Talking Sabermetrics: Jed Lowrie And The Slider

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 8: Jordan Schafer #1 of the Houston Astros (L) congratulates teammate Jed Lowrie #4 after Lowrie hit a two-run home run, scoring Schafer during the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

We've (and by we, I mean mostly clack) done a lot of articles like this already. They're all explaining some statistic, but I think the bigger goal of this series is to try and find baseball truths through the numbers we have available.

That's why I'm going a little off book for this one, combining some research I was doing on Jed Lowrie into a discussion on sliders.

Why slider? Well, let's get into that after the jump...

The reason I was looking into Lowrie in the first place was I wondered if we could see pitcher's approach changing towards him in what pitches he was throw. Since he's been in a prolonged slump (before the injury), it stood to reason that maybe pitchers were attacking him differently. Were they throwing in different parts of the zone? Was their selection changing?

What I found was the slider.

Here's a quick example, showing his top pitches thrown from the beginning of the year until May 31:

Pitch Count Percentage Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 246 33.6% 60.2% 38.6% 7.3% 17.1% 14.2%
CH 99 13.5% 57.6% 47.5% 9.1% 17.2% 21.2%
SI 87 11.9% 62.1% 42.5% 5.7% 17.2% 19.5%
FT 86 11.7% 57.0% 33.7% 2.3% 12.8% 18.6%
SL 79 10.8% 65.8% 49.4% 12.7% 19.0% 17.7%
CU 63 8.6% 54.0% 42.9% 1.6% 20.6% 20.6%

As you can see, the second-most pitch he was thrown was the change, followed by the sinker, a two-seam fastball and then the slider. But, by far, his whiff rate was highest on the slider, even though it was used no more than any other breaking pitch.

So, when we turned our eyes to the June 1st through now graphic:

Pitch Count Percentage Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 190 33.5% 53.2% 31.1% 3.7% 14.2% 13.2%
SL 84 14.8% 66.7% 50.0% 11.9% 21.4% 16.7%
CH 77 13.6% 58.4% 39.0% 7.8% 10.4% 20.8%
FT 73 12.9% 52.1% 34.2% 5.5% 16.4% 12.3%
CU 53 9.3% 60.4% 43.4% 3.8% 18.9% 20.8%

Suddenly, sliders jumped right to the top of the mark. We could be dealing in random variations, since it's a little more than a months' data compared to two whole months before that. But, there is a shift.

More importantly, the number of sliders thrown for strikes went way up and Lowrie's swing percentage on those sliders also rose. His whiff rate remained the same, but it was still his highest swing-through rate of any of the pitches he saw.

Meaning he made less contact (and less solid contact) on those sliders than any pitch he sees. Why wouldn't pitchers adapt to that?

So, does Lowrie's weakness for the slider show us a player who is as flawed as Hunter Pence and Chris Johnson? Well, not really.

See, the slider is a pretty devastating pitch for everyone. Let's look at this article over at The Hardball Times, which takes benchmarks for all pitches based on Pitch F/X data to see how effective each one is:

Type # rvERA MPH Swing Whiff Foul B:CS IWZ Chase Watch nkSLG GB% LD% FB% PU% HR/FL%
SL 18722 3.82 84 0.456 0.327 0.317 2.4 0.484 0.304 0.374 0.505 45% 18% 29% 8.4% 7.8%
FS 1841 3.87 84 0.501 0.345 0.298 4.0 0.434 0.340 0.280 0.424 48% 19% 25% 7.3% 6.8%
CH 13325 4.16 83 0.491 0.307 0.291 3.7 0.441 0.325 0.287 0.452 50% 18% 25% 7.1% 6.9%
FC 7230 4.22 87 0.475 0.212 0.389 2.3 0.526 0.275 0.337 0.494 44% 21% 26% 9.3% 6.1%
CU 11156 4.47 77 0.373 0.261 0.327 2.2 0.467 0.254 0.487 0.512 49% 19% 27% 4.8% 8.3%
F4 46115 4.49 92 0.421 0.164 0.438 1.7 0.561 0.226 0.416 0.567 35% 21% 34% 9.6% 7.7%
F2 29551 4.53 91 0.430 0.128 0.391 1.9 0.543 0.239 0.400 0.499 52% 20% 23% 4.5% 7.3%
KN 821 4.88 69 0.445 0.227 0.384 2.7 0.515 0.236 0.348 0.563 37% 20% 32% 10.6% 8.1%
SB 42 5.26 66 0.333 0.071 0.286 2.5 0.429 0.250 0.556 0.111 44% 33% 11% 11.1% 0.0%

Two things to note: first off, sliders were more popular than any other breaking pitch right now. Only the fastballs topped it in terms of straight usage. Second, there was only one pitch with a higher whiff rate than the good, ole' slider, and that was the splitter, which hardly anyone throws.

Keep going, looking at line drive rate on the pitch or any of the other stats on that table. At league average levels, (not even the elite sliders, just league average ones) the slider is one of the best pitches a pitcher can throw. That's why so many guys develop them.

Well, I should say, it's the best offspeed pitch a guy can throw, because fastballs clearly work better than most. The whiff rate isn't as high, but there are plenty of numbers there to show why guys like throwing their heat most often.

So, how should we be judging Lowrie in this particular instance? He's swinging at a number of sliders, but he's not anywhere close to the league average whiff rate of 32 percent. In fact, we should expect him to whiff on more sliders than anything else, since it's such an effective pitch.

Maybe the book did change on Lowrie some, moving away from a changeup first guy, but it quickly developed into throwing him the nastiest pitch in the arsenal and letting him just watch it.

If there's one thing Lowrie could do better on sliders, it's watch a few more. Swinging at half of them is higher than the league average rate, by that chart above. By that chart, he's swinging about five percent more often at sliders than the league average.

That's not a huge percentage by any means, and it doesn't show a concrete hole in his game either. It just demonstrates why some pitches are so effective.

You know what else it shows? That pitchers need to get on the splitter more often. Seriously, can Mike Foltynewicz develop one? Lance McCullers? Like, pronto?

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