The Best Pitches of 2011: Sliders

Yesterday, Carson Cistulli kicked of our coverage of the best pitches of the 2011 season — and the pitchers responsible for throwing them. Carson looked at fastballs, and I’ll be covering sliders. Carson laid out the number of criteria he considered when putting together his list, so, instead of writing it again, I’ll just link to his article.

I considered the same factors as Carson when looking at sliders, but also paid closer attention to relief pitchers. Some relievers actually throw sliders more than they throw their fastballs — think Brad Lidge or Carlos Marmol — so I felt it was important to weigh wSL/C a tiny bit more than Carson. Because while relief pitchers weren’t able to rack up a strong cumulative value in the category due throwing fewer innings, they deserve credit for having a wipeout slider. Without further introduction, let’s see who made the list this past season.

Note: The average movement for a slider in 2011 was 1.9 H-movement and 1.0 V-movement.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw

PITCHf/x: 24.6%, 83.6 mph, -4.1 H-move, 1.1 V-move
Results: 33.9% SwStrk, 56.6% Strk, 22.6 wSL, 2.66 wSL/C

Comments: Kershaw’s curve ball was once famously labelled as “public enemy number one,” but Kershaw’s slider is his weapon of choice against hitters today. After barely using his slider his first season in the majors, Kershaw has thrown it more often in each season. His curve usage has declined significantly since his debut. Kershaw had solid results with his curve early on, but decided the slider was a far effective pitch at some point. Kershaw’s slider was definitely his strikeout pitch against righties. With an 0-2 count, Kershaw went to the slider 45.2% of the time. That number jumped to 55.3% in 1-2 counts, and 60.9% in 2-2 counts. While Kershaw won’t throw his slider as much against same-handed batters, he still uses it around 40% of the time in those counts. That’s pretty impressive for the 23-year-old ace.

Here’s a video from an August 14th appearance against the Houston Astros in which Kershaw collects nine strikeouts. Five of those nine strikeouts come via the slider (0:13, 0:46, 0:51, 1:00, 1:32).

Ervin Santana

PITCHf/x: 38.2%, 82.2 mph, 4.2 H-move, -0.2 V-move
Results: 17.5% SwStrk, 66.1% Strk, 22.0 wSL, 1.68 wSL/C

Comments: Santana’s ranking on this list shouldn’t be all that surprising. While he’s not often mentioned as a top of the line starter, he’s always possessed a strong slider. It’s also really important to Santana’s success, as neither his fastball nor his change up rate positively according to pitch values. Unlike Kershaw, who can beat you with all of his pitches, Santana would be far less effective without his slider. What’s interesting here is that Santana threw his slider almost as often as many top relief pitchers. As Eno Sarris demonstrated almost a year ago, pitchers that throw too many sliders often end up with arm trouble. Santana has already missed time in the past with elbow injuries, so this bears watching.

Here’s a video from an August 13th appearance against the Toronto Blue Jays in which Santana strikes out six batters. Five of which came using the slider (0:18, 0:41, 1:01, 1:07, 1:14).


Greg Holland

PITCHf/x: 39.5%, 86.7 mph, 2.8 H-move, 2.1 V-move
Results: 28.8% SwStrk, 67.5% Strk, 12.2 wSL, 3.30 wSL/C

Comments: Aaron Crow may have received the All-Star nod — and Joakim Soria still gets all the glory — but Greg Holland was the Kansas City Royals’ best relief pitcher this past season. When batters did make contact with his slider, they pounded it into the ground. Against right-handed batters, Holland had a 54.3 GB% when throwing the slider. That number jumped to 61.5% against lefties. The batter’s handedness didn’t matter when it came to racking up strikeouts. Holland used his slider more often when he was ahead in the count — especially when he was in a two-strike situation.

Here’s video of a September 11th appearance in which Greg Holland strikes out the side. Two of his three strikeouts come via the slider (0:16 and 0:36).

Jonny Venters

PITCHf/x: 20.2%, 86.2 mph, 2.8 H-move, 2.1 V-move
Results: 35.8% SwStrk, 63.5% Strk, 11.7 wSL, 4.48 wSL/C

Comments: Chris Sale technically had a higher wSL, but I’m giving the nod to Venters based on his exceptional 4.48 wSL/C. Per one hundred pitches, Venters’ slider was the best pitch thrown by a reliever this past season. Because his fastball was also effective, Venters did not have to rely on his slider nearly as much as Sale, which is why Sale had a higher cumulative total. Craig Kimbrel may have had the better season, but Venters had the nastier pitch.

