I’m in the midst of taking a look back at some of the best pitches of each pitch type in 2020, and in this edition, we’re taking a look at the top five sliders of the year.
If you want to read more about how this series works, check out my list of the top five changeups of 2020 where I explain it.
Let’s get to it!
It should come as a surprise to virtually no one at all that Kershaw is on this list—his slider has been one of the best in baseball for some time now, and last year was no different.
In 2020, the pitch posted a 43.5% chase rate, 20.4% SwStr rate, .234 wOBA against, and a ridiculous 69.1% groundball rate.
That, alongside the rest of Kershaw’s excellent repertoire, helped propel him to his 11th season with an ERA under 3.00 in 12 years and his eighth season with an ERA under 2.50 in 10 years.
I don’t think you need me to go on and on about how incredible Clayton Kershaw is—the guy is a generational pitcher, one of the best the sport has seen in decades, and probably a future hall of famer.
4. Brad Keller
Now this one surprised me a bit. If one thing’s been relatively consistent through Keller’s career so far, it’s his slider, but I never really expected it would be among the best in the league.
Last year though, it was very good. Not the biggest strikeout pitch ever, with a respectable but not incredible chase rate of 33% and SwStr rate of 13.7%, but the pitch was exceptional at creating weak contact, with a .201 wOBA and .000 ISO against.
I should mention, he threw this pitch 328 times last year and still had a .000 ISO. That’s really impressive.
On the whole, Keller was pretty impressive in general last year. He wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, which limits his upside a bit, but he still posted a 2.47 ERA in 54.2 innings last year.
Now, the obvious caveat is that ERA comes with a 3.43 FIP and an even worse 4.82 SIERA, the latter of which is likely driven by his 5.1% HR/FB rate, which is likely to regress. But still, Keller is an interesting guy. If he can start striking out more hitters, he could be a useful fantasy asset.
3. Zach Plesac
You’ll find that, unlike some of the other iterations in this pitch review series, this article is generally full of guys that really aren’t surprising. Kershaw isn’t a surprise, nor is Zach Plesac.
Plesac was brilliant last year, posting a 2.28 ERA and 27.7% strikeout rate in 55.1 innings and his slider was equally brilliant, with a 42.6% chase rate, 24.1% SwStr rate, .084 wOBA against (you read that right), and a .034 ISO against.
The pitch was virtually unhittable, and even when hitters did make contact with it, they didn’t do much with it.
In fact, of all of Plesac’s pitches, the only one he struggled with (and the only one with a wOBA against higher than .323) was his fastball, which got rocked to the tune of a .256 ISO against.
It was also his most-thrown pitch, which isn’t ideal and is likely why some might project him for some regression. Personally, I’d love to see him up his slider and changeup usage and decrease the fastball (if it continues to be an issue), but I mean, I’m basically always going to preach pitching backwards with guys who have killer breaking and off-speed stuff and bad fastballs.
2. Yu Darvish
Another guy that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. At age 34, Yu Darvish put in his best season ever (with the obvious caveat of it just being 76 innings) with a 2.01 ERA, 2.23 FIP, and 31.3% strikeout rate while also throwing basically every pitch ever (but not too many to fit on a t-shirt!)
Of all those pitches he threw, his slider was his most-thrown pitch, and it was excellent (and beautiful to watch). It had a 37.7% chase rate, 14.4% SwStr rate, and a .279 wOBA against.
In fact, here’s a wild stat—Darvish threw eight pitch types last year, and of all eight of those pitch types, only one—his cutter—had a wOBA against over .300 (and the cutter’s wOBA against was .304). That’s amazing.
If you’ve watched Dinelson Lamet pitch, this should come as absolutely no shock at all to see his slider at the top of this list.
It’s a fantastic pitch and was Lamet’s most-thrown pitch last year. When you look at the stats for the pitch, it’s no wonder—it had a 38.2% chase rate, 21.5% SwStr rate, .144 wOBA against, and a .040 ISO against.
That slider is what helped propel Lamet to a breakout season last year, with a 2.09 ERA, 2.48 FIP, and 3.16 SIERA alongside a 34.8% strikeout rate (which is amazing).
Now, the big question is how much do we take into account the fact that he only threw 69 innings last year. That’s a great question and will likely continue to be a big debate coming into the year.
In my opinion, Lamet worries me a little bit considering he relies so heavily on one pitch (his slider). His fastball is solid, which is good, but it’s hard to be consistently successful as a starting pitcher in the major leagues with just two pitches. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult.
There’s also the fact that Lamet is recovering from an elbow injury, which makes me extremely nervous.
Either way, this slider was a work of art and I will gladly continue watching him throw it.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)