Andrew Kittredge, Matt Manning, and Tyler Wells on Learning and Developing Their Sliders

The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned in June after being on hiatus last season due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Andrew Kittredge, Matt Manning, and Tyler Wells each discussing their slider.

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Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays

“It was after my freshman year of college, playing summer ball in Newport, Rhode Island. I actually started off calling it a cutter. It was pretty small, and it was firm. I was throwing my fastball anywhere from 90 to 94 [mph] and the cutter was around 89-91. Slowly, over time, I started getting around it a little bit more, and it got bigger and slower. By the time I got into pro ball, it was probably 83-85.

“It was a pretty good pitch for me — I had a good feel for it — and that’s kind of what I had up until 2019. Then I started throwing it harder again. I didn’t really change the grip, or my mindset, as much as I … well, the mindset was to try to stay behind it a little longer and accelerate through it at the end with hand speed. So while the velocity kind of jumped, I didn’t really plan on it doing that. The idea just was to try to tighten up the spin, and with the increased spin I added velocity. I also made it a little shorter; it’s not as big as it used to be.

Andrew Kittredge’s slider grip.

“Basically, I was just trying to spin it harder, and trying to do it later in my delivery — more out front, rather than spinning it like a traditional breaking ball. I try to throw it hard, like a fastball, and spin it a lot, late. [How much did the spin increase?] Honestly, I have no idea. I’m only concerned with how the pitch [plays].

“Again, I think the mindset I have is to try to throw it like a fastball as long as I can, and then right at release point — where the hand is when you would release it— is really where I start to turn it over. Don’t spin it too early, basically; try to spin it as late as possible.

“I trust the grip to do a lot of the work, and as long as my arm is on time and I don’t try to make it move too early, it usually ends up in the location that I want and I can trust that the movement is going to be there. So yeah, as late as possible, trying to spin it as late as possible.”

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Matt Manning, Detroit Tigers

“My slider has kind of been a work-in-progress for a year and a half. The first time I tried to throw one was probably going into spring training of 2020, because we wanted something different from my curveball. Then we ended up not continuing with it, because we thought we could just make some mechanical changes to my curveball to make it better. I already had a pretty good changeup and four-seamer, so we were just going to try to roll with [the three pitches]. Then, after the 2020 season and with a different group, we wanted something I could throw a little bit harder and command a little better.

“I think it was a combination of both [results and analytics]. Command-wise, the curveball was a tough pitch to throw. I always thought it was good, but I had to rely on my four-seam a lot just to be able to use it. It was a bigger, loopier pitch and I could never get it as sharp as I wanted. I messed around with the grip, and continued to work on it, but then we decided to go back to my old one — the bigger one — and add the slider, instead of trying to morph the two.

“The idea was never to throw a cutter. It was always, ‘Let’s just throw a normal slider, and if it’s a cutter it’s a cutter, and if it’s a slider it’s a slider’ — kind of ‘whatever’ with how it played out of my hand. For me, it was a visual of what I wanted to do, and then with the group we have, make it go more left than up-and-down.

“The grip is a pretty traditional slider grip. It’s just about trusting the pitch, knowing what you want it to look like, and then just going from there. There are thousands of grips that you can try, but I think it’s really just getting it do what you want, naturally. It’s not manipulating it, it’s just that if you want it to move left, you put a little more pressure on your middle finger and it will go left. I just think fastball, then try to cut it at the end.

“[Velocity-wise] I just started throwing it in games — the first time was against Chicago [on July 4] — so it’s still developing and getting to where it needs to be. Some days it’s as high as 86-87 [mph] and some days it’s 83-84. It kind of depends on the shape of it that day, or just how I’m throwing. I’ll just work with that.”

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Tyler Wells, Baltimore Orioles

“I’ve been throwing a slider since college. I threw a lot of curveballs too, but it was one of those things where I think [the slider] just meshed best with my fastball. Once I got into professional baseball, the usage was a lot more, because [the Minnesota Twins organization] thought it was ultimately going to be a better out-pitch. It tunnels better. It’s a little bit harder. My curveball was a just good equalizer, is probably the best way to put it. It kind of kept them off the hard stuff.

“I never really threw a hard slider up until this year. A lot of the time, it was more like 82, maybe 84 [mph] at best. This year, I’ve been hovering between that 87-90 range with it. A lot of that is how I’m gripping it and throwing it. I’m trying to throw it very similarly to the fastball. As tall as I am… being 6-foot-8, with my release point, I’m already throwing downhill. That allows me to stay on top of the ball a little bit more. I’m able to throw my slider more like a fastball to get a little bit more downward depth to it. Sometimes I can make it cutter-esque, as well.

Tyler Wells’ slider grip.

“Most of the time, it’s a let-the-grip-do-the-work pitch for me. I’ve been refining it throughout the season, and I’m finally 100% comfortable in my ability to throw it subconsciously and not have to worry about it. My original slider grip was actually closer to my curveball than it was to my fastball. This year, it’s changed to where it’s closer to my fastball. A lot of it is just kind of tilting the axis and letting my hand do the work — not get around it, but stay behind it, and then on top of it. That creates a good depth, with it coming out firmer than it did before.

“I think my wrist acts the same as on my fastball. I feel that’s why I’m able to throw it as hard as I am. Our catchers describe my slider as having cutter spin, but acting like a slider. So it’s interesting. And then, being able to also refine it whenever I want to get a more-depthy slider, I’ll move my fingers up a little bit more on the ball. That allows me to stay on it a little bit longer.

“I enjoy Edgertronic, to be able to see how it comes out of my hand, but at the same time, I’m a big feel guy — I know how it should feel coming out of my hand when I’m throwing a good one, and when I’m doing it consistently. That’s usually my big telltale sign.”

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The 2021 installments of the series can be found here.

The 2019 installments of the series can be found here.





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.

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davem1987
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davem1987

i love you andrew kittredge