This article is part of our Mound Musings series.
Last week we explored the impact of rhythm on pitching performance. This week, I'd like to dig a bit deeper, specifically focusing on a pitch that is heavily reliant on rhythm – the infamous slider. The three most frequently used pitches, at least among starting pitchers, are the fastball, slider and changeup. A pitcher, in rhythm, and possessing reasonable command of those three pitches has a pretty good chance of success. But, having an exceptional slider could move the pitcher up several tiers in expected performance. That's what makes the slider so popular.
Okay, it can be devastating. So why do I both love and hate the pitch? The love side of the equation is easy. Watching a batter fustily chase a ball out of the zone, thrown by one of your starters for a strikeout is pure joy to a pitching junkie. However, there is a flip side to that coin of joy. First, sliders often create considerable stress on the elbow ligaments and structure – in many cases, the nastier the slider, the higher the risk of serious injury, often resulting in Tommy John surgery. There have been recent advancements in adjusting mechanics to address this problem, but it still exists. And, on the other side of that coin, a poorly thrown slider can be extremely hittable. If it hangs, especially in the middle of the strike zone, it looks like a beach ball on a tee to a major league hitter. The result is ooohs and ahhhs