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.
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).
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).
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).
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 MLB.com where Venters strikes out more than one hitter with his slider.
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.