Sunday Notes: Shane McClanahan’s New Slider is Superb

Shane McClanahan is one of the best young pitchers in the game, and a weapon that wasn’t in his arsenal prior to this season is one of the reasons why. The 24-year-old Tampa Bay Rays southpaw has added a slider, and he’s been featuring it prominently while putting up a 3.63 ERA, a 3.31 FIP, and 113 strikeouts in 94-and-a-third innings. Delivered at an average velocity of 89.5 MPH — fourth highest among hurlers with 60-plus frames — McClanahan is throwing his new pitch a healthy 35.4% of the time.

The seeds of the offering date back to early-January.

“I was throwing a pre-spring-training bullpen at the Trop,” explained McClanahan, whom the Rays drafted 31st overall out of the University of South Florida in 2018. “I told [pitching coach Kyle] Snyder, ‘Hey, I want to try this pitch and see if it does anything.’ He said, ‘OK,’ so I did. Then he was like, ‘Throw it again.’ From there, I just kept throwing it and working on it.”

Snyder echoed that recollection when asked about McClanahan’s new asset, adding that the organization was all-in with the idea of adding a firmer breaking pitch. That was the sole intent. According to McClanahan, the idea was never as specific as “learn a cutter” or “learn a slider,” but rather to introduce a pitch that differentiated both from his curveball and the slurve he threw last October when debuting in the postseason.

I asked Snyder about the addition from a pitching coach’s perspective.

“It’s somewhat similar to with [Tyler] Glasnow, but probably less of a priority given release height and the amount of break that he creates on his curveball, ”Snyder told me. “The tough part of that is landing [the curveball] in the zone before two strikes, so the thought was to create another breaking ball that he might be able to increase zone rates with. We don’t stop short of curiosity here, and again, we liked what we saw. Basically, the genesis of it was to objectively measure something, and it was a really good pitch, so we went forward to refine it.”

Refine it he has, although that’s a matter of repetitions more than anything. McClanahan isn’t prone to delving too deep into the analytics of a pitch, nor to otherwise complicating the process. “I just try to throw it as hard as I can,” McClanahan told me. “I have fastball commitment on it, just with a different grip that allows it to cut and slide. All I need to do is trust the grip and stay behind it.”

Just how good of a pitch is it?

“It’s arguably the best 90-mph slider there is,” stated Snyder. “If you look at velocity and break-value, combined… I mean, he’s thrown it up to 94. He can throw it 87 for strikes, but generally speaking, when he stands on it he doesn’t lose movement. He’s extremely talented.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Luis Aparicio 24 for 100 against Earl Wilson.

Snuffy Stirnweiss went 25 for 100 against Dizzy Trout.

Kiki Cuyler went 26 for 100 against Bob Smith.

High Pockets Kelly went 27 for 100 against Jimmy Ring.

Joe Torre went 28 for 100 against Tom Seaver.

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Two Sundays ago, this column included Derek Shelton’s response when I asked him which opposing team has most impressed him this season. The Pittsburgh Pirates manager gave the nod to one of his club’s NL Central rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yesterday, I asked the same to Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward.

“I’d say the Astros,” Woodward said after chewing on the question for a moment. “They’re really good, top to bottom. Good pitching. Good bullpen. Their offense is suffocating. The top of their lineup is similar to [the Red Sox], but I think they’ve got more depth. They can beat you in a lot of different ways. They grind it, they hit homers. They’re not afraid of anybody.”

Noting his pause before answering, I followed up by asking which other teams would be in the conversation.

“We’ve played Oakland a lot, and they’re pretty good,” responded Woodward. “San Francisco we played earlier, and they’re obviously a good team. The White Sox are another one. If it wasn’t Houston, I would probably pick them to win the American League.”

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A quiz:

Which player has the highest batting average in Texas Rangers franchise history (minimum 3,000 plate appearances)?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Tampa Bay Rays drew 13,178 fans on Friday for Pride Night. Announced attendance for each of the previous four games, also at Tropicana Field, were 5,460, 4,795, 6,673, and 5,826.

The Traverse City (MI) Pit Spitters captured their second consecutive Northwoods Summer Collegiate Baseball League championship on Friday with a 9-3 win over the St. Cloud (MN) Rox. Florida Gulf Coast University right-hander Cam Schuelke got the W.

The Oldtime Baseball Game, an annual charity event held in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 1994, will take place St. Peter’s Field tomorrow, Monday August 23, at 7 pm. The players — primarily collegians, but also local notables — wear throwback uniforms with the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, San Francisco Seals, and Hollywood Stars among the teams represented. Past participants include Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Pena, and current Yankees pitcher Mike King. Admission is free, and more information can be found here.

Vito Valentinetti, a pitcher for five teams from 1954-1959, died earlier this month at age 92. A right-hander from West New York, New Jersey, Valentinetti had his best big-league season in 1956 when he went 6-4 with a 3.78 ERA with the Chicago Cubs.

