There are a lot of comings and goings in baseball; 39 different players have tallied a plate appearance for the D-backs this season. Quite a few more played for the D-backs in spring training. Many are gone. Some, like Gerald Laird, are forgotten. Others are not. With so many players in camp, it’s easy to forget that many can leave a mark. Like Will Farrell, who, before playing his inning as an outfielder with the D-backs this spring training, explained on ESPN’s Mike and Mike radio show that many clubs were “looking for a clubhouse presence — you know, a 47-year-old journeyman to provide the intangibles.”
As Farrell explained in “Farrell Takes the Field,” he throws 63 different pitches. Is it a stretch to wonder if maybe he taught one to a member of the D-backs? That kind of thing happens all the time, no?
The Slurge. Farrell described it: “It’s a slider — curveball — a bit of a screwball — and the action of the pitch urges you to swing at it. Thus, ‘The Slurge.'”
Friends, we have a lot of information available to us about baseball. And I like to think we’re able to make some smart connections. But I can’t tell you exactly what happened here. I don’t know if Robbie Ray learned The Slurge from Farrell, or if Farrell learned it from him, or if somehow they both learned it from the same source (in Japan?). I don’t have all the answers.
But I can tell you: Robbie Ray throws the same pitch.
We’ve been over this ad nauseam. In the spring, it looked like Ray had finally gotten a consistent handle on some version of a breaking ball, and it looked good. In his limited MLB time in 2014, nearly all of Ray’s breaking balls had had a spin rate under 500 per minute. In one brilliant, shining Cactus League start, Ray threw thirteen breaking pitches, and every last one had a spin rate over 500 (averaging around 800).
That was March 11th. The next day, Will Farrell joined the roster.
Fast forward, and despite fits of dominance like the 6-inning, 5-baserunner, 7-strikeout gem he tossed against the Dodgers on Tuesday, Robbie Ray is absolutely throwing The Slurge. As defined by Farrell, it’s 1) a combination pitch; 2) part slider; 3) part curveball; 4) has a bit of screwball; and 5) are urged to swing.
1. Combination pitch? Check. The spin rate has been all over the map.
2. Part slider? Check. Like Ray, Patrick Corbin throws left handed. Unlike Ray, Corbin throws a particularly effective slider. Changeups and sinkers don’t really sink because of movement; they just “rise” less than a four-seam fastball (in terms of break; in reality, with gravity in play, all pitches do sink). A slider rises almost not at all. This year, his fastball has had over 6 inches of “rise,” but his slider has -0.18 inches of vertical movement (basically: nothing). Ray’s averages 1.98 inches of rise. Compared with 9.50 inches on his four-seam and 7.06 inches on his sinker, Ray’s slider barely rises — and the difference between his slurge and his fastball is almost exactly the same as the difference between Corbin’s slider and fastball.
3. Part curveball? Check. Vertical movement makes Ray’s slurge look like a slider, but velocity in particular makes it look like a curve. At nearly 20% usage this year, Jeremy Hellickson is the team’s most frequent thrower of curveballs, and he throws his about 13 mph slower than his four-seam. Take out about 30% of the most slider-ish slurges, and Ray’s velo difference is also about 13 mph. 25% of them have been slower than 81 mph, a far cry from the 94 mph Ray most often puts up with his four-seam. About 15% of the slurges have negative vertical break. Not a good curve, but there’s some curve in there.
4. A little bit of screwball? Check! In PITCHf/x, screwballs look like curveballs in terms of vertical movement, with almost no break downward at all (but no rise). They look like changeups in terms of horizontal movement; a changeup breaks in the same direction horizontally as a pitcher’s fastball, but a curveball — snapped off the wrist to spin in almost the opposite direction as a fastball — breaks in the other direction, to the glove side instead of the arm side. Guess what! Ray’s slurge has less run than his fastballs, but only 15% of the time does it break to the glove side. Almost half the time, it has a more than trivial amount of break to his arm side, 2 or more inches. It doesn’t quite explain everything, but just as the reverse arm twist of a screwball can snap the ball in a fastball direction, Ray’s failures to snap the ball most of the time in a curveball direction accomplishes a lot of the same thing.
5. Encourage the hitter to swing? Check check check!
The Slurge, ladies and gentlemen. The slurge.
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