My favorite thing about baseball is it never stands still. Whether you are looking at the big picture or focusing on a single team or player, it always feels as if they live life like the proverbial shark: If they stop swimming, they die. Players make adjustments constantly from season to season, and often within a single game, inning or at-bat. Sometimes these adjustments are small; sometimes they’re a change made while searching for that elusive breakout. Hitters will change their stances in search of timing, or adjust their approaches to beat the shift, while pitchers will modify their motion to gain consistency or throw their pitches in a different place to fool hitters. There’s always some way in which a player is trying to adapt.
Of all these adjustments, my favorite is when a pitcher adds a new offering. There’s so much raw potential there. From Corey Kluber to Hyun Jin-Ryu, we have tons of stories of pitchers making the leap to acedom through a new pitch, but what often goes unnoticed is when a new pitch helps take a guy on the edge of not making it in the bigs and gives him the weapon he needs to become a solid major leaguer.
I’m starting to wonder if we have the latter case on our hands with Tyler Beede. Traditionally, Beede has touted a three-pitch repertoire with a four-seamer, curveball, and changeup combo. Unfortunately he hasn’t found a ton of success with them, as he has a 5.44 ERA in his first full season in the majors. Two things torched him: He wasn’t missing enough bats, and he was giving up far too many home runs. But then on June 11 we caught a glimpse of a new pitch. Suddenly, we saw a slider, and with it everything started to change. It didn’t happen right away as he only threw it a handful of times over the next few outings, but you had to wonder if it was in the back of hitters’ minds because he suddenly started getting much better results.
Check out the base numbers for his starts from June 11 through June 27:
|Start Date||Opponent||SL%||Innings Pitched||ER||SO|
So we have two really good starts, one poor start with good strikeout numbers and one really bad start. The part that stood out (aside from a shutdown of the Dodgers on June 17) is the sudden uptick in Ks. Something must have felt good, though, with the slider after that June 27 start because his usage of the pitch exploded over his two most recent starts.
|Start Date||Opponent||SL%||Innings Pitched||ER||SO|
Much like a grizzled PI in a noir movie, I don’t believe in coincidences, so I find it hard to believe it is mere happenstance that his longest, most successful outings of the year came on the heels of Beede ramping up his slider usage. Here’s the fascinating thing: You’d assume that the increased Ks would come from that slider, but that’s actually not the case. Across the six starts Beede has made since he introduced his slider, he has struck out 31 batters, and only one of them has come from his slider. If that’s the case, then how has it changed his game? Has it aided in setting up his other pitches and allowed them to flourish? Does he use it to get outs via weak contact? Or is it a pitch he can throw at the edge of the zone to steal easy strikes? Let’s take a look at the pitch itself in a vacuum, and then we’ll examine how Beede has used it, and finally we can take a look at the results and see how legit they are and how much of the recent success might be due to the slider itself. Once we’ve answered those questions, hopefully we’ll then have an idea of what kind of pitcher Beede might be for the rest of the season.
Here is Beede throwing the slider to Yasmani Grandal in the bottom of the sixth during his start against Milwaukee on July 14.
It’s a nice, tight slider that dives down to the glove side pretty consistently. Velocity-wise, it sits at an average of 86.5 mph while topping out at 88.7 mph and bottoming out at 84.4 mph. What does Statcast have to say about the movement of the slider versus the average slider?
|Slider Type||Horizontal Break (Inches)||Vertical Break (Inches)||Spin Rate (RPM)||Velocity (MPH)|
I often like to think of sliders as somewhere on a 1-10 scale between a fastball and a curveball. When a slider typically has extreme horizontal and vertical break and less velocity, I would call that closer to a curveball ( or a “nine” curveball score, “one” fastball score, if that makes sense). On the other hand, if a slider seems to sacrifice movement for velocity, that is a “one” curveball score and a “nine” fastball score. Now a curveball with high velocity and a ton of movement happens all the time, so it is possible to have, say, a “seven” curveball score and a “six” fastball score, but for the most part they tend to work opposite ends of the spectrum. I would say Beede’s slider is somewhere along the lines of a “three” or “four” curveball score and a “seven” or “eight” on the fastball scale, which we see reflected in the tight-break, high-velocity path Beede’s slider takes.
Now that we understand the type of slider Beede throws, how does he use it? Let’s take a look at a location chart.
You can see for the most part Beede is putting his slider exactly where you would want to: down and away from righties and down and in on lefties. According to Statcast, Beede has thrown 42 sliders this season, and only 11 of them have been in the middle of the zone or up. Now, when does he tend to throw his slider?
|Count||# of sliders thrown (% of sliders thrown)||# of times in the zone (% of sliders thrown in that count)|
|0-0||11 (26.2%)||7 (63.6%)|
|0-1||5 (11.9%)||0 (0.0%)|
|0-2||4 (9.5%)||0 (0.0%)|
|1-0||8 (19.0%)||5 (%)|
|1-1||2 (4.7%)||1 (50.0%)|
|1-2||4 (9.5%)||0 (0.0%)|
|2-0||1 (2.4%)||0 (0.0%|
|2-1||0 (0.0%||0 (0.0%)|
|2-2||4 (9.5%)||2 (50.0%|
|3-0||0 (0.0%)||0 (0.0%)|
|3-1||2 (4.8%)||1 (50.0%)|
|3-2||1 (2.4%)||1 (100.0%)|
|Ahead in Count||13 (31.0%)||0 (0.0%)|
|Even in Count||17 (40.5%)||10 (58.9%)|
|Behind in Count||12 (28.6%)||7 (58.3%)|
There’s quite a bit to parse, but the main take aways seem to be that he tends to throw it early in the count, and he does so most frequently to open up an at-bat. When he does throw a first-pitch slider, two of three times it’s in the zone. This seems like he is using it to steal a first-pitch strike. This accomplishes two things. Most hitters aren’t going to take a cut on that first-pitch slider, as they’ll likely be looking fastball or will wait for a more hittable pitch. The second part to this is that it establishes that he can throw his slider for a strike, which can become huge later on in the at-bat. This is reinforced by the fact that he has thrown his slider 13 times (30.9%) out of 42 when he already has two strikes, and of those pitches, only three were in the zone.
