Morning Report: Is There a Slider Revolution Happening in Pittsburgh?

There was a time in the minors where Jameson Taillon was challenged to throw three changeups per inning. It’s not a productive strategy for results to throw a developing pitch that often. It is productive in terms of developing the pitch.

This is a strategy you see often in the minors. It’s not a strategy you see in the majors. Pitchers develop pitches in the majors, but the only focus there is winning. You only throw a pitch often if it gets results.

Last night, Jameson Taillon threw his slider 27 times, which is a little more than three pitches per inning. This is a new pitch, and one that he’s been throwing in games for less than a month. His last two starts have seen him throw the new slider around 30% of the time. Again, you throw a pitch in the majors that often only if it’s getting results, and not just for developmental purposes.

Taillon’s slider is getting results. Prior to last night, it had a .250 OPS and a 22.9% swinging strike rate. To put that in perspective, his curveball had a 12.8% swinging strike rate and a .555 OPS. Those numbers were the best for any pitch in his career. It’s a small sample size for the slider, and while last night’s results will make the sample bigger, it’s still not a lot to go on, accounting for just over 50 pitches. But the early results look promising.

The new slider has given Taillon a swing and miss pitch, which is something he hasn’t shown yet in the majors. His curveball gets outs, and has consistently been hard to hit. But he hasn’t seen that elite-level strikeout pitch.

The Pirates haven’t seen much of that from any of their other pitchers, although it seems a slider revolution is taking place right now.

Tyler Glasnow recently added a slider, and is also seeing good results early. It’s only 20 pitches, but his slider has yet to be hit, and has a whiff rate of 25%. His curveball was at 11.5% this year.

Nick Kingham added a slider recently, and has seen good results with the pitch. He also has a 25% whiff rate and a .679 OPS against. His changeup has been even better, with a 26.2% whiff rate and a .455 OPS, which is an encouraging start for him.

Edgar Santana and Chad Kuhl are the other guys with sliders that have a whiff rate of 20% or more, although those pitches aren’t new for them, and both have seen strong results in the past.

The pitching staff currently has five sliders with a 20% or more whiff rate from the above pitchers. They only have three other pitches with a 20% whiff rate or higher — Kingham’s changeup and the curveball and changeup from Felipe Vazquez (with Vazquez’s changeup being the best swing and miss pitch on the staff). Joe Musgrove gets an honorable mention here for having a 16% whiff rate and a .347 OPS with his slider, although he falls into the Santana/Kuhl category where the pitch isn’t new for him.

These are encouraging signs. It’s encouraging to see Taillon developing a swing and miss pitch, and getting so comfortable with it so quickly. He’s a guy with top of the rotation upside, and perhaps last night was a preview of what he could do with the new weapon.

Glasnow has seen good results since he started using his slider. Kingham’s pitch has produced results in the majors, and could have him sticking in the majors for good. And perhaps these results will propel the Pirates to take an approach more like the Astros, using these strong pitches more often as an alternative to 60% or more fastballs.

On that front, Joe Musgrove has already brought over his pitch usage from the Astros. Taillon has pitched more like that in his last two starts, with 43% and 38% breaking pitch usage, and 55-56% fastball usage. Kingham’s best start came with 40% breaking pitch usage. And Chad Kuhl — who previously threw the most breaking pitches on the staff at around 30% — threw his slider 34% of the time in his last start, leading to one run in six innings.

Maybe it’s not a slider revolution in terms of a specific approach that the Pirates are pushing. But the Pirates are seeing some very encouraging signs lately from pitchers who have added a slider, and from pitchers who are throwing their effective breaking stuff more often.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Bradenton is in third place in their division, four games behind the leader with 16 games remaining in the first half.

West Virginia is in fourth place in their division, seven games behind the leader with 18 games remaining in the first half.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 4-0 over the St Louis Cardinals on Friday night. They will send Chad Kuhl to the mound for his 12th start today. He allowed one earned run over six innings against the Chicago Cubs in his last start. The Cardinals scheduled starter is right-hander Luke Weaver, who has a 4.63 ERA in 58.1 innings, with 53 strikeouts and a 1.29 WHIP. He faced the Milwaukee Brewers in his last start and allowed four runs over four innings.

