Welcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Last week we looked at the system and its ability to determine balls and strikes. This week, we'll look at movement and Zack Greinke's superlative slider.
As anyone that who's favorite team features a right handed slugger not named "Albert Pujols" knows, the slider is a most bedeviling pitch. Countless times we watch our big right handed bats waving at pitches bouncing in the other batters box. "Just lay off!" we scream at the TV in unison. The combination of speed and movement make the slider a most effective pitch, and as we'll learn, most effective when thrown outside the strike zone.
Zack Greinke's slider rates as the best in baseball this season, according to Fangraphs pitch type linear weights. Friday night, he put that slider to good use in beating the Rangers. The Royals ace scattered 3 hits over 7 innings while striking out 10. Zack's slider was in fine form, registering but a single hit against his mean slide piece.
The next step in our Pitch F/x journey is movement; charting how much Zack's slider moved down and away. Comparing Friday's start to Zack's worst of the year (7 runs and two tots allowed in June against the not-yet-worsening Blue Jays) we see that more movement isn't always better. Hit the jump to get into the graphy goodness!
So the red dots are the sliders Greinke threw to the Rangers, the blue dots he heaved at Blue Jays. The blue dots are more plentiful but we also notice they're spread over a much lager area and with more horizontal movement. The sliders Greinke threw to the Rangers all performed similarly, something we can presume to indicate a better "feel" to borrow ex-player color analyst lingo.
Don't be alarmed, Zack Greinke doesn't throw a rising slider. The vertical movement is relative to his release point not the zero marked on the graph here. In other words, his four seam fastball (his straightest pitch) wouldn't register at 0,0. Four seam fastballs thrown by right handers sit in the upper left hand quadrant of the imaginary graph. For a handy reference, check out this sweet break/pitch guide from Brooks Baseball.
For example, were we to include his curveball it would show up a good 4-5 inches lower and is thrown a good 10-15 miles per hour slower. These sliders averaged 84 miles an hour. None of this means too much if we don't look at it another way: using our familiar strike zone graph to see how it crossed the plate.
Once again, the red dots are sliders thrown in the Rangers outing while the blue dots are sliders from his Toronto start. The X'd out dots are pitches put into play. The first thing that jumps out at me is how many sliders against Toronto were left up in the zone and out over the plate. That is not where anyone wants to live with their breaking pitches. The slider is meant to miss bats, not hit them. Against the Rangers Greinke kept the hitters off balance and the sliders down away from the powerful Texas sticks. The one slider which was rapped for a base hit you can see right down the middle. It should be noted that the Jays didn't do too much damage to Zack's slider in this outing, but they were able to fight it off and get good wood to it. Rather than waving at it and missing (as they've done against all opposition since) they were able to see another pitch and get another opportunity to get a pitch they can handle. Most days, like Friday, Zack Greinke doesn't afford you that opportunity.