Johnny Groth, an outfielder for five teams from 1946-1960, died earlier this month at age 95. A Chicago native who played the bulk of his career with the Detroit Tigers, Groth scored the last run in St. Louis Browns history in September, 1953.

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The answer to the quiz is Rusty Greer, who batted .305 in 4,420 plate appearances with the Texas Rangers from 1994-2002.

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Bill Freehan died this past week at age 79, and his legacy merits more than a mere mention in the News Notes section of this column. Not only was the Detroit native an American League All-Star in 11 of the 12 seasons in which he played in over 100 games, I was growing up in Michigan as he was earning those accolades. The 1968 World Series, won by the Tigers over the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, is one of my earliest baseball memories.

Freehan provided myriad memories for Michigan sports fans in the 1960s and 1970s. Arguably Hall-of-Fame worthy, he amassed 44.8 WAR while earning five Gold Gloves and slugging 200 home runs. His 113 wRC+ is higher than those of Lance Parrish and Ivan Rodriguez, each of whom ranks among the best catchers in franchise history. When he retired, Freehan held the MLB records for most chances (10,714) and putouts (9,941) at his position.

Also notable is the fact that Freehan played both baseball and football at the University of Michigan before spending his entire 16-year professional career with the Tigers. The native son then returned to his alma mater to coach the Wolverines baseball team from 1990 to 1995. He later served as the Tigers catching instructor from 2002 to 2005.

A final note on the venerable former backstop: Freehan caught all 15 innings of the 1967 All-Star Game, and two years later he hit his only summer classic home run off of Steve Carlton.

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Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson met with the media following their concurrent promotions from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo earlier this week. Longtime Detroit sports scribe Lynn Henning asked the highly-regarded Tigers prospects about the increased number of secondary pitches they might be challenged with at the higher level. Are either of the youngsters concerned?

“Not really,” said Greene, whom our own Eric Longenhagen ranks as as the No. 2 prospect in the Tigers system, and No.8 in MLB. “In Double-A, we saw a lot of it. I’ll be honest. There was always one or two guys a week that were slider heavy, curveball heavy, changeup heavy. So I feel like we’re pretty prepared for that.”

“We definitely faced guys like that in Double-A, but I have heard that,” added Torkelson, who ranks No. 1 in the system and No. 3 in MLB. “Some guys in Triple-A aren’t as young anymore. They used to throw harder and now they don’t, and they’re trying to claw their way back to the big leagues, doing whatever it takes. If that means being really offspeed heavy, that’s what they’re going to do, even in hitter’s counts. They’re not going to give in [and] serve it up for us. We faced a little bit of it in Double-A, and we’re definitely prepared for it in Triple-A.”

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FARM REPORT

Brett Wisely is slashing .295/.372/.494 with 15 home runs and 29 stolen bases between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. The 22-year-old infielder was selected in the 15th round of the 2019 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Gulf Coast State College.

Jared Triolo is slashing .296/.351/.468 with 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases with High-A Greensboro. The 23-year-old infielder was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of the University of Houston.

Oswald Peraza is slashing .298/.359/.493 with 13 home runs and 29 stolen bases between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset. The 21-year-old infielder from Barquisimeto, Venezuela was signed by the New York Yankees in 2016.

Samad Taylor is slashing .292/.381/.521 with 16 home runs and 26 bases with Double-A New Hampshire. Originally in the Cleveland organization, the 23-year-old infielder/outfielder came to the Toronto Blue Jays via trade in 2017.

Dustin Harris is slashing .324/.408/.546 with 15 home runs and 23 stolen bases between Low-A Down East and High-A Hickory. Originally in the Oakland organization, the 22-year-old infielder came to the Texas Rangers via trade in 2020.

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Brett Baty and Mark Vientos are two of the top prospects in the New York Mets system, the former No.2 in our updated rankings, and the latter close behind at No. 5. I recently asked the young infielders — currently teammates with Double-A Binghamton — who among the pitchers they’ve faced this year stands out as being particularly nasty.

D.L. Hall, from Bowie,” replied Vientos, name-checking the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Baltimore Orioles system. “He’s the best pitcher I’ve faced so far in my career. His stuff was unbelievable. The ABs I had against him were very uncomfortable. His fastball was running, and riding at the same time. His changeup was good. He threw me everything.”

Asked about Grayson Rodriguez, Vientos said that while MLB’s No. 14-overall prospect was likewise impressive, Hall “was a little bit better.”

Baty went with Hall’s much-ballyhooed Bowie teammate.

“I’d probably have to go with Grayson Rodriguez,’” said Baty, who didn’t know that Vientos had tabbed Hall. “I faced him when I was down in [High-A] Brooklyn and he was with the Aberdeen IronBirds, and yeah man, he has a really good mix and knows where to put the ball. He’s a really good pitcher with a really good arm.”

