So how has Buehler transformed in his second season as a starting pitcher? The key ingredient in the recipe has been the slider. Moreover, it’s been how he thinks when he throws the pitch. One of my favorites – Eno Sarris – writes about this over at The Athletic MLB.
This piece is about pitch design and how intent should factor into pitch coaching, but it has some alternate titles.
“How Buehler re-found his slider”
“How Means found his change”
“How Quantrill’s slider ended up better than scouting reports” https://t.co/WgUdnRk8z9
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) August 6, 2019
Primarily, Buehler began ruling the earth by getting more swings and misses with the slider back in June. The graphic below displays that while the pitch is the same speed, it has more drop; and hitters aren’t touching it. In fact, every fourth time Buehler has thrown it in that time period; the batter has came up empty.
Sarris writes a little bit more about the link between Buehler’s thought process and mechanics on the pitch.
The link between mechanics and thought process seems like a straight line in this case, but sometimes the thought is a little more nebulous, as it was with Walker Buehler. The Dodgers phenom came into the big leagues with a devastating hammer and great velocity, and has since been searching for the right slider to pull it all together. Last year, he changed the grip on the pitch and found success, but late in the year it started to drop less, and he thought it could have another gear if he reversed the trend. You can guess how he did it.
Therefore, Buehler puts it in his own words for us. It’s not that he’s gripping it any different. While keeping theme with Sarris’ article – Buehler simply says he’s thinking about getting more downward action on the pitch.
“Just a thought,” Buehler told me in early June. “I’m trying to throw it so it goes down. The grip and mechanics are the same, just a different cue.”
Finally, this is just one of those small facets within the beautiful game that even the most die-hard fans wouldn’t pick up on without a player talking about it. It’s incredible to know that a young pitcher at Buehler’s age can have this type of mental acuity and command of a secondary pitch.
When you think about it, he’s probably only scratching the surface with things he will uncover to get big league hitters out. Having great ‘stuff’ can only take one so far, and offer so high of a ceiling. But it is a quality such as this that is the foundation that Cy Young Awards are built around.