Kevin Slowey was an afterthought this offseason. After signing a minor-league deal with the Miami Marlins, all but the most dedicated Marlins’ blogs neglected to write up the signing. In fairness, Slowey hadn’t pitched much in each of the last two seasons. A stress fracture in his rib cage ended his 2012 season after just eight minor-league starts, and he spent a fair part of 2011 in the minors. There was a legitimate question over whether Slowey would ever reach the majors again, let alone be an effective pitcher. But seven starts into 2013, Slowey has re-established himself as a bonafide major-leaguer. Though some regression is in store, Slowey’s landed in the perfect situation for a pitcher with his skill-set.
While there are some legitimate reasons for Slowey’s success, Marlins Park is playing a huge role in his resurgence. Over his career, Slowey has combined an extreme-pound the zone approach with an incredibly high fly ball rate. Last season, Marlins Park played friendly to pitchers, particularly when it came to preventing home runs. Against both left and right-handed hitters, the park had a home run effect of 84. Had it not been for Slowey’s injuries and recent struggles, some analysts might have seen this coming. Dave Cameron actually outlined this exact scenario for Slowey shortly after he lost out on a rotation spot in 2011.
There were still some troubling signs about Slowey’s game at that time, which is why he failed to make an impact in the majors until now. Slowey had trouble going deep into games. As commenter “Mike” pointed out in the comments of Cameron’s article, Slowey had tossed just nine quality starts to 19 failed quality starts in 2010. While the quality start isn’t always the best stat to use when judging a pitcher, it can tell you whether a pitcher can go deep into games. Since Slowey relied on a contact-heavy approach, he often found himself giving up a ton of hits. He also had no out-pitch, so hitting could keep fouling off his pitches until they were able to put something in play. Both of those factors likely led to Slowey being pulled from the game earlier than most pitchers. While it’s encouraging that Slowey has five quality starts in seven tries this year, it’s far too early to say he’s mastered his previous demons.
He is working with a slightly altered repertoire, which could be aiding some of the improvement he’s shown this season. Slowey has either scrapped his cutter in favor of a slider, or he’s throwing a completely different slider than he had in past years. The pitch was faster and had less bite in 2010, and was classified as a cutter by BrooksBaseball.net. It averaged close to 86 mph. This year, Slowey is throwing a 79 mph slider.
As far as I can tell, it looks like a completely different pitch.
Here’s Slowey’s cutter from 2010:
Here’s his slider from Sunday’s start:
Just to be sure that’s not his curve, here’s a gif of his curve from Sunday:
The pitch in the second gif came in at 80 mph, while the pitch in the third gif registered as 75 mph. The difference between the two might seem subtle in the gifs, so I feel like that’s worth pointing out. For what it’s worth, the BrooksBaseball site agrees, classifying the pitch to Michael Young as a slider and the pitch to Delmon Young as a curve.
His slider is hardly an elite offering, but it’s an upgrade over the cutter. Slowey is getting slightly more whiffs with the slider, though his 9.38% rate isn’t awesome. Perhaps more importantly, hitters are putting his slider in play as much as his cut-fastball. In 2010, Slowey’s cutter was hit in play 21.27% of the time. That’s dropped to 17.71% with the slider. The upgrade has helped Slowey become more efficient.
Though Slowey has shown some signs of improvement, he shouldn’t be considered a strong breakout candidate. His approach can work, particularly at home, but he could get into trouble in less forgiving ballparks. The most promising factor has been the addition of a slider, which has allowed Slowey to get deeper into games in seven starts this year. Given his lack of upside, Slowey is, at best, a mid-rotation starter if this surge continues. He’s a safe bet to stay strong at home, but relying on him away from the comfort of Marlins park would be asking a little too much.
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