This is the fourth article in a series of articles about the beautiful creation known as Statcast. I encourage you to check out the previous articles on four-seam fastballs, cut fastballs and curveballs. Statcast is a resource provided by MLB.com via the website baseballsavant.mlb.com. There seems to be an endless amount of data here to mine…and it is all at our fingertips. The question is: how can we use this data to help us fantasy baseball addicts in our baseball player analysis for fantasy baseball purposes? In reality, this Statcast data is merely multiple pieces to a larger puzzle when analyzing each individual baseball player. It is new and exciting data that deserves analysis, but we shouldn’t lose sight of all the other resources on the Internet at our disposal.
Currently I want to focus on starting pitcher analysis with Statcast data. However, just not blanket analysis. Drilled down analysis looking at a single pitch. Today I want to look specifically at sliders.
Now we are going to get into some statistics that are courtesy of baseballsavant.mlb.com. I want the readers to know for a starting pitcher to enter the data that I pulled for analysis they had to have a minimum of 100 total pitched thrown in that season (although I dropped that down to 10 in the current season).
The Belief On Sliders:
The belief with sliders is that it can be harder for a hitter to handle this pitch if it has greater spin with above average velocity.
The first lesson that we learned in the previous articles, in regards to four-seam fastballs, cut fastballs and curveballs, is that, even if you don’t have elite level spin rate on it as a pitcher, that doesn’t mean you are doomed to it being an ineffective pitch. That lesson applies to sliders as well.
If we blindly just accepted that an above average spin rate on sliders was needed we wouldn’t place the value, and needed acceptance, in the fact that it is an effective pitch for Michael Pineda, despite its low average spin rate.
Michael Pineda (2015): 1865 average spin rate, 879 sliders thrown, .223 batting average, .290 BABIP, 33.5% whiffs%
Michael Pineda (2016): 2005 average spin rate, 1212 sliders thrown, .189 batting average, .302 BABIP, 45.7% whiffs%
The second lesson that we learned with the previous three pitches we discussed is that, even if you do have elite level spin rate on it as a pitcher, that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed for it to be an effective pitch. Well…with this pitch…the top average spin rate starting pitchers really seem to do very well for themselves in batting average against. So…this seems to be something worth tracking when it comes to sliders.
We are going to look at the top average spin rate starting pitchers when it comes to sliders. But, even though I really am liking this as a tool for finding good slider guys, we must acknowledge the following still carries some weight: There are many factors that lead to whether a pitch thrown will be successful. Some of them are (in no particular order): velocity, pitch placement, talent level of defensive player ball is hit closest too, where the ball is hit, how hard it is hit, etc.
This is why we need to be careful when using this data as a piece to the player analysis puzzle. That said, I do love starting pitchers that have an average spin rate of 2600 or greater on the slider.
In 2015 those pitchers were:
Garrett Richards: 2724 average spin rate, 1078 sliders thrown, .194 batting average, .279 BABIP, 41.8% whiffs%
In 2016 those pitchers were:
Jaime Garcia: 2801 average spin rate, 320 sliders thrown, .175 batting average, .462 BABIP, 43.2% whiffs%
Garrett Richards: 2767 average spin rate, 152 sliders thrown, .158 batting average, .316 BABIP, 38.8% whiffs%
Sonny Gray: 2743 average spin rate, 232 sliders thrown, .160 batting average, .233 BABIP, 37.8% whiffs%
Matt Cain: 2719 average spin rate, 389 sliders thrown, .215 batting average, .218 BABIP, 25.5% whiffs%
Corey Kluber: 2640 average spin rate, 736 sliders thrown, .211 batting average, .252 BABIP, 28.6% whiffs%
Marcus Stroman: 2624 average spin rate, 375 sliders thrown, .223 batting average, .338 BABIP, 30.4% whiffs%
Drew Hutchison: 2616 average spin rate, 112 sliders thrown, .227 batting average, .231 BABIP, 33.3% whiffs%
In 2017 those pitchers are:
Sonny Gray: 2839 average spin rate, 235 sliders thrown, .192 batting average, .400 BABIP, 41% whiffs%
Jaime Garcia: 2794 average spin rate, 205 sliders thrown, .259 batting average, .462 BABIP, 39.8% whiffs%
Marcus Stroman: 2758 average spin rate, 362 sliders thrown, .211 batting average, .382 BABIP, 43.8% whiffs%
Jeff Hoffman: 2746 average spin rate, 127 sliders thrown, .269 batting average, .467 BABIP, 45.5% whiffs%
Austin Pruitt: 2678 average spin rate, 214 sliders thrown, .133 batting average, .111 BABIP, 42.1% whiffs%
Brad Peacock: 2667 average spin rate, 480 sliders thrown, .193 batting average, .333 BABIP, 44.6% whiffs%
Yu Darvish: 2665 average spin rate, 551 sliders thrown, .181 batting average, .241 BABIP, 28.5% whiffs%
Tyson Ross: 2655 average spin rate, 239 sliders thrown, .175 batting average, .222 BABIP, 29.8% whiffs%
Luis Severino: 2649 average spin rate, 773 sliders thrown, .205 batting average, .324 BABIP, 33.9% whiffs%
Matt Wisler: 2631 average spin rate, 104 sliders thrown, .111 batting average, .333 BABIP, 63.2% whiffs%
Analysis: Well, that is a list of 18 player performances over the past two and over a half seasons with a 2600 or greater average spin rate on sliders. Only 2 of those 19 player performances had a batting average against above .227. I would safely have to say that is a nice little pattern to go by there. Elite sliders guys are 2600 or higher average spin rate guys. This is what I recommend fantasy baseball addicts like me use as a nice and easy sort for starting pitcher very good to elite sliders.
The conclusion for me on sliders is pretty simple. Right now, 2600 and above average spin rate is the magic number. Despite this being an easy number to sort and find some really productive slider-throwing starting pitchers I must continue to stress that it is not the defining number for success. It seems to have a nice pattern of success forming around it, but we cannot forget that pitchers have succeeded in being effective in throwing this pitch with a lower average spin rate in the past, and there will be those that will be successful in the future as well that do not throw the slider with a 2600 or above average spin rate. I will keep this on the forefront of my mind when doing fantasy baseball starting pitcher analysis, and I suggest you keep this in mind as well.