Last June, when the Tampa Bay Rays came to my hometown for a series against the Seattle Mariners, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with a man who throws one of the most GIF-worthy pitches in baseball. We try not to play favorites here at Pitcher List, but come on, we’re talking about the guy who won our very first Nastiest Pitching GIFs Tournament back in 2015! If you’ve been following us, or have any interest in pitches that make you question reality itself, you’ve probably seen Chaz Roe’s slider. He gets an average of more than 14 inches of horizontal movement with the pitch, which is a whole two inches more than the next competitor.
Here’s Roe striking out the side against the Texas Rangers last year—with each victim leaving the box after whiffing at the slider. If you haven’t been able to witness its beauty before, this gives you a great idea of the amount of horizontal depth it gets. Just look at that movement:
Here’s Caleb Joseph’s futile attempt to make contact with it last year:
And, finally, here is the pitch to Russell Martin that won the 2015 Nastiest Pitching GIFs Tournament:
We’ve been fascinated by this pitch for quite some time, so when the Rays asked if there was anyone in particular we’d like to speak to, the answer seemed obvious. Luckily for us, Roe was all for it. The 6’5” reliever got up from his locker, approached me with bare feet and sandals, and politely asked if I wanted to head out to the third base dugout to talk.
Ian Post: So, have you ever heard of Pitcher List at all, or are you familiar with us in any way?
Chaz Roe: You know, I can’t say that I am to be honest.
IP: The reason I ask is because one of our staples at the site is nasty pitching GIFs. We post nasty pitching GIFs to Twitter throughout the year. Then, at the end of the season, we create this massive “Nastiest Pitching GIFs Tournament” which is bracket-style, and we allow our readers to vote on the winners of each round. In 2015, which was our first official tournament, your slider to Russell Martin was our overall winner.
CR: Oh wow, nice! I remember that one.
IP: Needless to say, we’re big fans of yours here at the site, and we absolutely love your slider. I just want to know everything about that pitch. Is there an origin story? Where did you learn to throw it?
CR: Well I was a starter for seven years, so when I got drafted, I had the curveball. Once my career as a starter took off a little bit after four or five years, it started to turn into more of a slurve or slider, and then I just went with it once I went to the pen and it’s been a huge pitch for me.
IP: At what point did you know that you had a nasty slider? Was there a singular moment where you realized how brutal it was on hitters?
CR: To be honest with you, I’ve been throwing it since I was about 12, and when I threw it for the first time from the mound, I was like “whoa.” Just seeing the hitters’ reactions is usually what tells you if it’s a nasty pitch. I mean it could be a good pitch, but the hitter is usually the one who tells you if it’s nasty. Since I’ve moved to the pen it’s really developed for me big time. Like you said, that Russell Martin one was probably one of my favorites. I still don’t know how he didn’t swing at that!
IP: Any favorite reactions, comments, or compliments about your slider from teammates or opponents?
CR: I mean, I’ve heard that people do talk about my slider when they get on first base to Brad Miller, but like I said, I just judge off the hitters’ reaction. My favorite is when they buckle or when it freezes them up.
IP: Is there a certain spot where you try to aim the pitch when throwing it? If so, does it differ between righties and lefties?
CR: I honestly try to hit the batter every time. I try to throw it right at his hip, and it moves enough to where it’s usually in the zone or I want to yank it a little bit for it to go out of the zone. But yeah, I usually try to aim it right at the hitter’s hip.
IP: As far as mechanics go, have you made any drastic mechanical changes throughout the years? Whether it be in the minors or majors, was there ever a point in time where you revamped your delivery, or has it been more of a steady evolution to where you’re at now?
CR: It’s been mostly steady. Just a couple fine tweaks here and there, then just trying to repeat it as much as I can to get comfortable with it. I think I finally found a good delivery where it’s simple and there’s not much going on and I think that helps me out a lot.
IP: What about with pitch grips? How often have you messed with or changed your pitch grips throughout the years?
