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 every batter's dream: the hanging slider.
We've all heard of the dreaded hanging slider. We've all seen a pitcher unleash a spinner at the exact wrong moment and we've all watched pitchers react the same way to it. Generally they respond by: a) Jerking their head around to follow the intense trajectory or b) hanging their head, knowing the ball's fate long before it lands. When a pitch uncorks a hanger, all of us watching on TV know it, the pitcher knows it, and the batter knows it too.
To hang a pitch isn't a death sentence in and of itself. A poorly executed pitch in a good location is escapable. A well-executed pitch in a poor location can go either way, the pitcher gets away with it or the batter makes a good swing at the right time. Sometimes a bad pitch in a bad spot is missed, often resulting in a series of desultory curse words and assorted bat punching.
The focus of this week's Kicking and Screaming is the man that threw one of the most famous hanging sliders of all time, Brad Lidge. The slider that Lidge served to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS is currently the subject of a popular HBO drama. Pujols hit it a mile in and Lidge needed two years to recover (so they say or I assume.) Last year Brad Lidge bounced back with a perfect year, saving every game presented to him and earning himself a World Series ring. 2009 hasn't been quite as smooth with Lidge spending time on the DL and struggling through much of the early season. Since returning from the injured list Lidge as pitched better, a few bad outings overshadowing some solid relief pitching. After the jump we'll look at his slider and why location matters just as much as tight spin and big break.
Before heading to the DL, Brad Lidge and his slider were at odds. His out pitch was getting beaten up and he wasn't healthy. Since his return, he slider piece continues to get the precious outs he needs. Recall last week to refresh your memory on the movement chart and take a look at Lidge.
Just so we're clear: the pink dots are Brad's fastball, usually clocking in around 93 or 94 mph. The rest are his slider with a couple additions. The gold-y/yellow-y dots are just crappy sliders that the Pitch F/x algorithm misitenditfied as curves or change ups, which they aren't. A little flatter than his regular biting slider, they travel at the same speed just in a straighter line. In compiling this data I learned he throws roughlyone of these an outing, usually getting away it with it as we'll see below. The blue dot is proof that bad location is generally worse than a poorly thrown pitch. Below I'll take all these sliders put plot them against the strike zone to see what you can get away with and what you can't.
As you can see most of the sliders (red) are thrown down and off the plate, well out of harm's way. You can also see the handful of flatter sliders in orange-y gold. Only one caught the plate at all and it was a swinging strike. The bob omb in the middle of the plate is our blue dot from the previous graph. If you're interested in the fate of that pitch, watch this. If you are at work and can't check out the video, allow me to break it down. The ball left Mark Reynold's bat at 118.6 mph at a 25.6 degree angle of elevation. It came to rest some 477 feet away from home plate, in the far right hand corner of Friday's restaurant. Hit Tracker Online rates its true distance as 481 feet, the longest of 2009.
That the pitch was left up was the biggest problem. It started high and ended right in the wheelhouse, in a 2-1 count to match. Reynolds likely had fastball on his mind and got the next best thing. Not the worst pitch Lidge will ever throw, but certainly a ringing endorsement of the tenants of hitting one's spots.