The minor league schedule includes Clay Holmes making his tenth appearance. He has 43 strikeouts in 41 innings this year, although he has also walked 26 batters. Austin Coley makes his second start for Altoona since being sent down from Indianapolis. James Marvel gets the start for Bradenton. After giving up one run over 12 innings in his previous two starts combined, Marvel allowed five runs on ten hits over 5.2 innings in his last start. West Virginia goes with Cody Bolton, making his second start and trying to follow up on five shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his debut.

The two DSL Pirates teams begin their season today. We will have a preview tomorrow. All of their games start at 10:30 AM and the starting pitchers are never announced, so that “probable starter” spot isn’t below by their records. They play 72 games and have off every Sunday.

MLB: Pittsburgh (30-27) @ Cardinals (30-25) 2:15 PM
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (3.94 ERA, 58:23 SO/BB, 61.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (25-26) vs Scranton/WB (25-28) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (5.05 ERA, 43:26 SO/BB, 41.0 IP)

AA: Altoona (26-24) @ Hartford (26-29) 6:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Austin Coley (3.00 ERA, 5:4 SO/BB, 6.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (27-22) vs Charlotte (24-26) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (3.92 ERA, 40:16 SO/BB, 57.1 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (25-24) @ Greensboro (25-27) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Cody Bolton (0.00 ERA, 8:1 SO/BB, 5.0 IP)

DSL: Pirates1 (0-0) vs Cubs 10:30 AM

DSL: Pirates2 (0-0) vs Colorado 10:30 AM

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis, Jordan Luplow goes a long way to make a nice running catching near the fence.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

6/1: Jung Ho Kang assigned to Bradenton

6/1: Montana DuRapau assigned to Altoona. Elvis Escobar placed on disabled list.

5/30: Brandon Waddell promoted to Indianapolis. Jerrick Suiter assigned to Morgantown.

5/30: Eduardo Vera promoted to Altoona.

5/29: Dario Agrazal placed on DL. Bryan Reynolds added to Altoona roster.

5/29: Joel Cesar activated from West Virginia DL. Blake Weiman promoted to Bradenton.

5/29: Brett McKinney released.

5/28: Ivan Nova placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Nick Kingham.

5/28: Pirates released George Kontos.

5/27: Raul Hernandez placed on disabled list. Yoel Gonzalez added to West Virginia roster.

5/26: Starling Marte activated from disabled list. Jose Osuna optioned to Indianapolis.

5/25: JT Brubaker assigned to Altoona. Austin Coley assigned to Altoona.

5/25: Jacob Taylor retired. Kevin Mahala was released.

5/24: Trae Arbet released. Jesse Medrano added to Bradenton roster.

5/23: JT Brubaker assigned to Altoona.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who played for the best team in franchise history. The most recent player born on this date is infielder Chance Sanford, who played for the 1998 club. He was drafted by the Pirates in the tenth round in 1991 and didn’t sign. One year later, they signed him out of the 27th round. Darnell Coles played right field for the Pirates in 1987-88. He was part of two notable trades, coming to the Pirates in exchange for third baseman Jim Morrison and going from the Pirates to the Mariners for outfielder Glenn Wilson.

Also born on this date, Jeff Schulz, who was a minor member of the 1991 NL East champs. During his only season with the Pirates, he went 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter. Infielder Gene Michael, who is well-known for his time with the Yankees, was signed by the Pirates as an amateur in 1959 and played for the 1966 club. The Pirates traded him to the Dodgers for Maury Wills. Tom Leahy, who played 24 games for the 1897 Pirates in a utility role, would be 148 today if modern medicine didn’t fail us.

Finally, Jack O’Connor, who caught 21 years in the big leagues, was born on this date in 1866. He was a member of two of the better clubs in franchise history, joining the team in 1900 and sticking around three years. His time with Pittsburgh did not end well. While the 1902 Pirates were busy winning their second straight NL title and putting together the best season in team history, O’Connor was released at the end of the year when the club found out he was trying to convince teammates to make the jump with him to the American League. You can read more on each player in the link above.

On this date in 1966, Vern Law shutout the Mets by a 6-0 score and also homered in the game. Willie Stargell batted eighth that day and homered and doubled. Donn Clendenon also homered. The homer by Law was his 11th and final one in his career. That is the record for Pirates pitchers. Here is the boxscore from that game.

Menu