Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 9/18/12

Rick Porcello throws a slider. He doesn’t throw it very often, but when he does, the results are typically disastrous. You might be able to work in a not-very-great pitch if everything else you had in your repertoire was overwhelming, but for the ground-balling Porcello, that’s just not the case.

But let me step back a moment. Rick Porcello is having a very Rick Porcello-like season, which, objectively, is just a wee bit better than your average starter. His 4.57 ERA is spot on with his career 4.55, his 3.82 FIP is the lowest of his career, and he’s striking out more batters than he has in his career with a 13.6% strikeout rate. Peachy.

Porcello, 23, throws a fastball almost 70% of the time. He relies heavily on the two-seam fastball (which is really much more akin to a sinker) and, in general, very good control. The good news is the fastballs have never been faster. He’s gained almost two miles per hour over 2011 on his four seam fastball at 92.3 mph and his sinker/two-seam fastball us up from 89.8 to 91.8. The two seamer has been more valuable than the past two seasons, but still sits at about average in terms of pitch value.

The bad news for Porcello is that he can’t just throw sinkers all day, and that his third pitch happens to be his slider. Historically, Porcello has thrown his slider anywhere from 14-20%, and this season he’s right about in the middle at 16.1%. Last season, it was just a hair above average in runs/100 pitches, but the slider has generally been his weakest pitch with a career -1.49. This year, however, the slider is at four and a half runs below average per 100. Over the last five seasons, for any starter who uses a slider more than 10% of the time, Porcello has set the gold standard for awful results in 2012.

Porcello uses his slider mostly against right handed batters, who see it roughly 25% of the time. He mixes in the slider versus left handed batters sparingly, but when he’s ahead in the count, he’ll throw it about 20% of the time. But when he uses it, regardless of the context, hitters feast. Opposing batters have produced a .398/.410/.631 triple slash against Porcello’s slider in 2012, with an ISO of .233. His slider turns hitters into Larry Walker.

Juxtaposing 2011 with his 2012 slider, he’s getting about half the horizontal movement this season and slightly less vertical movement. He’s throwing it about a mile per hour harder this season which might account for some of this, but his release point has also been pretty different:

The difference isn’t dramatic, but he’s releasing his slider several inches higher and typically more over the top than he did last season. I say typically, because you can see from the results that his release point was much more tightly clustered in 2011 than it has been in 2012, which could either point to some experimentation or simply an issue with consistency.

If I were a more talented gif maker, I’d slow these down for you to analyze, but here’s a shot of a 2011 slider followed by a 2012 slider. Obviously, these aren’t representative of every slider he’s thrown the last two seasons, but in general, his 2011 slider had greater bite to it, and better location whereas many of the 2012 varieties haven’t moved much and are left up in the zone.

Here, hitting his spot, down and away in 2011.

2012, where it kind of floats instead of bites (he actually got away with it). You can actually see a bit of the arm angle difference from 2011 where he used more of a three quarter arm angle than he is using in the snapshot from this season.

And just for gif-tastic fun, after looking at hours of Rick Porcello sliders, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include another slider that, well, didn’t slide:

It’s possible that Porcello and the Detroit pitching brain trust know that the slider is killing him, as his usage is down about five percent over the course of the second half. But for Porcello to be successful, or at least more successful, he probably either needs to scrap the slider altogether or somehow regain the form that made it at least an average pitch in 2011.

Porcello might make as many as four more starts in 2012, and considering the Tigers are just three games back of Chicago for the division crown, they are likely to be awfully important starts. If you’re a Detroit fan, you might want to show up with a sign reading “Trust the Change.”


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