Larry Andersen on the Slider that Cost Boston Bagwell

Larry Andersen is famous for being traded for Jeff Bagwell. Phillies fans know him for his fine work on the club’s radio broadcasts. In terms of his playing career — he pitched in the big leagues from 1975 to 1994 — Andersen is known for having one of the best sliders in the game.

His best years were with the Astros when he was in his mid- to late 30s. From 1986 to -90, the right-handed setup man appeared in 293 games and fashioned a 2.55 ERA and a 2.53 FIP. His 445 innings over the stretch were sixth-most among relievers.

His signature pitch was elite. As Rob Neyer wrote at ESPN back in 2004, “Larry Andersen perfected his slider to the point where he rarely bothered throwing anything else.” In the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, Larry Dierker was quoted as saying his former teammate had the best slider he’d ever seen.

Anderson told me about his slider midway through the 2015 season.


Andersen on why his slider was so effective: “The way I threw it — this is from talking to guys I faced, and ended up playing with — it looked like a fastball. A number of them told me: ‘I swear it’s a fastball; it looks like a fast one.’ That’s the key. Hitters aren’t committing to hit the ball when it’s three feet in front of the plate, they’re committing to the ball when it’s halfway there. The best hitters obviously pick up the spin, but if they see fastball and commit, and it’s not a fastball, they’re not going to have much luck.

“I basically tried to throw my slider how I would grip a four-seam fastball. I would kind of just rotate my fingers to the side of the ball a little more. That was probably more my cutter. I really had three pitches with one grip. It was essentially more pressure, and where my fingers were placed on the ball.

“The harder, the more cutter-type pitch, is the one that looked more like a fastball. It was tough to pick up the spin. My true slider, they could probably see better — it was slower and they could see the rotation better — but it had more depth. But for the most part, I tried to keep it tight, so they couldn’t see the spin.”

On the evolution of his slider: “A guy named Don Beckwith, who was a year ahead of me in high school, taught it to me. So I always had the slider — it was part of my arsenal — but I didn’t refine it until later in my career. I didn’t perfect it until I was probably 33 or 34 years old.

“I basically did that on my own. It was the same grip I learned in high school, but with a lot of tinkering. If my forefinger and middle finger were together, that was the true slider. If I separated my forefinger and middle finger, like a fastball, that was the cutter. And if I wanted to slow down the speed, it would be the same grip as my slider, but I’d choke it back in my hand a little more.

“I’d say I started throwing three different sliders in probably 1987 or 1988. In ’86, I got released from Houston. A big part of it, too, is that when I got released by Philly and went to Houston, Les Moss was the pitching coach there. I spent about a month and a half basically getting my ass handed to me, trying to find a delivery where I was using my legs more and not so much just the arm. Once I did, my velocity increased probably 3 or 4 mph, which made my slider, cutter, and the other one better.”

On fine-tuning his delivery: “It was a mechanical thing that really came down to me visualizing Nolan Ryan’s delivery. He was a teammate, and I literally, at home, at night, in bed, would think about his delivery. I would try to emulate it, but out of the stretch — coming out of the pen, I didn’t wind up.

“Eventually, my leg kick got a little higher, a little higher, a little higher. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I loved Juan Marichal when I was growing up. That’s how I pitched in high school, with that high leg kick. There was no turn, or anything like that, just the high leg kick. Subconsciously, maybe it came from that.

“[The Astros] did want me to shorten up the leg kick a little, because guys could run on me. But I was more concerned with the hitter. I wasn’t so much worried about… especially the speedsters, like an Ozzie Smith or a Vince Coleman. I’d take a look and make sure they were stopped, but they were probably going to run anyway. They were going to take the bag. My main concern was not giving up hits, so I focused on the hitter.”

On hitters he did, and didn’t, have success against: “I owned Ryne Sandberg. I don’t know why. He just had a hard time getting to it. Not that he didn’t hit some balls hard off me, but his numbers against me weren’t very good.* I didn’t attack him any differently than I did most other hitters.

*Just .105/.103/.105 in 39 plate appearances.

