The Mets Are Throwing the Dan Warthen Slider

Longtime Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan loves the sinker. The Braves’ Leo Mazzone was all about establishing the pitch low and away. Rick Peterson may hate the cutter.

The Mets’ Dan Warthen may not have the name value of legendary pitching coaches that have come before him, but he does have his own pitch. If you want to see what it looks like, you just have to notice how the Mets, as a team, are outliers when it comes to slider velocity and movement.

The Mets are throwing a different kind of slider.

Pointing out what this Mets slider is all about could be as easy as linking to this leaderboard, which shows that the Mets have the hardest sliders in baseball. Or even this leaderboard, which shows that Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Jeurys Familia are in the top 15 when it comes to slider velocity.

But that’s not enough, really. Because the Mets boast young flamethrowers who throw everything hard.

Instead, let’s focus on two aspects that control for overall velocity. The Mets look like outliers even when you look through the lens of fastball-slider velocity differential combined with vertical movement. A lower number means more drop, so you’ll see that the Mets have slightly less movement than average, while having a smaller differential between their slider and fastball velocities.

Team Velo Diff (mph) Vertical Drop (in.)
Astros 7.1 1.8
Rockies 7.3 0.6
Rangers 7.4 1.7
Royals 7.7 3.4
Mets 7.8 1.9
Padres 8.0 1.9
Nationals 8.1 0.9
Mariners 8.1 -0.6
Dodgers 8.2 -0.3
Red Sox 8.2 1.6
Angels 8.2 0.5
Cardinals 8.3 1.8
Giants 8.3 2.7
Brewers 8.3 1.5
Indians 8.4 1.7
Pirates 8.4 0.9
Rays 8.5 2.0
White Sox 8.5 0.7
Blue Jays 8.6 0.4
Cubs 8.6 0.5
Orioles 9.0 1.9
Athletics 9.1 1.6
Reds 9.1 1.2
Marlins 9.2 1.6
Tigers 9.2 2.4
Braves 9.2 0.6
Yankees 9.3 1.0
Twins 9.4 1.3
Phillies 9.6 0.8
Dbacks 10.4 1.2
Average 8.5 1.3

Maybe the Mets don’t look like they are all alone in this world now. The Astros and Rangers seem similar, at least. It’s when you start talking to the players — and Warthen himself — that you realize that he’s really got his own spin on this pitch.

Back in 2012, David Laurila spoke to Matt Harvey as an “emerging ace,” and Harvey heaped praise on his pitching coach for one pitch in particular. “Dan Warthen helped me out with the grip during Spring Training,” said Harvey. “I threw it last year, but I didn’t really know how to throw a slider.”

And in 2013, when Jenrry Mejia was reclaiming some of his promise, he deflected praise to his pitching coach when speaking to Andy Martino: “When I came here in September last year, Dan Warthen showed me how to throw a slider,” said a beaming Mejia, back in a major league clubhouse. “Then I threw it in winter ball. And now I throw it perfect.”

This year, Mejia told me once again how important that learning moment with Warthen was to him — “for sure, he helped me out so much” — and praised the ease of the slider. “Don’t think about it, just throw it, just throw it like a fastball.” Mejia’s slider, which isn’t included yet in these numbers, averages 86 according to the pitcher and 84 according to our boards.

That sounds very much like what Warthen told me was the key to the pitch. “It’s a different spin, it’s a different grip. The whole idea is not to use your wrist to try and spin the ball, you want your fingers to spin the ball. You’re thinking fastball and just kind of cutting through the ball,” he said before a game against the Giants.

Warthen has a disciple in this year’s closer, Jeurys Familia, too. The slider, which replaced his slurve, has “small, quick, movement at the end,” and Familia said he has “more command of it.” You throw it like a fastball, and “at the last point you just flick your fingers a little.” Sounds like a great pitch.

Take a look at Familia’s grip for his old slurve (left) and his new slider (right), and you might notice most the distance from his palm to the ball. This is a pitch that sits in the fingers more than the palm.

FamiliaWarthenSlider
The slurve (left) was much deeper in the palm than the new slider (right).

