Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Scouting Sergio Santos' Slider

By
Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
An interesting thing happened the other day while I was flipping through Brooks Baseball's Player Cards. I stumbled across Sergio Santos' page, and I have to admit I was blown away.

You could say the Blue Jays have lacked a solid closer since the heyday of B.J. Ryan in 2008, and the key to being a dominant closer is having the one true "strikeout pitch".

B.J Ryan had that devastating fastball/slider combo, which is very similar to the next generation of Blue Jays closers in Sergio Santos.

Now that the Blue Jays have finally found their closer, perhaps John Farrell can now feel a little more safe about handing the ball to his closer in a save situation. And Farrell has plenty of reasons to feel at ease.

I'm not usually one to get all googly-eyed about a pitcher's repertoire, but I have to admit that I am extremely excited to see what Sergio Santos will bring to the table for the Blue Jays. More specifically, what that slider of his can do.

Last July, ESPN rated Sergio Santos' slider as baseball's top out pitch.The Chicago White Sox colour commentator Steve Stone also had heaps of praise for Santos, declaring his slider "unhittable".

Not surprisingly, that comment came from one half of what might be the biggest homer TV commentators in all of baseball, but it's still a nice compliment.

So when I stumbled across all the data on his Brooks Baseball's player card page, it made perfect sense that it all matched the glowing reviews of Sergio Santos' slider.

The first graph that really stood out to me was Santos' pitch locations. The break on his slider to right-handed hitters in particular might be as Stone indicated ... unhittable.

All Pitches vs. LHB All Pitches vs. RHB
Take that one step further with two strikes, and opposing batters might as well just pack up and leave the batter's box before the pitch is even thrown.

0-2 Count  vs. LHB 0-2 Count vs. RHB
But it's not just Brooks Baseball's pitch locations that show the filthy factor of Sergio Santos' slider, it's also very apparent in the heat maps as well from ESPN and FanGraphs.

Image courtesy of ESPN
Slider vs. LHB (Fangraphs) Slider vs. RHP (Fangraphs)
If I were a right-handed batter facing Sergio Santos and behind in the count,
I would fear for my life.

Hitters are pretty much dead in the water against Santos with two strikes (.102 OPP AVG) at which point he's more than likely to deploy his weapon of choice: the slider.

Much like Samuel L. Jackson's character in the cinematic classic Deep Blue Sea, righties must surely know it's only a matter of time before they're eaten alive by a genetically modified shark.

What frightens me a little bit is when Santos spoke about wanting to work his changeup back into his repetoire to accompany his fastball and slider. I'm all for diversity, but why mess with a good thing?

If Santos does in fact incorporate a changeup in with this fastball in slider, his changeup is clocked in around 87-90 MPH ... just slightly faster than Brett Cecil's much-maligned fastball velocity.

The one criticism that comes with the incredible movement is the inherent wildness of that pitch. Having a slider as deadly as Santos' is somewhat of a double edge sword; with the devastating factor of his slider also comes the wildness and unpredictability of it.

Santos doesn't even need to throw his slider for strikes to induce a swing, but J.P. Arencibia and Jeff Mathis better be prepared for that movement outside of the zone to avoid wild pitches and passed balls.

However, I think that's just one small drawback to what is an otherwise lethal pitch. One that some will say is the best strikeout pitch in all of baseball. And one Blue Jays fans can look forward to watching for many years to come.

Pitch F/X courtesy of Brooks Baseball, Heat Maps courtesy of ESPN 
and FanGraphs

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