From the analysis, Dave claims up-and-in sliders to RHB got hit which would imply that the graph is from the batter’s perspective…true?

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  5. FYI, off-topic but sort of on, according to recent reports, a reporter has credited Zito’s addition of a slider to his repertoire as a big part of his success:

    I think someone else on the Giants staff has also added the use of the slider, I recall Lincecum, but not absolutely sure of that.

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  6. Hank says:

    How much is the whiff rate impacted by facing Seattle twice, Bos, Cle and Det?

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  7. dan woytek says:

    I believe while talking about any of Colby Lewis’s pitches one must end the name of the pitch “piece”, therefore the title of this entry should be “Colby Lewis’s Slidepieces”

    Carson C.

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