Why Are So Many Twins Pitchers Throwing Gyro Sliders?

Photo credit: Jonah Hinebaugh/Naples Daily News/USA Today Network-Florida-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Minnesota Twins are starting an organizational trend. Much like the sweeper last season and the splitter this season, pitchers add or tweak pitches to fit league-wide trends. Gyro sliders seem to be Minnesota’s trendy pitch.

As MLB’s Mike Petriello alludes to in an article from January, pitchers steer baseball’s direction. Years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates popularized low sinkers to induce grounders before the “analytics revolution” deemed high active spin, high in the zone four-seamers to be the best way to strike out hitters.

Although high four-seamers have lost some juice since taking the league by storm, they still dominate in usage. Secondary pitches that best play off high four-seamers, such as splitters, have also grown in popularity.

The way splitters tunnel off four-seamers and “fall off the table” beneath the zone makes them deadly whiff pitches. However, their rise to prominence has just as much to do with their past as a taboo pitch that injured hurlers.

Gyro sliders could be seen as the cousin of the splitter, and their incorporation into Chris Paddack and Bailey Ober’s arsenal might reflect Minnesota’s hope to strengthen their four-seamer-based approaches. They work as excellent whiff pitches in much the same way as splitters. Their vertical movement profiles tunnel well with four-seamers and have also been a popular slider for players who struggle to spin the ball.

Ober loves to throw his four-seamers high (79% high location percentage, 100th percentile), and he has found plenty of success in doing so, with a 15.6% swinging strike rate (93rd percentile) on his four-seamer. He already has a changeup, curveball, and slider, but a gyro slider gives him a new look and a putaway pitch he needs.

Paddack refers to his new gyro slider as a cutter. It looks an awful lot like the slider, as MLBPitchProfiler labeled it, and he used it at the end of last season. Because of its movement profile, velocity (84 mph), and 0% active spin (meaning the only spin affecting the ball is gyroscopic), I’ll describe it as a gyro slider.

Pitches with between 0 and 5 inches of horizontal movement (for a righty) that sit between 83 and 87 miles per hour fit the somewhat arbitrary description of a gyro slider, which can include pitches other people label as cutters.

Paddack appears to be incorporating the gyro slider/cutter for much the same reason other pitchers are adding splitters. His changeup has been an effective whiff pitch, although pitchers use changeups most effectively against opposite-handed hitters. A slider gives him a bat-misser against righties instead of his less effective curveball.

With a high-induced vertical break four-seamer to attack the top of the zone, Paddack can fully embrace a north-south approach with his new pitch.

We can see the gyro slider’s propensity to miss bats statistically, even compared to other types of sliders. Sliders with induced horizontal break (IHB) between 0 and 5 inches have a swinging strike (SwStr) rate of 16.5%. We can call these gyro sliders. Sweepers, or sliders with more than 13 inches of break, have a SwStr of 14.6%. Sliders between 5 and 13 inches of break are in the middle at 15.8% and can be called “classic” sliders.

There’s an odd group of sliders that fall out of the aforementioned range that curiously perform even better. For a righty, positive IHB represents glove-side break, while negative IHB represents arm-side break.

These gravity-busting negative IHB sliders are often called “wrong-way sliders” like Dauri Moreta’s, and they can operate a lot like screwballs. Only 14 pitchers threw these types of sliders last year, making up only 3.8% of all sliders in this dataset.

Still, these bizarre pitches had an absurd 18.1% SwStr.

*All data is from right-handers only in the 2023 season, courtesy of Alex Chamberlain’s Tableau

You can see the numbers above in a graphic here:

Gyro sliders are sort of the splitter of sliders. Splitters have an average SwStr of 17.4%, while all other changeups are 14.6%.

But like splitters, gyro sliders aren’t as good as called strike (CS) pitches, which are the worst of these four categories. Gyro sliders earned called strikes on 14.5% of pitches thrown, beneath the sweeper’s 15.9 CS%, the “classic” slider’s 15.5 CS%, and the wrong-way slider’s 15.2%.

It depends on what feels comfortable anatomically, but pitchers looking to add more swing-and-miss may opt to throw a gyro slider.

Some pitchers will find gyro sliders easier to command, but there isn’t evidence of that in this dataset. A gyro slider is not necessarily better than a sweeper, and neither is necessarily better than a “classic” slider. The best sliders are the ones located in the shadows of the zone.

The difference is small, but gyro sliders had a higher shadow rate than sweepers. The quality of the pitcher is important, and this minor difference could be explained by better pitchers throwing gyro sliders. Gyro sliders had a shadow rate of 40.1%, with sweepers at 39.3%, “classic” sliders at 40.4%, and wrong-way sliders at 39.7%:

The Twins are searching for a way to return more whiffs. As hitters grow increasingly weary of high four-seamers, pitchers must find ways to fool them. Splitters are the current favorite, but there’s room for gyro sliders. That’s why you’ll see Minnesota’s pitchers throw them more often.

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