Even the pitchers who haven’t thrown the Mets version of the slider yet are aware of the pitch. “I played with it a little bit to pick up the RPMs on my curveball,” admitted Noah Syndergaard, who has recently seen his spin rate on the curve drop precipitously even as the velocity on the pitch goes up. Thor saw his RPM drop from around 1500 earlier in the season to around 1000 in his last start. Jonah Pemstein’s work in these pages suggests that’s a good thing for the curve, and it was achieved through Warthen’s tutelage.

This clue, along with something Warthen said, might actually provide us with the way to spot the Mets’ slider in the numbers. “Tight spin, and we’ve gotten a lot of swings and misses,” Warthen said, referencing spin again. But, paired with Thor’s lowered spin rate, that spin is actually less than you’d expect from other sliders.

Take a look at spin versus velocity for this year’s slider-throwers, and there you go. It’s all Mets in the top left corner, with the highest velocity paired with the lowest spin rates. Hover over the top left and find most of the Warthen success stories. Hansel Robles!

Both Syndergaard and newcoming lefty Steven Matz — who isn’t learning the slider because the team wanted him to “focus on developing the curveball” — are interested in learning the pitch, and that’s no great surprise.

Maybe that’s because they can see what a success story deGrom has been. When I talked to deGrom last, he was in the midst of making his slider harder — “It’s been quite a bit harder than it has been” — but it was 87-88 then. It’s now 89 mph and the eighth-hardest slider in the bigs.

deGromOldSliderdeGromNewSlider
That’s deGrom’s old slider on the left, at 84 mph with a big break. That’s an 89 slider on the right.

Warthen said that deGrom was a little bit too obsessed with movement at first. “He was trying to make it break, and we don’t want to make it break, we want to think about getting our fingers to the front of the ball and spinning the baseball,” Warthen said of the pitcher on whom he may have had the greatest impact. “Then you take another breaking ball and you separate the speeds, and it doesn’t have to be a great breaking ball, it just has to be a different speed.”

Before deGrom upped the velocity on his slider, his curve got 10% whiffs and his slider got 9% whiffs. Since he started averaging 88-89 on the slider, his slider has gotten 13% whiffs — and his curve has jumped to 16%. His curve didn’t really change in shape. He just had a bigger differential between the pitches.

Considering that the cutter is faster and has less movement than your traditional slider, it’s fair to ask Warthen if he’s just teaching a cutter. “It’s not a cutter, because if you move your thumb up it gets bigger, if you move your thumb down, it gets smaller,” Warthen smiled. “You can regulate the spin on the baseball and the break on the baseball, and the velocity. You can spread the velocity just by moving your thumb.” You could also say that the average cutter drops more than four inches less than the average slider on his team.

Critics might point to arm injuries on the Mets as proof that the pitch is hard on the arm, but Warthen laughs that off. “It’s easy on the arm when done correctly, it’s not one of those pitches that you try to make break,” he said. And these pitchers all throw hard, and there is a relationship between just throwing hard and arm injury. It’s impossible to split those effects apart.

Ask Warthen if he’s in his dream job, and he doesn’t equivocate. “Absolutely. All of these guys are good guys, too, and they want to learn. Syndergaard and Matz and Harvey — they’re just sponges, and they want to learn.” That’s no surprise. You’d hope most pitchers would want to learn the low-spin, high-velocity, all-in-the-fingers slider that helped make Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia who they are today.

That’s a pitch good enough to get its own name: The Dan Warthen Slider.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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MustBunique
Member
Member
10 months 19 days ago

Applausi per Eno.

Brian Mangan
Guest
10 months 19 days ago

Been looking forward to this, and you didn’t disappoint. Thanks Eno.

Good Wood
Guest
Good Wood
10 months 19 days ago

Based on your grips piece on him, I think Arrieta throws the same slider. And based on that write up, I started throwing it too in my amateur baseball league. It’s true, you can change the movement by moving your thumb up and down. And harder with less movement is surprisingly more effective. Also found my curve was more effective. Conclusion: Eno, you are awesome. Keep it up!

tz
Guest
tz
10 months 18 days ago

And Eno has set the bar for “best explanatory GIF(s)” with the before/after GIFs of deGrom’s slider to explain the benefits of Harder With Less Movement™:

GIF #1: Batter picks up slow slider early enough to lay off.

