Stop Throwing That: Rick Porcello’s Slider

Rick Porcello throws a slider. He doesn’t throw it very often, but when he does, the results are typically disastrous. You might be able to work in a not-very-great pitch if everything else you had in your repertoire was overwhelming, but for the ground-balling Porcello, that’s just not the case.

But let me step back a moment. Rick Porcello is having a very Rick Porcello-like season, which, objectively, is just a wee bit better than your average starter. His 4.57 ERA is spot on with his career 4.55, his 3.82 FIP is the lowest of his career, and he’s striking out more batters than he has in his career with a 13.6% strikeout rate. Peachy.

Porcello, 23, throws a fastball almost 70% of the time. He relies heavily on the two-seam fastball (which is really much more akin to a sinker) and, in general, very good control. The good news is the fastballs have never been faster. He’s gained almost two miles per hour over 2011 on his four seam fastball at 92.3 mph and his sinker/two-seam fastball us up from 89.8 to 91.8. The two seamer has been more valuable than the past two seasons, but still sits at about average in terms of pitch value.

The bad news for Porcello is that he can’t just throw sinkers all day, and that his third pitch happens to be his slider. Historically, Porcello has thrown his slider anywhere from 14-20%, and this season he’s right about in the middle at 16.1%. Last season, it was just a hair above average in runs/100 pitches, but the slider has generally been his weakest pitch with a career -1.49. This year, however, the slider is at four and a half runs below average per 100. Over the last five seasons, for any starter who uses a slider more than 10% of the time, Porcello has set the gold standard for awful results in 2012.

Porcello uses his slider mostly against right handed batters, who see it roughly 25% of the time. He mixes in the slider versus left handed batters sparingly, but when he’s ahead in the count, he’ll throw it about 20% of the time. But when he uses it, regardless of the context, hitters feast. Opposing batters have produced a .398/.410/.631 triple slash against Porcello’s slider in 2012, with an ISO of .233. His slider turns hitters into Larry Walker.

Juxtaposing 2011 with his 2012 slider, he’s getting about half the horizontal movement this season and slightly less vertical movement. He’s throwing it about a mile per hour harder this season which might account for some of this, but his release point has also been pretty different:

The difference isn’t dramatic, but he’s releasing his slider several inches higher and typically more over the top than he did last season. I say typically, because you can see from the results that his release point was much more tightly clustered in 2011 than it has been in 2012, which could either point to some experimentation or simply an issue with consistency.

If I were a more talented gif maker, I’d slow these down for you to analyze, but here’s a shot of a 2011 slider followed by a 2012 slider. Obviously, these aren’t representative of every slider he’s thrown the last two seasons, but in general, his 2011 slider had greater bite to it, and better location whereas many of the 2012 varieties haven’t moved much and are left up in the zone.

Here, hitting his spot, down and away in 2011.

2012, where it kind of floats instead of bites (he actually got away with it). You can actually see a bit of the arm angle difference from 2011 where he used more of a three quarter arm angle than he is using in the snapshot from this season.

And just for gif-tastic fun, after looking at hours of Rick Porcello sliders, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include another slider that, well, didn’t slide:

It’s possible that Porcello and the Detroit pitching brain trust know that the slider is killing him, as his usage is down about five percent over the course of the second half. But for Porcello to be successful, or at least more successful, he probably either needs to scrap the slider altogether or somehow regain the form that made it at least an average pitch in 2011.

Porcello might make as many as four more starts in 2012, and considering the Tigers are just three games back of Chicago for the division crown, they are likely to be awfully important starts. If you’re a Detroit fan, you might want to show up with a sign reading “Trust the Change.”

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

16 Responses to “Stop Throwing That: Rick Porcello’s Slider”

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  1. Dan says:

    Looks like he’s been experimenting with a cutter, perhaps as something else to throw right-handed hitters.

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  2. Jack says:

    One of the best change of scenery candidates in baseball. He could explode if he does find a breaking ball and the Tigers find a better defensive MIF.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      at first read, I thought you were looking for a better defensive MILF.

      Thing is, his change is good enough that he probably doesn’t even need a slider. Looking at a ton of film on him, he has success vs. RHB with his change as it looks a hell of a lot like his sinker/two seamer but it’s 8mph slower – plus, he seems to be able to spot it. He’s just all over the place with his slider this season (it was good in July, but that’s about it).

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      Rick is on the worst possible team for a sinkerballer. That infield defense is atrocious, by far one of the worst I’ve seen from a contending team in years. I’m surprised the Tigers haven’t traded him for a pitcher with less balls put into play.

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  3. Dave K says:

    Great article, but a question:

    While I realize WAR isn’t the end all, be all how is a guy with about 3 WAR and ranking in 32 in the MLB in WAR only a wee bit better than the average starter?

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    • Tim says:

      Because pitcher WAR is often very misleading thats how

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Porcello is an interesting case, really – if we’re going to try and classify him as above or below average. AL League average ERA is 4.40, which Porcello is slightly better than but the league average FIP is 4.32, which Porcello is better than. WAR is wrapped up in FIP, and it would make him look pretty good, but if we head over to fielding dependent wins, he’s just a notch ahead of Justin Masterson and Luke Hochevar.

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  4. Tim says:

    I wonder what his BABIP is on the slider this year? Is it possible he is just unlucky?

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  5. Zach says:

    Those GIF’s are great. Most of his sliders this year have looked like that one to Beltre. For a Tiger fan, it is disappointing seeing that pitch look so much more effective last year. His fastball has been consistently really good this year, especially since the all-star break. He’s consistently getting a lot of movement on 93-94 mph, where he used to either throw 90 with movement or straight at 94 mph. His breaking stuff really must have gotten a lot worse.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      yeah, I’ll admit to being pretty impressed with his two seamer – against LHB and RHB alike. The action on that ball is so similar to what he gets out of his change up makes me wonder if he shouldn’t just go with his change as his primary third pitch and spend some time refining his slider in games that are already out of hand or perhaps in bullpen sessions. He had a decent slider in 2011, but it’s been so damaging this season, there’s little reason to continue to lob it up there.

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  6. james wilson says:

    It looks like he’s trying to improve his 2011 version mediocre slider by getting on top of it, which is admirable if you can make it work. It didn’t. Doesn’t the man throw a curve ball?

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  7. Hey can you do one of these on Nick Blackburn’s ‘everything’

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  8. the fume says:

    He’s been tinkering with his slider grip the whole season in hopes of finding something that works.

    He’s pitched very well the past month or so, typically going scoreless or close to it for the first 5 or so innings, before Omar Infante can’t turn a double play and then he immediately gives up the lead because the score is seemingly always still 0-0. The best was Sunday and the Indians where he got 4 double play balls in 1 inning and they didn’t turn any. Infante has great range, range that the infield needs, but he has not been able to throw, and he picks bad times to make bad throws. And of course Prince can’t pick squat to help him out. Oh and the bloops that Rick gives up! It’s uncanny! There’s been a couple of games where all the runs score on balls (doubles) that don’t get more than 25 feet past the infield.

    /typical tiger fan frustration

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