This is a simultaneous contradiction of unsurprising and surprising. The A's are terrible and for months, started Eric Surkamp every fifth day. Of course their sliders are terrible. But if I told you back in March that the A's, a team that has featured baller sliders like Sonny Gray's and Chris Bassitt's, would be at nearly their worst when throwing those pitches, it wouldn't make a lot of sense.
Instead, the baseball gods got drunk and went on an A's ruining rampage. Gray got hurt, lost his slider except for rare instances of bad ones, Bassitt's arm exploded, and no one else lived up to their billing.
The overall numbers
|Slider Usage||Slider Value||Average Velocity||BAA||Slugging Against||ISO||Exit Velocity|
This isn't some funky metric thing, the A's have been terrible by nearly every stat available.
Gray, who we've already mentioned, has been terrible. That's understandable in the context of his injury. As he's returned, his slider usage has increased some and he's looking like the pitcher of old. We can't just discount the pre-injury days but he should, if healthy, be better.
Last year, Gray had one of the best sliders in the game. Ranking 14th, his slider was 8.6 runs above average. This year? A full run below average. Bassitt was similarly bad prior to going down with injury, and his terribleness is likely entirely explained by his UCL injury. We'll cut him a break and spare you the details, but Bassitt underwent a similar change as Gray.
The last major disappointment has to be Sean Manaea. Scouting reports on Manaea's slider glowed with anticipation. He's shown neither the command nor raw stuff we expected with it so far, and it's inevitably been a big part of his struggles, even with his other pitches. That could change in a heartbeat, Manaea's career is just barely underway. But the A's hopes of a decent season relied heavily on its pitching, and their top pitching prospect has disappointed largely.
A situational explanation
One of the more annoying trends for this year's team are the hits in pitcher's counts. When A's pitchers are ahead in the count, they're 20% worse than league average. That comes out to a .564 OPS which doesn't sound terrible, but has resulted in many lost opportunities, more than the average team. In 0-2 counts specifically, the A's are 30% worse than league average. We can all recall specific instances of hitters demolishing 0-2 offerings.
The slider is an out pitch, frequently thrown in extreme pitcher's counts like 0-2. It's a pitch that shouldn't be hit simply due to situation: often times, throwing a strike with a slider is worse than throwing a ball. The A's are one of only 10 teams who are worse than average with their slider and it's undoubtedly tied to their awful pitcher's count results.
An effect beyond a single pitch
The way pitch values are calculated is by looking at what happens pitch by pitch. The majority of the the damage is done by hits. Homeruns and doubles cause the most damage against pitchers, whiffs and groundballs cause the most positive changes.
Every pitch, regardless of if its taken for a strike or a ball, is used to calculate that value. Gray's slider has been a ball 11% more of the time this year than last, for example, putting hitters in better counts and more importantly, just not putting hitters away.
It's inevitably affected early count failures, too. Hitters don't have to fear put-away sliders like they would have a year ago, taking value away from the A's ability to get ahead. They can be choosier earlier in the count, jumping on only the best pitches for them. Baseball is a deeply nuanced game and every pitch has an effect on every pitch. The A's poor sliders have certainly been a part of their overall poor pitching, outside of the slider too.
A walk down repressed memory lane
The access we have to baseball information is a beautiful thing, provided your team isn't terrible. When your team is terrible, looking at all this data is akin to eating some wild mushrooms you found in your backyard, then watching what happens on your insides on live TV. You know it's going to be bad, but thanks to technology, you have access to all the brutal details!
Here's a pitch more central in the zone than if it were placed on a tee.
This one catches too much of the plate.
This one is up.
I show you these videos not just as payback for me spending some quality Netflix time watching A's pitchers get demolished, but to show you how fixable some of this is. My god, it is just so fixable. If Sonny Gray is truly healthy, he'll start burying those sliders down for swinging strikes instead of leaving them up for long home runs. This is still a talented staff who should be better with their best weapon.