Here’s video of an October 10th appearance against the San Francisco Giants in with Venters strikes out the side. Two of his three strikeouts come via the slider(0:13 and 0:26).

Note: This video is actually from 2010, but it was the only appearance I could find on where Venters strikes out more than one hitter with his slider.

Assorted notes

Even though Pitch f/x classifies Craig Kimbrel’s breaking ball as a slider, we’re going to call it a curve. While he would have rated fourth among relievers in this article, we’ll see where he rates when Paul Swydan tackles curves tomorrow.

Print This Post

Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

22 Responses to “The Best Pitches of 2011: Sliders”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Justin says:

    Sergio Romo and Sergio Santos have pretty effective sliders as well

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. baty says:

    Thanks for picking out the Kershaw sliders for us… I had to listen to the video twice, watch the radar, and put the clip on mute to make sure :)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. AJP says:

    …kicked off*…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Damien says:

    Going forward, can you include 5 or so guys who just missed the list?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Kris says:

    Interesting: SP sliders very slurvey, eh? I think Bumgarner’s (harder) slider warrants consideration despite the whiff rate. Just his ability to toss it for strikes and the trouble batters have putting together solid contact provides an interesting contrast to the “wipe out” slider. I really have no clue how many sliders Bumgarner threw that were fouled off and resulted in a 0 because of an X-and-2 count, but I’d be curious to know. I’m still trying to sort out in my brain whether or not we’re evaluating the isolated outcome of a pitch or it’s ability to prevent runs.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      I wouldn’t say Kershaw’s is very slurvey, even though it’s not as hard as Bumgarner’s. According to pfx it has very little vertical movement, and it’s a whole 10 mph faster than his curveball.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Glenn Braggs says:

    Aroldis Chapman has to be on this list. Nastiest slider since the Unit.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Greg says:

    Romo’s slider is definitely a lot better than the pure pitchf/x numbers would indicate as it is the sole reason his 90mph fastball had the 2nd best wFB/C among all pitchers with at least 40 innings thrown (it’s also worth noting that he was only beaten by Rivera, who barely even threw his fastball last year). That’s when you know you have a dominate pitch (specifically in Romo and Rivera’s case too), when the anticipation of it makes all your other pitches equally dominating pitches.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Anthony says:

    I hate to be the guy to ask this but does anyone else find it frustrating to watch Dodger games because of Vin Scully? Constantly mispronouncing names, saying wrong players, not calling right pitches (first 2 K’s in Kershaw’s video he gets wrong)

    I like the pace and his endless supply of stories, but I’m hoping I’m not the only Fangraphs reader who feels this way.

    Also, loved the article, as the last one…..going to be a good week here.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Michael says:

      Dude’s 84…I think I’ll give him a break

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      I prefer his announcing to almost anyone else’s, occasional mislabeled pitches aside.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MrBennettar says:

      You’ll be hard-pressed to find many readers who are frustrated with Vin Scully. There are several broadcasters who could learn a thing or two from him.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JoeC says:

      Completely disagree. Beyond being a legend, that voice IS baseball to me. If he misses counts sometimes, oh well. He could read me the phone book and I’d be peachy.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ivdown says:

      thumbs way down for you, sir.

      Vin Scully is still amazing to listen to, even with getting names wrong. Hawk Harrellson probably gets most of the names right but that doesn’t make him any good. Vin Scully is probably the anti-Hawk because he is with the Dodgers but 95% of the time calls the game right down the middle, which is pretty refreshing with all the horribly biased announcers there are now.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. MrBennettar says:

    This is a great series. Does the average horizontal movement value for all pitchers account for pitcher handedness? In other words, does the average slider move +1.9 for righties and -1.9 for lefties or is this an average of all positive and negative values? Should Venters’ average H-move be -2.8?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. radicalhenri says:

    gregg holland also throws a splitter which can be confusing, i believe the second SO on his video was on a splitter.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • geo says:

      RotoGraphs had an article about Holland on Friday where I posed the question of how FanGraphs classifies his splitter, but there was no response. It could very likely be listed as a slider.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Tim says:

    Al Albuquerque was throwing some insanely snappy sliders before his elbow shredded…..

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. jason says:

    what about Marmol?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>