Baseball’s Newest Slider Machine

I first heard of Chaz Roe in December of 2010, when he was traded straight-up for Jose Lopez. It wasn’t a promising thing; it was more like, hey, in 2009 Lopez hit 25 home runs, and in 2010 the best he could get in a trade was Chaz Roe. Roe, since then, has bounced around without quite establishing himself. He is, at this point, a 30-year-old man, who is now with his tenth organization, one of which having been an independent outfit named the Lemurs. Roe has traveled all over the place. He’s been sufficiently intriguing to get a number of looks, yet insufficiently effective to stick. Such is the career of an eighth or ninth reliever.

By now, I’m sure Roe doesn’t feel too secure. He’s probably hesitant to ever unpack any bags, and his current employer — the Braves — remains in the midst of a rebuild anyway. If Roe’s bad, he could go. If Roe’s good, he could go. The future’s uncertain, but at least Roe is now giving it his best shot. He’s running out of time to build a more stable career, so late last season, he started using his best pitch a lot more. It sounds so simple to us. It seems almost obvious. You can now count Chaz Roe among the slider machines.

If you know Roe at all, it’s probably because of that pitch. He got a Cut4 article a year and a half ago. He’s had it, or something like it, for a while, and I’ll show you a couple of visuals. I have to apologize for embedding regular .gifs — Streamable is presently not working. So, sorry about the load times. I think it’s worth it!

That’s Roe getting a whiff as an Oriole. Shortly thereafter he went to the Braves. He brought the slider with him.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you — Roe’s breaking ball does average nearly a foot of horizontal movement. It doesn’t have so much in the way of sink, but that’s a true Frisbee slider, and based on pitch characteristics, the two closest comps are the sliders thrown by Corey Kluber and Bryan Shaw. Roe’s slider is visually stunning, and although his fastball can reach the mid-90s, this is the clear standout pitch. So Roe, last season, made more use of it. He can control it just fine. So, why not? Why wouldn’t you give it a try, if you were in Roe’s position?

Roe has pitched in the majors in parts of the last four years. His slider rates:

  • 2013: 40% sliders
  • 2014: 39%
  • 2015: 33%
  • 2016: 55%

After joining the Braves around the deadline, Roe threw 58% sliders. In the season’s final month, he threw 60% sliders — baseball’s second-highest rate for the month, sandwiched between Steve Cishek and Andrew Miller. And Roe wasn’t just slinging slider after slider, to see what would happen. The results you’d want to see followed.

A few times last year, I pointed out one of my favorite things about Andrew Miller’s statistics. Out of everyone with at least 20 innings, Miller ranked sixth in out-of-zone swing rate. He also had the third-lowest in-zone swing rate. That’s an extraordinary combination! Miller’s Z-Swing% – his O-Swing% was 12%. That was the best mark in all of baseball. Miller got hitters to chase, while also getting them to stare at a number of strikes.

Miller finished first, at 12%. Roe finished second, at 16%. He was followed by Luke Gregerson, then Dellin Betances, then Pedro Strop, then Aaron Nola, then Zach Britton. After Roe joined the Braves for 20 innings, his number was 9%. His September mark was a league-leading 4%. Just like Andrew Miller — except over a smaller sample — Roe got favorable chases and stares. Here is one way you could plot his career progression:

It’s far too early to declare that Chaz Roe is some kind of bullpenning ace. It’s far too early to make much of his 72 FIP-, or the significantly increased chase rate. I’d guess that Roe has bounced around specifically because of his slider, and he hasn’t yet had everything come together. Yet, his minor-league record is good. His most recent major-league record is good. And it seems to come with the simplest possible explanation: Chaz Roe has always had a fascinating breaking ball, so last year, with his career hanging in the balance, he threw it plenty more. Anecdotally, we’ve seen more of this open-mindedness in baseball in the last few years, as players have moved away from traditional models of success. Roe, for a while, was probably instructed to pitch off his fastball. What if the whole key to turning Chaz Roe into Chaz Roe was abandoning that plan to make more use of the pitch hitters can’t really handle?

Over Roe’s time in the majors, his slider has gotten 66% strikes. Two out of every five swing attempts have missed, and that’s something to build off. Last year, Roe threw 48 first-pitch sliders. Out of those, 35 were strikes, even though just four drew swings. Roe can throw the pitch for a strike when he needs to. He can throw the pitch for a ball when he needs to. Hitters have had trouble defending themselves. Sometimes baseball can seem like a simple game. Chaz Roe has benefited from making it simpler.

We hoped you liked reading Baseball’s Newest Slider Machine by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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jruby
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jruby

I don’t know if it’s a frame rate thing in that second one causing the visuals to be a little less smooth than normal, but DAMN that thing takes a sudden left turn. Like someone filled the baseball with metal and then turned on a magnet in the first base dugout.