“There were certain guys… two guys who didn’t necessarily see it as a slider, but trusted it was going to be a slider, were Barry Larkin and Andre Dawson. They would dive out over there. A lot of guys wouldn’t, and I don’t really understand, because most of my sliders were away. I would throw it inside on occasion, but for the most part that was a no-no back then. You see it a lot now, but then it was a no-no when I pitched.

“Dawson was a guy where I’d actually want to elevate the slider. He would chase it up there, and because he was so set on down and away, he usually couldn’t handle it. When guys are locked in on one certain area, changing their eye level that way can be really effective.

“When I was with Philly the first time, Dale Murphy wore me out. When I got to Houston, and my stuff changed, I didn’t have a problem with him. Against Murphy, you had better make good pitches. And part of that is conviction, too. If a guy gets a few hit, hard, off you, the next time you face him you’re a little tentative to throw something on the plate. That’s where I was. But once I had perfected my slider, and threw it with conviction, I felt like I could get anybody out with it.

“I had a harder time with left-handers than I did right-handers, because the ball was coming in to them. I didn’t throw a changeup. Of the few I did throw, the one I remember most was the last out of Game Five of the 1993 NLCS, against Atlanta. (Note: Andersen told this story, in full detail, in a September 2015 installment of Sunday Notes.)

On his fastball and backup sliders: “I didn’t throw all that hard. I think I hit 92 once in my career. My four-seamer was 88-89, so unless you have perfect command… more than anything, it’s that old cliche of use it or lose it. That’s what happened to me — I stopped using my fastball, because of the success I was having with my slider. And once I lost command of my fastball, I didn’t trust it. I’d throw it off the plate on purpose more often than for a strike.

“I threw sliders 90% of the time for probably the last seven years of my career. Hitters knew it was coming, so every now and then I’d purposely get under one. I’d get my hand under the ball, so while it would have slider rotation, it wouldn’t have the normal break going away, because I wasn’t on top of it. I wasn’t able to perfect that, but I did do it a couple of times to see if I could get the hitter off my regular slider.

“I obviously threw accidental [backup sliders], too. A hanging slider is generally a pitch you get your body out in front of. Your arm lags behind, and you end up… I don’t know how to say this without visualization, but when your arm and body are going together, you’re on top of it and will get the depth and the break. When your arm lags behind, your mind is like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get your arm up there; it’s time to throw.’

“The quickest distance between two points is a straight line, so if your body is out front, your arm essentially drops down to get to that second point. What happens then is that you end up with a really ugly, flat slider. It’s basically a nothing fastball that doesn’t do anything except go about 400 feet. To the hitter, it’s a cookie. As a pitcher, you don’t want to serve up cookies.”


A Note on the Infamous Andersen-Bagwell Deal

Andersen made 15 appearances with the Red Sox, allowing three runs over 22 innings. Boston finished two games ahead of Toronto to win the AL East. That winter, Andersen was one of several players declared a free agent as part of the 1990 collusion settlement. Lou Gorman, the Red Sox GM at the time, later told me that he went to the league office prior to making the deal and was told Andersen wouldn’t be affected, only to have an arbitrator subsequently decide otherwise.

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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7 years ago

“Interesting read.
“I also learned that there must be a writing style/rule I’m not aware of.
“Something that allows multiple starting quotations, with only one closing one, when there’s a sequence of consecutive quotes.”

Fangraphs is always teaching.

Ukranian to Vietnamese to French is back
7 years ago
Reply to  gumpa

“Interesting reading.
“I found that there is no text / style politics do not know.
“Anything that allows more citations, with the first test, when there are a number of ongoing projects.”

Fangraphs always taught.

7 years ago
Reply to  gumpa

It’s when the quotation spans more than 1 paragraph. It’s common in books but doesn’t happen in sports articles very often apparently.

7 years ago
Reply to  gumpa

It’s not a sequence of consecutive quotes, it’s one ongoing quote that is separated by paragraphs, so if you are using quotation marks instead of a block quotes, that is the correct way to do it. I you closed the quote at the end of each paragraph it would be weird and confusing and make you think it was the start of a new, separate quote.