Did Drew Hutchison Really Change His Slider?

If you look at the movement charts on Drew Hutchison’s slider, it seems obvious: the Blue Jays’ righty starter had more drop late last year, when he was going well. This year, the pitch is harder and firmer, and he’s not going well. So he’s missing that slider he had, right?

Well, maybe not. We had Craig Edwards point out that Hutch might actually need his best fastball to succeed. And then we have the pitcher himself telling us that no, he hasn’t done anything to change his slider. “Every time I throw my slider I try to get good depth on it,” he told me before a game with the Athletics this week.

But the pitcher said this just moments before he admitted to using the slider differently. Which might actually have something to do with his struggles this year. Funny how that works.

If you break last year into halves, you can easily see what we were so excited about. He added a couple inches of drop to the slider late in the season. And that drop is now gone again.

Slider 2014 First Half 2014 Second Half 2015
Velocity 85.2 83.9 84.5
Drop -0.2 -2.3 -0.4

But the pitcher insists he hasn’t thrown the slider any differently this year. He says that if we see a change in the shape of the pitch, we’re seeing a change in how he’s using the pitch.

“Depending on if I’m throwing to a lefty or righty, it’s a little different,” Hutchison said of the different movement we saw last year. “I had a lot of success last year when I threw it backfoot to a lefty, and that’s when it has more depth.” Hutchison also said that he’s been throwing the pitch for strike one more often this year, and that the focus is on hitting the strike zone — and not movement — when he throws that type of slider.

Hutchison’s perception of his usage matches reality over the last year and a half, if just barely. Check out how often he threw the slider against lefties compared to his changeup, and how often he threw the slider on the first pitch:

  2014 1st Half 2014 2nd Half 2015
Ratio SL/CH to LHB 0.67 0.88 0.87
0-0 SL% 19.8% 17.4% 19.1%

The effect is most prominent in the last two months of the season, which is also when Hutchison’s slider showed the most drop.

When Hutchison throws the slider to a righty, the process is different than when he’s throwing to a lefty. “I’ll still create depth to righties, but I’m going to keep it carrying through the plate for a strike,” the Jays’ righty said. “My focus when I throw to the righty is to carry it through the plate so that it has good action in the strike zone.” Against lefties, he tries to “finish it down on the plate and get that good depth.”

So, given these two things, could the different movements on his slider be completely attributable to situational factors? Not quite. Even if you break the slider into those situations and only compare like sliders against like sliders, Hutchison has lost some movement. Here are the drops in those situations:

Slider Drop vs 2014 1st Half 2014 2nd Half 2015
LHB -1 -3 -1
RHB 0 -2 0
0-0 Count 0 -2 0

Yes, the slider to lefties always has more depth than his other sliders. At least an inch more drop. But all of his sliders had two inches more drop in the second half last year, no matter when the slider was thrown or to whom.

On the left, a 0-0 slider to Evan Longoria that has more drop than 2015’s 1-2 slider on the right.

To him, the slider’s depth is of no big concern. “I try not to get too big because you want it to come off the fastball finish, down with good depth,” he said. And “for me it’s about fastball command, and then everything else comes afterwards.” So he’s okay with the harder slider if it means better fastball command, is the suggestion.

And he’s proud of the work that he’s doing with the changeup. “I’ve put more emphasis on it, and I’ve had good success with it, and the more I throw it, the better I throw it,” he said. July has seen him use more changeups, on a percentage basis, than he ever has before in any month. He’s also slowed the change so that it’s nearly 7 mph slower than his fastball, the second-best monthly number he’s shown in that category. The 63% ground-ball rate on the change is the best of his career, too.

But when it comes to the slider, he shrugs off any loss of depth, even as he says this: “The action on the pitches, the late action, the late action is more important than the speed. The finish on the pitch.”

Even if he says that the slider’s loss of depth is a situational thing — “Just a result of pitching sometimes, you want to take a little bit off, or put it down on the plate. Just my focus” — there might be something more there. Some depth that’s missing. And the slider’s whiff rate this year, though still average, is down nearly 25% from last year. Perhaps he should practice finishing that pitch down on the plate a little more.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Mike Green
8 years ago

To my completely amateur eye, it looks like his arm slot was lower in the 2014 slider to Longoria than in the 2015 slider. Am I right?

8 years ago
Reply to  Mike Green

I thought that too because the right gif has the slider starting higher.

I think his release point is just different. If you try to look JUST at his arm, they’re pretty close, but the ball gets released higher in the right gif.

Mike Green
8 years ago
Reply to  Eye-Crometer

Thank you. If it is a release point difference, I wonder if that has been true more generally for his sliders in 2015 as compared with the latter part of 2014.