GIF #2: Batter picks up fast slider too late to avoid swinging, slider breaks later and still has enough movement (4 inches or more) to avoid the bat.

This is an excellent secondary pitch for guys with a plus fastball. The added separation from the curve is another bonus (imagine Syndegaard with the Warthen slider added to his fastball and hammer….)

tz
Guest
tz
10 months 18 days ago

Just checked deGrom’s slider stats for 2015 vs. 2014. His vertical movement relative to his fastball has dropped from 6.1 inches to 4.6 inches – still enough to miss the bat, but coming in 2-3 mph faster and breaking later:

http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=10954&position=P

GET SOME
Guest
GET SOME
10 months 19 days ago

Why are the Mets constantly donning that aggressive, not to mention hideously ugly desert camo? YOU GUYS PLAY IN NEW YORK!

MikeIsGreat
Guest
MikeIsGreat
10 months 19 days ago

Military Mondays. They’ve done this the past two seasons I believe. All home Monday games they wear the cammo.

It’s hideous, but it’s also not “constantly”

SEMANTICS
Guest
SEMANTICS
10 months 19 days ago

Regardless, it’s appalling.

Bob
Guest
Bob
10 months 19 days ago

I mean, it takes a lot to make someone want to root against Matt Harvey, but somehow the Mets have managed to do it.

Brian Mangan
Guest
10 months 19 days ago

I always disliked the hideous camo jerseys, and the entire pandering Military Monday concept … but this comment has made me realize that if they were to do baseball-colored camo (green, dirt color, seats color) that I might actually like it.

There isn’t a desert in Flushing (other than the offense, that is).

za
Guest
za
10 months 19 days ago

I wouldn’t mind it so much if they did it in blue and orange. That might actually look cool.

JK
Guest
JK
10 months 18 days ago

Or you could try not being such a cynical asshole and view it as a nice little gesture instead of “pandering”. The interpretation is up to you.

francis
Guest
francis
10 months 17 days ago

I second the Blue and Orange camo idea. I’d also like to see Mr. Met wear it.

Swingman
Guest
Swingman
10 months 19 days ago

Lots of teams do it. I’m sure if you wouldn’t say this in front of someone who served this country and had to wear this “ugly camo”. This is why we can’t have good games, so next time keep your comments to yourself.

Dkkd
Guest
Dkkd
10 months 17 days ago

How does this relate to having nice things?

your comment conflates criticizing the aesthetics of a piece of cloth with hatin on our troops. That’s jumping the shark in a big way.

jake
Guest
jake
10 months 17 days ago

Perhaps you should look into the mini scandal involving professional sports relationship to the military. I also look at it like fathers day… I don’t need a pat on the back for being a good father.
My point is… The constant inundation isn’t warranted, our military is made of mercanaries.
YOU should honor YOUR choices

Brian
Guest
Brian
10 months 11 days ago

Jake. Based on your comment you’ve never served in the military. Our military personnel are not mercenaries, before saying stupid things like that know your facts.

Legeisc
Member
Member
Legeisc
10 months 19 days ago

I wonder if Collin McHugh learned the slider from Warthen while in NY. McHugh calls it a cutter. Considering McHugh throws his cutter nearly 40% of the time and only has a velocity drop of about 4 mph, no surprise Astros are at the top of the list.

Mugatu
Guest
Mugatu
10 months 19 days ago

Hansel. So hot right now.

francis
Guest
francis
10 months 17 days ago

They have a Hansel and a Goeddel. They should leave a trail of bread crumbs in from the bullpen.

Senor_Met_Is_C3PO
Guest
Senor_Met_Is_C3PO
10 months 19 days ago

Great article. Really interesting stuff, and I love seeing my Metsies featured. Familia’s slider is pretty ridiculous to watch.

Dick Trickle
Guest
Dick Trickle
10 months 19 days ago

Great article, young man. Glad to see you’re staying away from the tonic water and producing quality content. I look forward to throwing the Warthen slider in my spare time as a stress reliever.

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