These sliders are nasty and move in wild ways

April 1st, 2020

Just because the 2020 season hasn't started yet, that doesn't mean baseball fans have to forget what it's like to watch the best of the best. This week, is highlighting some of the nastiest pitches in baseball -- a different pitch type every day, with five pitchers featured for each (no repeats), picked by our reporters. Check out the nastiest fastballs and the nastiest curveballs here.

Up next: sliders.

A great slider is the physical embodiment of the word "mind-bending."

How these pitchers get a baseball to move the way they do, we'll never fully understand. It's best just to sit back and watch.

Here are five of the nastiest sliders in baseball.

, Mets
Why he's so nasty: 92.5 mph avg. velocity

deGrom won his second straight National League Cy Young Award while relying mostly on three pitches (four-seam fastball, slider and changeup), and you can make a compelling case that each offering is among the nastiest in its class. His slider might be the toughest of the three to hit, as he throws it a tick slower than the typical four-seamer (92.5 mph vs. MLB-average 93.4 mph). It's the hardest slider in baseball by far.

Last season, 1,094 sliders clocked in at 92 mph or higher; deGrom was responsible for 708 of them. There was a 4.4-mph difference in average velocity between deGrom's four-seamer and slider, making it all the more difficult for batters to determine which was coming. The right-hander was one of seven hurlers to collect at least 100 strikeouts on sliders last year, and he limited hitters to a .186 average with the pitch.

-- Thomas Harrigan

, Yankees
Why he's so nasty: 18.4 inches of horizontal movement

Ottavino's boomerang slider is one of those pitches you want to watch over and over again. You'll find yourself asking a lot of questions. How does a baseball break like that? Is he throwing a Wiffle ball? Did a Major League hitter really miss the ball by that much?

The Yankees setup man averages 18.4 inches of horizontal movement on his slider -- yes, it breaks a foot and a half sideways. Only three other pitchers get that much break. Ottavino's slider moves nearly 10 inches more than the average Major League slider … or, to put it another way, more than twice as much as an average slider. He's among the leaders in all of Statcast's slider movement metrics. Ottavino throws his slider more than half the time -- more often than he throws fastballs -- and it's no wonder MLB hitters batted .157 with 46 strikeouts against it last season.

-- David Adler

, Nationals
Why he's so nasty: 37.6 percent in-zone whiff rate

Most pitchers use their sliders to get chases out of the zone, and Scherzer does that plenty. But when it comes to twirling it inside the strike zone and still making hitters look silly -- aka slider whiff rate on in-zone swings -- Scherzer topped all starters in 2019. He’s been a king in that department for a while now. And when you look at the bigger picture and ask, "Who gets ahead of hitters the most by racking up called strikes, swinging strikes and foul balls on the slider?" Scherzer has been the best starter three years running. He can throw this in the heart of the zone or make it dance into the dirt, and it doesn’t matter. You’re not hitting it.

The slider is what helped Scherzer take the crown from Clayton Kershaw as "baseball’s best pitcher" sometime around 2017. And now that he’s developed a cutter to pair with it to neutralize lefties, he’s even more dominant. When Mad Max has his slider working, good night to your offense.

-- Matt Kelly

, Astros
Why he's so nasty: 51 percent chase rate

Verlander’s slider was key in his 2019 American League Cy Young campaign, as he got outstanding results on the pitch. He induced a 51 percent chase rate on out-of-zone sliders, which ranked second in the Majors among pitchers to throw at least 250 sliders out of the zone, and first among starters (the only pitcher ahead of Verlander was Will Smith at 54 percent).

Given how frequently batters swung at those sliders out of the zone, it should come as little surprise that Verlander got a lot of strikeouts on the pitch. His 127 slider strikeouts were second to only Patrick Corbin, whose slider was his most-used pitch, unlike Verlander.

Opposing hitters had a .119 batting average in at-bats ending on Verlander’s slider last season, and they didn't make good contact. It was one of Verlander’s best years with his slider, too, as his 40 percent whiff rate on swings against it was his highest since 2012.

-- Sarah Langs

, Rays
Why he's so nasty: +15.1 inches of horizontal movement above avg.

At its best, this pitch looks like an optical illusion. One might think it’s coming straight out of a video game, with someone at home controlling the flight of the ball with a joystick as it takes a sudden and dramatic left turn. The eye test is matched by that horizontal-movement figure. More than 350 pitchers threw at least 100 sliders in 2019, and Roe’s horizontal movement vs. an average slider was more than four inches higher than anyone else's.

Roe relies more heavily on the slider (64 percent usage in 2019) than just about anyone, and while every one that he throws is not a huge, sweeping breaker, it’s consistently effective. The high-spin pitch gets both whiffs and weak contact, and since Roe joined the Rays in 2017, it has induced a mere .243 wOBA (MLB average on sliders is around .270). But more than anything, it’s fun to watch.

-- Andrew Simon