I asked the Mets’ first-round pick in the 2019 draft if any of Rodriguez’s pitches stood out more than others.

“I’m a lefty, so he was going to the changeup a lot,” said Baty. “His changeup had a lot of depth and he knew how to work it off his fastball. Along with depth, it ran away from me down in the zone. It’s a really good pitch to go with his fastball, and then he’s got the curveball as well. He’s really tough.”

Baty has yet to face Hall, who notably was placed on the 60-day IL at the end of July with what was reported as a stress reaction in his left elbow.

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MLB’s most-changeup-heavy pitcher was designated for assignment on Friday. César Valdez had been throwing his signature pitch 74.7% of the time, albeit with mixed success. In 38 appearances comprising 45-and-a-third innings, the 36-year-old Baltimore Orioles right-hander had allowed 61 hits while logging a 5.76 ERA.

The DFA brought me back to something Chris Holt said in a Zoom call earlier this season. The Orioles pitching coach told reporters, including yours truly, that he’s jokingly called Valdez “the Dominican Doug Jones.”

For those of you who don’t remember Jones, he pitched out of the bullpen for seven teams, most notably Cleveland and Milwaukee, from 1982-2000. Hands down the top changeup artist of his era, Jones threw at three speeds: slow, slower, and slowest. He amassed 304 career saves.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Initially hesitant, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill and his wife are now fully vaccinated after talking to doctors and researching the pros and [theoretical] cons. Jeff Jones has the story at The Belleville News-Democrat.

Writing for Bally Sports National, Gordon Edes shared how Jon “Boog” Sciambi has been a big hit as the new TV voice of the Chicago Cubs.

Texas Rangers catcher/designated hitter Yohel Pozo and his family were homeless and living in car this past December. The Athletic’s Levi Weaver explained how that happened, and how the Rangers helped them get back on their feet (subscription needed).

Writing for SABR’s “The National Pastime,” Graham Womack delved into voting trends and where the Baseball Hall of Fame might be in another two decades.

NPR’s Jaclyn Diaz wrote about how MLB (which continues to prove that it values financial gain over history and tradition) is planning end its 70-year partnership with baseball card manufacturer Topps.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins has 42 first-inning hits this season, the most in the majors. Nick Markakis holds the Orioles club record for most first-inning hits in a season, with 52 in 2007. Markakis also has the second-most, 51 in 2014.

Kansas City’s Salvador Perez caught his 1000th game earlier this week, making him the 124th backstop to reach the milestone. Ivan Rodriguez tops the all-time list at 2,427 games, while Yadier Molina leads all active catchers with 2,079 games. Molina ranks fourth all-time.

Albert Pujols had a .622 OPS and five home runs when he was released by the Angels in May. Since signing with the Dodgers, he has a .791 OPS and 10 home runs. Pujols went deep for the 677th time in his career on Saturday.

The record for most home runs in a player’s first 162 games is held by Rudy York, who totaled 55 home runs from 1934-1938 (York appeared in three games for the Detroit Tigers in 1934, then spent two years in the minors before returning to MLB in 1937). Hat tip to StatHead’s Adam Darowski for the stat-fact.

New York Yankees infielder Snuffy Stirnweiss led all American League hitters in runs scored, hits, triples, and stolen bases in both 1944 and 1945. In the latter of those seasons, he also led in batting average, slugging, OPS, and total bases. Stirnweiss accumulated 17.9 of his 27.8 career WAR in those back-to-back campaigns.

On today’s date in 2000, Brent Mayne pitched a scoreless 12th inning and was credited with the win as the Colorado Rockies beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 on a walk-off single by Adam Melhuse. It was the only career pitching appearance for Mayne, who caught for 15 big-league seasons

The Texas Rangers swept a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles on today’s date in 2007, winning the first game 30-3, then taking the nightcap 9-7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramón Vázquez each went 4 for 6 with two home runs and seven RBIs in the opener..

The ugly incident where Juan Marichal struck John Roseboro with a bat in a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers occurred on today’s date in 1965.

Players born on today’s date include Wally Schang, who played in six World Series while catching for five teams from 1913-1931. Arguably Hall-of-Fame worthy, Schang slashed .284/.393/.401 with a 120 wRC+ over his 19 seasons.

Also born on today’s date was Ed Freed, whose big-league career comprised 13 September games with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942. A native of Center Valley, Pennsylvania, Freed stroked four hits in his big-league debut and went to finish the year 10-for-33. He then joined the Army, never again to play in the majors.

Hinkey Haines played in the 1923 World Series with the New York Yankees, who captured the title by beating the New York Giants in six games. A native of Red Lion, Pennsylvania, Haines went on to play for football’s New York Giants and was a member of their 1927 NFL championship team. The Giants’ final win that season was against the New York Yankees, a football franchise in 1927 and 1928.





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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The Northwoods League is one of my all-time favorite places to be. I haven’t been out on the Cape because of the crowds but I imagine it’s similar.