The Orioles Have a Preferred Slider, and it is Not a Sweeper

Jun 12, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Cionel Perez (58) celebrates after the victory against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Cionel Perez (58) celebrates after the victory against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Many Orioles pitchers throw a slider with heavy vertical break.

The pitching staff of the Baltimore Orioles is much improved this season, and the slider is a big reason why.  Most of the starting rotation, bullpen, and AAA depth throw sliders, and a vertically oriented one at that.  I wrote over the weekend how the Orioles are following the MLB trend of throwing more sliders, but that isn’t quite true.  The league-wide trend is to throw more sweepers, sliders and curveballs that have significant horizontal movement.  The Yankees basically require their relievers to throw a sinker and sweeping slider at this point..

But the Orioles are close to the bottom of the league in sweeper usage.  In 2021, the Orioles were 28th in sweeper usage, and I doubt the ranking is much higher this season.  Instead of throwing sliders that break dramatically in a horizontal direction, most of the Birds throw one that breaks much more vertically than the typical slider.  They also tend to have a high spin rate.  Breaking news, pitches that move more are harder to hit, and the front office is targeting players with these traits while the player development group gets the most out of the pitchers.

Once again, here are the spin rates (rpm) and horizontal and vertical movements vs. average (inches) for sliders thrown by Orioles pitchers this season.  For guys who have played on multiple teams, their full season stats are included.  The numbers from Baseball Savant only take MLB games into account since minor league data is not widely available.  I cut off the innings limit at ten, except for Jake Reed, which I will explain afterward.  I am also including a couple waiver claims who have yet to play in Baltimore.

Jordan Lyles:                  2634, 1.6, 5.3

Kyle Bradish:                 2480, 5.1, 6.6

Austin Voth:                  2711, -6, 5

Spenser Watkins:        2589, 2.4, 2.2

Tyler Wells:                   2545, -4.1, 0.4

Felix Bautista:              2457, 4.0, 0.3

Cionel Perez:                2609, 6.5, 5

Jorge Lopez:                 2388, 1.1, 3.1

Dillon Tate:                   2439, -2.7, -2.0

Keegan Akin:               2160, 0.5, -0.6

Joey Krehbiel:              2481, 2.8, 1.2

Nick Vespi:                   2551, -1.4, 4.2

Bruce Zimmermann: 2433, -1.3, -6.7

Mike Baumann:          2345, -1.8, -0.6

Louis Head:                 2624, 4.3, 3.3

Jake Reed:                   2448, -1.7, 0.7

Paul Fry:                      2711, 5, 4.3

Anthony Castro:        2593, 2.1, 2.3

Phoenix Sanders:     2097, -3.3, -3.9

As you can see, most Orioles pitchers have high spin rates on their sliders and well above average vertical movement but generally less horizontal movement. Of the 19 pitchers listed, 10 have both a high-spin slider and get at least one inch more vertically compared to average, and seven more fit at least one of those categories.  It is no surprise that Bradish and Perez have the most movement since we can easily see the movement in games after just a few pitchers.

The exceptions are interesting cases.  I said last time that I wonder what the team sees in Sanders, but it is easy to see what the Orioles like about Reed.  Despite unimpressive slider numbers, Reed’s funky delivery can throw off hitters, as evidenced by the Blue Jays last night.  Vespi and Voth fit the sweeping slider definition to a tee.  Wells is so tall that he does not need extra movement since his release point already throws off hitters.  Zimmermann and Tate both throw their changeups more often, and Tate’s slider is new this season.  I honestly can’t tell you about Akin, his slider is very typical.

I think there is a clear trend but the differences within point to how good teams operate.  The current Orioles regime has their own philosophy regarding what pitches work, but they adapt to each individual player.  The dev group has completely turned around Voth, but they didn’t make him throw a slider like Bautista or throw it as often as Perez.

You might be wondering why the front office is prioritizing vertically oriented sliders.  My best guess is that they are purposely pushing back against the sweeper revolution.  Since so many teams throw horizontal sliders, hitters are starting to look for them.  Therefore, the Orioles are confusing opponents by throwing sliders that move differently from what the hitters expect.

With the Orioles set to increase payroll this offseason, finding a top-end starting pitcher will be one of the high priorities.  High spin rates and vertical sliders will certainly be factors when targeting free agents.