Daily Notes: Greinke v. Straily, Plus Slider Usage

Table of Contents
Here’s a table of contents for today’s edition of Daily Notes.

1. On Sliders and the Usage of Said
2. Notable Games (Including MLB.TV Free Game)
3. Today’s Complete Schedule

On Sliders and the Usage of Said
Regarding Why I’m Writing About This
In an effort to embody the spirit Carson’s NERD scores but not actually recreate it (too arduous), I was wondering what the single most dominant pitch in MLB might be. Dominating pitches can make for drama in a baseball game — the sort of drama that Carson’s NERD Scores reflect, in part.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to appreciate the way a “NERD Score” based entirely on the usage of a single type of pitch could be a shot of clarity in a convoluted world. It’s a simpler Score, from a simpler man.

What the Most Dominant Pitch Is, Then
It’s sliders, duh! Didn’t you read the title of this section?!

According to the weighted PITCHf/x values in this FanGraphs leaderboard, sliders have been worth 0.47 runs above average per 100 thrown in 2012. Knuckleballs have been worth more per 100 thrown, but they’re used less than any other pitch as they constitute just 0.4% of all pitches thrown, and pretty much all of their 2012 value comes from one man.

How Often Sliders Have Been Used in 2012 and Recent Years
On average in 2012, relievers have used a slider more often (18.1%) than starters (12.7%), possibly due to the stress it puts on the the arm.

Starters seem to max out at 40%; indeed, the recently-traded Ryan Dempster is this year’s leader amongst qualified starters: he throws his slider 39.2% of the time. Just eight pitchers have thrown the slider as over 30% of their pitches.

Among qualified releivers, Luke Gregerson throws it almost two-thirds of the time (66.8%), with Sergio Romo (66.1%) right behind him. In further contrast to starting pitchers, 32 qualified relievers have thrown the slider for at least 30% of their pitches in 2012.

Are Health Concerns Leading to Lower Slider Usage
With teams, pitchers, and doctors concerned about the effects of not throwing a slider properly, one might think that sliders are becoming more rare. But slider usage has been pretty consistent over the last decade or so: in every season from 2005-2012, sliders have made up between 14-16% of pitches with seemingly random minor fluctuations. It’s actually up from the early ’00s, when the range was 12-14%.

But Are Specific Teams, Maybe, Throwing the Slider Less Now
Well, the Red Sox, Rays, and Diamondbacks are all under 10% slider usage as teams in 2012, the Rays sitting at the lowest with 3.2%(!), the Red Sox 5.4%. This sort of jumps out, at least to me, because the Red Sox and Rays are “progressive teams,” so maybe they’re ahead of the curve in discouraging slider usage as a preventative health measure. From 2005-2011, the Rays were at 12.3%, the Red Sox at 9.7%; they could be moving away from sliders as organizations, but of course that could just as easily be due to turnover in pitching staffs: lose a couple of guys who use the slider a lot and your team numbers go way down.

Thanks for the Slider Facts, but So What
You’re welcome, so enjoy.

From 2005 to the present, the slider has been the most valuable pitch in the Major Leagues (counting pitch types that constitute at least 2% of all pitches thrown) in every season. That makes it the most devastating and, thus, the most exciting pitch in baseball — well, at least those facts are a good argument in the slider’s favor. The fact that with every slider thrown could involve a pitcher putting his arm on the line makes it an even more intriguing event, albeit morbidly so.

Today’s Notable Games
Los Angeles (AL) at Oakland | 15:35 EDT
Yes, I am aware that I listed the Angels and A’s as a notable game yesterday, too. What can I say? I love the A’s pitching staff, and the match-ups have been interesting in one way or another. Yesterday’s starting duo fully spanned the handsomeness spectrum, with the annoyingly dreamy C.J. Wilson on one hand, and the delightfully toadish Bartolo Colón on the other. Based on the results, we can say that god loves ugly.

Today we have Zack Greinke and Dan Straily, who are both handsome. The former has achieved 4.32 K/BB this year in 137 Major League innings; the latter has posted a 4.74 K/BB in 138.1 IP across three levels (AA, AAA, MLB). Both have FIPs well under 3.00: Greinke 2.66, Straily 2.30. Both have a diverse arsenal that features four- and two-seam fastballs, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. (Greinke also throws a cutter now, which he hasn’t done in previous years, so mayhap Strai-Strai will learn to throw one as he matures. (Yes, I just called Dan Straily “Strai-Strai.)) Greinke’s throws his stuff a bit harder, and he mixes his pitches more evenly, but Straily wasn’t afraid to use his secondary pitches in his first big league start.

These teams are separated by 0.5 games in their divisional standings, in which they trail the Texas Rangers by surmountable margins. Oakland is currently tied for the second Wild Card spot. Add this to the aforementioned pitching matchup and one of the highest ranked broadcasters in the league (per FanGraphs readership), and you have yourselves what should be a very exciting listening experience.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Oakland Radio.