CR: Well my sinker, I mess with it on a daily basis. My slider I really don’t mess with that much, you know, I mean that’s a “feel pitch.” I won’t try to mess with the grip. I will try to angle the slider a little differently though—that’s about it.
IP: Do you ever learn any of that stuff from other players? When I talked to Jacob Faria last year, he said he learned his split-change from Nathan Eovaldi—who learned it from Masahiro Tanaka. That kind of stuff is super interesting to me, and you don’t really get to hear about it often. So have you or anyone you know ever talked about learning grips from other players?
CR: Absolutely. I learned my sinker grip from a buddy I used to play with on the Rockies. I just started playing with it once he taught me, and it’s been a huge pitch for me, you know, to be able to have two pitches going in the opposite direction is big. The slider grip just kind of happened, but then I talked to Sergio Romo about it as far as depth, making it bigger, making it shorter, make it go down, make it go sideways—having different looks all with one pitch.
IP: According to FanGraphs, your slider this year is moving the most it’s ever moved in your whole career—more than two inches than it was last year. Do you know why that is?
CR: Honestly, no. I don’t, because every time I get it I just try to grip it and rip it, you know? I don’t know why it’s moving as much as it is this year. Maybe it’s more of a comfortable thing? Because I do feel more comfortable with it, and I’m trusting it a little bit more.
IP: Both of your pitches have increased in velocity over the last month or so—about two mph from April. Is that just weather-related with things warming up, getting into the groove of the season, or something else entirely?
CR: Yeah, no matter how much throwing I do in spring training or in the offseason, it usually takes me about the first month and a half to even get to where I need to be. It always took me a bit of a while to get jump-started with velocity.
IP: In this so-called “information age” that we’re in, with so much data coming through to analyze about baseball, how is information passed down throughout an organization to the player? How readily available is all of this for a player to seek out if he wants to?
CR: I mean, it’s always available to you. When you come out of the game, [Kyle] Snyder [the Rays’ pitching coach] usually comes up to you and you talk about your outing: what you felt, what he saw. Then he gives some really good feedback; you know, he’s good at that. He’s good at coming over and communicating with you to give his input of what he saw and what he thinks. Then you also have video. You can always go back and watch video. Sometimes I like to put up video of when I thought I was doing good and put up video of when I was struggling and compare the two to see if I notice any differences. It’s a big tool to use, and I think a lot of guys gain access to it and it helps them a lot.
IP: When talking about pitching philosophy, you usually have your own personal beliefs of what’s best in order to be successful, but you also have organizational philosophy. For example, I remember reading a while back that the Rays wanted their pitchers to pitch up more in the zone to combat the “fly-ball revolution.” How forced are these organizational beliefs? Is it more of a combined effort with each individual pitcher of “hey, we’d like you to try to work this approach into your repertoire” sort of thing?
CR: Yeah, I mean, we always have scouting reports on guys and pitching at the top of the zone is one of them. It could be a huge success to do that, but a lot of people pitch differently, you know what I mean? I mean I’m a sinker/slider guy, so I’m not really a top-of-the-zone person. I want to stick to my strengths and what I know how to do, and until hitters show me they can make an adjustment I’m gonna stick with it.
I have to say, as someone who is still very much an amateur and a rookie at conducting player interviews with major leaguers, Roe was incredibly easy to be around. The phrase “as cool as a cucumber” fits him perfectly. After the interview, he also agreed to show off the grips he uses for all of his pitches. Below is the video of this, along with visual evidence that he can sport the bare-feet-and-sandals look with the best of ’em.
I’d like to extend a huge thanks to both Chaz Roe and the Rays organization as a whole for allowing these interviews to happen. I had an absolute blast hanging out with Roe and wish him nothing but the best. Hopefully you learned something about the man with the 14-inch slider—I learned that I’m thankful I don’t have to try to make contact with that pitch while millions watch me fail.
(Main photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)