If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Till It Is

Spring Training is upon us, as signaled by the onslaught of upbeat stories about how the players spent their winter hibernation. Maikel Franco has slimmed down. Finally, a stolen base threat! Cesar Hernandez packed on fifteen pounds of muscle. He won’t have to run the bases if he’s hitting the ball over the fence! Mark Appel is finally getting full extension in his delivery. I had no idea full extension was still in play for Appel. This is a game changer!

Most of these anecdotes are forgotten by the time real baseball gets underway. A few, however, will remain relevant. One story with that potential: Hector Neris decided he needs a third pitch.

Neris is planning on reintroducing his slider, a pitch he shelved last year in deference to his split-finger fastball. The issue with this plan: Neris was good in 2016 because he did not throw his slider.

Neris thrived with a simple approach. Throw a good fastball. Throw a dominant splitter. It worked. So why is he pulling his slider back off the shelf?

“The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect.”CSNPhilly

The error in this thought is twofold. One, opposing batters have yet to show they can hit that combination of fastballs and splitters. And two, his slider is not very good. Consider the relevant career numbers on each of his pitches.

Pitch Whiff% wOBA
4-Seamer 12.2% .316
2-Seamer 6.3% .369
Splitter 23.8% .208
Slider 9.6% .477

 

The slider is a fly ball heavy pitch, and Neris does not induce enough swing-and-misses with the pitch to justify its use. Even an improved version would likely be a steep downgrade from his much better offspeed pitch, the split-finger fastball. Neris leaned on his splitter last year, and it did not fail to perform. And that is the primary issue. Each slider thrown by Neris would displace a better option.

Wanting to improve upon his breakout year is a fine sentiment, but the focus is misplaced. When Neris did struggle last year, it was not due to the lack of a third pitch. It was a result of losing his fastball command. If there is improvement to be made, it’ll be found in locating that pitch with consistency, and leaving the dust on the slider.

Now what’s this I hear about Franco’s new approach at the plate? I smell playoffs!

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