Toronto at Tampa Bay | 19:10 EDT ***MLB.TV Free Game***
Both of today’s notable games feature and ex-Milwaukee Brewer. Carlos Villanueva has been bounced between the bullpen and the starting rotation for his entire career, making 291 career appearances but only 46 starts since 2006. In every year except 2010 (his last year with the Brewers, when they used him exclusively out of the bullpen) he appeared as both a starter and a reliever.

Career-wise, Villy has been better as a reliever, posting a 4.01 FIP (3.84 xFIP) against a 4.80 FIP (4.45 xFIP) as a starter. This year, however, it’s been the inverse of that: 3.52 FIP (3.42 xFIP) as a starter versus a 4.94 FIP (4.40 xFIP) in relief. His BABIP is actually significantly lower as a reliever (.256 vs. .284), and the xFIP numbers suggest he’s not getting lucky on HR/FB as a starter.

So what’s different about Carlastro the Starter vs. Carlozo the Reliever? One difference is that he’s walking far fewer people as a starter: his 7.3% walk rate is half of his 14.4% as a reliever. Another difference is, surprisingly, that he’s throwing a lower percentage of sliders and more consistently mixing in the changeup. A third difference is that he’s throwing his FB slower, on average. His fastball has seen a considerable upswing in value when he’s starting. These are only bits of evidence of course, that might prompt research or, hopefully, help readers to enjoy this game a bit more, should they choose to tune in.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

Today’s Complete Schedule
Here’s the complete schedule for all of today’s games, wherein Carson Cistulli’s fill-ins continue to bastardize his NERD Scores concept.

Today’s NERD Scores, as foreshadowed above, reflect slider usage. The the SP Scores indicate how often that pitcher has thrown a slider in 2012; the Team Scores, how often all pitchers who have pitched for the team have thrown it. Anything less than 2% will net the pitcher or team a 0 Score, while a 38% or higher earns a 10. Basically, I divided the percentage by four and rounded to the nearest one.

The Game Scores do consider the possibility of seeing a lot of sliders, but they also consider the teams’ chances at a playoff spot, and, at least in the case of the Angels-Athletics contest, the sheer awesomeness of the two pitchers involved. The Game Scores, then, are pretty much made up by me.

Pitching probables and game times (expressed in “military time” and abiding Eastern Daylight Time as per Carson’s space-time proclivities) are aggregated from MLB.com, as ever. You can sort the chart by clicking on any heading.

Away   SP Tm. Gm. Tm. SP   Home Time
Brian Duensing MIN 6 4 2 4 5 CLE Justin Masterson 12:05 EDT
Matt Harrison TEX 2 3 6 1 0 BOS Josh Beckett 13:35 EDT
Mat Latos CIN 6 4 3 3 5 MIL Randy Wolf 14:10 EDT
Zack Greinke LAA 4 3 10 3 5 OAK Daniel Straily 15:35 EDT
Jeff Samardzija CHC 4 6 1 5 4 SD Clayton Richard 18:35 EDT
Ian Kennedy ARZ 0 2 7 3 3 PIT Kevin Correia 19:05 EDT
Tim Hudson ATL 6 4 5 3 0 PHI Kyle Kendrick 19:05 EDT
CC Sabathia NYY 7 5 8 4 6 DET Anibal Sanchez 19:05 EDT
Kevin Millwood SEA 5 4 4 4 0 BAL Tommy Hunter 19:05 EDT
Nathan Eovaldi MIA 5 5 3 3 6 NYM Chris O. Young 19:10 EDT
Carlos Villanueva TOR 5 3 5 1 0 TB Alex Cobb 19:10 EDT
Gio Gonzalez WAS 0 3 6 3 8 HOU Armando Galarraga 20:05 EDT
Jeremy Guthrie KC 5 4 6 4 0 CHW Jose Quintana 20:10 EDT
Ryan Vogelsong SF 0 5 6 4 4 STL Joe Kelly 20:15 EDT
Jeff Francis COL 0 4 5 4 2 LAD Chad Billingsley 22:10 EDT

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Well-Beered Englishman
Well-Beered Englishman

Comment hijack:
Last week in Austin I had goat sliders. They mixed feta cheese and jalapenos into the meat patty… terrific stuff.

My favorite sliders all-time might be at Little Bigs in Houston – pulled pork sliders with cole slaw and nothing else. Also, Little Bigs is the one slider-dedicated establishment righteous enough to have a wine list and a guy who tells you what wine to get with what slider.



Short rib sliders with root beer glaze, followed by pork belly BLT’s!

Brazen Reader

The greatest slider of all time is Rickey Henderson.

A close second is merguez patty on mini-brioche with, why not?, a fried quail egg.