When you combine his establishment of early show-me sliders with potentially really good strikeout potential, you have an effective weapon.
Before we move on to the results, I want to show what I mean by establishing that he could throw the slider down in the zone for strikes. In his most recent start at Milwaukee, Beede threw 23 sliders, with seven of them being thrown in the bottom third of the strike zone. That’s 30.0% of the sliders he threw. The pitch to Grandal above is a fantastic example, but let’s take a look at a few more. Here’s the beauty of a pitch he threw to Grandal on the very next offering.
That’s a borderline pitch down and in to a leftie that Grandal can’t do anything with, but he has to swing because Beede has already established that he throws that pitch down and in for strikes. He can’t risk it.
My personal favorite, though, is the near-perfect slider he uses to get a swinging strikeout against Orlando Arcia in the bottom of the fifth inning.
That’s a textbook chase pitch. It’s just great. At this point in the game, he had already thrown four sliders down in the zone for strikes, so you had to imagine it was on the minds of the Brewers hitters. It’s definitely a ball, but it’s close enough that Arcia has to consider swinging. Once you factor in that Beede has already shown that he can throw it in the zone, Arcia, like Grandal, can’t risk it and so chases the pitch. When Beede starts getting more Ks with his slider, it’s this sort of location that will be where he finds the most success.
So we know what Beede’s slider looks like, and we’ve established when and where he throws it. The process is pretty sound so far. We can finally take a look at the results. Now these should all be taken with a grain of salt, as a 42-pitch sample is not very large. With that in mind, let’s see how things have gone for Beede’s slider:
So far, so good. I’d like to see more strikeouts with it—considering how often he’s been throwing it lately in two-strike counts–but if he continues to get swinging strikes at a 13.0% clip, then the strikeouts will start coming. Being able to get both a 40.0% O-swing and a 56.5 zone rate speaks to just how effective Beede has been at blurring the borders of the zone by establishing he can throw it for strikes, and by throwing it out of the zone. In fact, 23 of the 42 sliders Beede has thrown were in that most recent Milwaukee start. This also gets me thinking that if this keeps up, there might be a bucketful of strikeouts coming soon. It’s already racked up a 5.0 pVal/C, which would rank fourth in the league for sliders.
So what does this new slider mean for Beede rest of season?
It’s hard to say with a ton of certainty given the small sample, but if we grant the premise that he’ll continue throwing his slider at a 20.0%+ clip, and that the current results will hold to certain degree, this slider could be the pitch that turns Beede into a viable every-five-days starter. It’s worth noting that the increased slider usage has had a boosting effect on his other pitches. Over the last two starts, his four-seamer has registered a 1.90 pVal/C, and his changeup has put together an equally effective 1.15 pVal/C.
It’s worth noting that Beede’s slider has the second-highest zone rate of all of his pitches, trailing just his fastball (57.0 Zone%), and not by much. His changeup and curveball tout sub-35.0 zone rates. This could go a long way to reducing Beede’s extreme BB/9 rate of 4.91, which if he had thrown enough innings to qualify would rank as the second-worst in the league. In the two games where his slider usage was higher than 5 percent? He hasn’t walked a soul. If the slider ends up becoming a solution to Beede’s walk issues, that alone would go a long way to helping make him a viable starting pitcher.
That being said, it’s important not to put the cart before the horse. It’s incredibly unlikely that this new slider will transform Beede into some sort of super pitcher. Reducing his walk rate and getting his strikeout rate up into the 20.0%+ range will go a long way toward keeping him in the league, but he still gives up way too many home runs and lacks the pure stuff to make that leap. For the season Beede has a 5.12 FIP, which certainly isn’t encouraging. But in the games since he started throwing the slider? The FIP comes down to 4.55. Over the last four contests, though, that FIP has continued to come down 3.94. Over the last two starts where that slider usage is above 10%? He’s posted a 3.73 FIP, with the last start coming in at a robust 3.51 FIP.
Again, I cannot stress enough that small sample size concerns are absolutely in play here, but so far there seems to be a connection between the rapidly increasing slider usage and corresponding drop in FIP. That’s certainly encouraging.
Based on the FIP trends and the numbers I’m seeing the slider put up at its current rates, we should expect an ERA between 3.60 and 3.80 with a K rate in the low 20.0% range and a reduced walk rate. That’ll play in Our Year of the Juiced Ball, 2019 (sorry, that’s an “I was raised Catholic” joke). If the most recent slider usage from this last game continues to go up in his next start from 23.0%, then I’ll likely adjust my expectations in a more optimistic direction, but I’ll need to see it on Friday in his next start before I start thinking that way.
For now, I see a pitcher who will be valuable, if not spectacular as your fifth starter or first pitcher off the bench. If Beede is good again Friday? Then we can get this party started for real. You can bet I’ll be tuning in.
(Photo by Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire)