With the spread of the novel coronavirus delaying the start of Major League Baseball's 2020, we have plenty of time to ponder life's big questions. Rather than do that, we've decided to use this interim period to rank things -- like, say, the best pitches in baseball. Over the next week, we'll be highlighting pitchers who offer quality renditions of five different pitch types:and fastballs, , sliders and changeups. That process continues today, with sliders.
Here's how this will work. In each article, we'll touch on five pitchers: the three best; a "best kept secret," whose offering is underappreciated for some reason; and a "who's next?" or a pitch that belongs to a prospect but could someday top the field.
A fair and valid question to ask is: well, how did we come up with these rankings? The simple answer is that we used a combination of analytics and observations. The more complex answer -- and the one tailored specifically for sliders -- is that we prioritized a couple of attributes, including the pitch's tilt. We also required that the pitch was usable -- that means the pitcher could locate their slider well enough for its innate characteristics to matter.
It should be clear by now that these rankings are objective by nature. We're not pretending these are gospel handed down from above, and we're fine if people want to swap in other pitchers as they see fit. There are more than three good practitioners of any given pitch, folks.
With all that legal mumbo jumbo out of the way, let's rank some freaking sliders.
The three best
You had to know a Nationals pitcher was going to lead off this list, be it Corbin or Max Scherzer, who, spoiler alert, checks in at No. 2. Scherzer's slider posted a better wOBA against in 2019, but we're giving Corbin the nod due to history and his reliance upon the pitch.
Although Corbin toned down his slider usage a little during his first season in D.C., he still threw it 37 percent of the time. Why wouldn't he? Opponents showed little ability to tame it, hitting .158 and whiffing on 52 percent of their swings. Let's roll that beautiful swing-and-miss footage:
No pitcher in baseball recorded as many strikeouts on sliders as Corbin did, with 157. You can see why.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Scherzer's slider, for its part, held batters to a .172 average and generated whiffs on 50.6 percent of the swings taken against it. He had the lowest ISO on his slider in the majors, according to Baseball Prospectus, meaning that even when batters made contact they weren't doing much with it.
One way to gauge the merits of a pitch is to see how good hitters fare against it. With that in mind, here is a curated set of clips wherein Scherzer's slider turns New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso into a windmill:
Verlander finished second in the majors in strikeouts on his slider last season, trailing only the aforementioned Corbin, and held opponents to a .119 average. Interestingly, Verlander did that while using his slider more often than he had before in his career. Who says you can't teach old pitchers new usage tricks?
Probably someone who doesn't have a slider that good at coercing batters to go fishing.
The best kept secret
Last season marked the first time in his big-league career that Garrett used his slider as his primary pitch. Based on the results, he's likely to maintain that approach heading forward. Opponents whiffed on more than 54 percent of Garrett's sliders they offered toward in 2019, and hit just .121 when they did manage to make contact.
A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics
You could argue that Puk's teammate, Jesus Luzardo, should have this spot. We're going with Puk, though, in part because pitch classification algorithms label Luzardo's breaking ball as a curve.
Puk throws his slider extremely hard, with the pitch clocking in at 89.6 mph during his big-league stint last season. He's shown some feel for backfooting it against righties, and that development heeds watching heading forward.