Adam Ottavino on his Three-in-One Slider

This past Sunday, I wrote about how Adam Ottavino is studying Garrett Richards‘ pitch usage in hopes of improving his performance against left-handed hitters. Not included in the article were details about his signature pitch, which is actually three pitches in one. The Colorado Rockies reliever throws his slider from two arm angles and with two different grips. As a result, the shape varies, as does the velocity, from 80 to 87 mph. Ottavino explained this to me – and touched on related subjects – last week in Phoenix.


Adam Ottavino on release points: “I was recently looking at my release point charts on Brooks Baseball – all four years of data they have on me – and it’s interesting to see that the data is consistent with the mechanical adjustments I’ve made. You can see when I’ve moved over on the rubber. It’s interesting to look at how I’ve evolved over the last three years, and how the things I tried to do, I actually did do.

“On both axis, my release point was the most consistent in 2013, which is actually the year I had the most success. Last year it was a little less consistent, but that’s partially because I was changing my arm angle slightly on breaking balls. I was doing that intentionally to affect some sort of different view from the hitter’s perspective.”

On his slider variations: “I throw sliders multiple ways. They all read the same – they read as sliders on PITCHf/x — but they are three different pitches. There’s more of an up-and-down, more of a slurve, and one with more of a straight lateral break. I do that with two different grips. As a pitcher who throws such a high percentage of breaking balls (47.3% in 2014), I don’t want to make them all exactly the same, Even if the hitter reads slider out of my hand, he can’t be totally sure where it will end up.”

“I started to sense around the middle of 2013 that hitters who have faced me a lot were looking for the slider. I decided I wasn’t going to completely change my percentages; I wasn’t going to all of a sudden start throwing more fastballs. I wanted to see what I could do to my slider to use their aggressiveness against them. If they’re looking for a slider, give them a slider, but give them something they’re not exactly used to and I might get a quick out. When I looked at the data, it backed that up. It was effective.”

On determining slider selection: “It’s (determined by) the hitter, and by how many I’ve already thrown in that at bat. If I’ve thrown a couple of slurves, I’ll probably switch it up. Hitters are really good at pattern recognition. If you throw two pitches the same shape, they’re likely to make an adjustment and hit that pitch if the next one is exactly the same. But if it’s off by a couple of deviations, they’re not going to be able to square it up as easily.

“Catchers who have caught me awhile kind of know what I want to do. If they give me a breaking ball away from a righty, they know to look for the lateral one that sweeps. If they give me a three and they’re kind of in the dirt, then they’re looking for one to break with more of a downward angle. The location kind of dictates what I’m likely to do with it. They can (just call for a slider), because if they know one is coming, they can track it.”

On creating angles: “Last season I decided to shift over on the rubber versus lefties. I throw third base side versus righties and I throw first base side versus lefties to create a different angle. Doing that did take away some of the effectiveness of my backdoor breaking ball – I couldn’t get outside enough to make it look like a ball out of my hand and still make it a strike – because of where I was situated. I threw some really bad pitches last year doing it that way.

“The move benefited my fastball angles, but hurt my slider. Now I’m trying to find a happy medium, or shift within at bats and hope the hitter doesn’t notice as much. In an effort to be more effective, I might use the whole rubber in one at bat.”

On consistency and Coors: “For the most part, my slider isn’t a pitch I struggle to find. Occasionally, I’ll notice that one is moving a little more wickedly on a certain day, and maybe I’ll favor it just a touch. If we’re away from altitude – we’re at sea level – my sweeping breaking ball sometimes breaks an extra couple of inches, so maybe I’ll favor that one a little more subconsciously.

“At Coors, my goal is more to make it look like a fastball out of my hand, and have a little later, sharper break. Anything with a big sweep is probably not going to get to the point that you envision. It’s probably not going to grip the air the way you would want – it’s going to kind of spin — so I try to keep it a little shorter, a little tighter.”

On targeting a location: “I throw mostly to areas, like on-under, which would be on the plate but under the zone, Or I’ll throw off the plate, away from arm side. I’ll throw back foot to a lefty, or backdoor to a lefty. I throw to all different areas; it’s just a matter of how I want to purpose the pitch.

“I focus on a spot, although it becomes tricky if you don’t have anything to throw at directly. Backdoor to a lefty, I’m throwing to an imaginary spot that’s not the catcher – it’s the other batters box, so I kind of have an imaginary target there. But in all other cases I’m either throwing at the catcher’s mask, at his glove, or at his shoulder.”

On visualizing pitch path: “In my mind, I kind of see the whole arc of the pitch. I know where I have to start the pitch to get the final result. When I want to throw it in the dirt, I’m not looking at the dirt – I’m looking at where I need to throw it to make it reach the dirt. Once I have a sense of how this pitch is going to break, I look for a starting point that will get me there.

“More than anything, I see the shape of how I want the pitch to look. If I’m throwing a sinker, for example, it’s almost like I see an imaginary line that I want to send the ball down. It might have a little bend this way if it’s a sinker, and it might have a little bend that way if it’s a slider. If it’s a four-seam, it might ride a little more. I kind of see that line and try to send it across the line.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

I think it’s interesting how these players will look themselves up on sites like Brooks Baseball to figure out adjustments for themselves.

Great read!

Torii Hunter
9 years ago
Reply to  Phillies113

I knew a Brooks once. Good guy.