Back into my ongoing series on sliders, we take a look at another adjustment that’s becoming a pattern around the league. Baseball is a game of adjustments. You’ve probably heard that said a thousand times. What does that mean? The cat-and-mouse game between batter and pitcher is constantly shifting as each seeks to find a new edge. And many times in order to take the next step, adaption is the key. One pitcher who has shown this so far in 2023 is Jon Gray, who recently embarked on such a quest this spring with the Texas Rangers. Join me as we delve into Gray’s pitch adjustment.
Gray’s subtle modification to his slider proved to be a game-changer. By tweaking its mechanics, he produced a sharper break that resembled a fastball more than the curveball-like sweeper it had been before. In May, Gray’s slider became a formidable weapon. The increased separation from his off-speed pitches, coupled with the sharper break, gave him a devastating repertoire. Batters found themselves off-balance and unable to gauge the movement of his pitches effectively. With the slider averaging 87 miles per hour, its added velocity enhanced its effectiveness and made it a formidable complement to his fastball.
Breaking down a confusing chart, Savant began separating “sweeping sliders” from “breaking sliders” in their data and pitch identification last year. The difference is in the amount of loopy horizontal movement versus downward breaking movement. Last year, Jon Gray’s slider was reclassified as a sweeper, but towards the end of the year, he experimented with a breaking slider. This spring, and now through the month of May, he has developed two separate pitches – a fully developed downward-breaking slider and a sweeper.
As Gray’s feel for the pitch developed, the fruits of his labor began to blossom, with impressive statistics bearing witness to his transformation. In May, he showcased his newfound prowess, striking out an impressive 29 batters over 32 and one-third innings pitched. His ERA of 1.95 was equally impressive, limiting opponents to a meager .200 batting average. These statistics not only underscored Gray’s expertise but solidified his status as a pitcher capable of keeping hitters off-balance with a more nuanced pitching repertoire.
The success of each pitch has increased due to their divergence. Both variations of the slider have produced batting averages below .200. The hard slider has a 40.6% whiff rate, and the sweeper has a 31.1% rate. While there is some danger with Gray’s fastball metrics at this juncture, better pairing with the hard slider could decrease those numbers.
Adaptability is key to success in baseball, and Gray’s journey is an example of how embracing change can lead to growth. By making a small adjustment to his slider, Gray has successfully diversified his pitch mix. So far this season, his evolving pitching style has proven successful against opposing hitters, solidifying his role on the Texas Rangers’ pitching staff.
Jon Gray’s slider showcases the transformative power of embracing small adjustments. Through his commitment to mastering his repertoire and refining his approach, Gray has redefined his game and is emerging as a force to be reckoned with. His evolution and dedication serve as reminders that there’s always room for change. As Gray continues to pursue success in pitching, his journey stands as a testament to the possibilities that lie within adaptability and flexibility.
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