Vince Velasquez is usually referred to by fans as a “two pitch” pitcher. The fastball and curveball are what define the righty, pitches he throws roughly 78% of the time this season. While he has registered three other pitches this year - sinker, changeup and slider - he rarely uses them while on the mound. And that is a problem.
Brooks Baseball is an invaluable resource for any kind of fan, giving them Pitchf/x information for any pitcher that has thrown a pitch during the era. If you head on over to Velasquez’s page, you’ll be greeted with a general description of his repertoire. Clicking on the link, you can read the full paragraph for yourself, but for these purposes, I wanted to focus in on one sentence in particular.
His slider is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has some two-plane movement.
This strikes me as interesting because they are basing this statement off of 48 total pitches out of the 518 Velasquez has thrown. Making any kind of assumptions on such a few number of pitches can be dangerous, but it is something that is worth exploring nonetheless.
So far, the sliders that Velasquez has thrown have averaged about 85 miles per hour (m.p.h.), which creates almost 10 m.p.h. of difference off of the four-seamer. It’s a good change of pace for him, especially because of where he has been putting the pitch in the zone, shown here. He’s burying the pitch down and away, which has led to good results when he uses it.
Velasquez’s slider results
This matches up with the statement on Velasquez’s card in that his slider induces a high number of groundballs when the ball is put in play. Batters have only gone a feeble 1 for 15 against it (again, SSS), meaning he is getting that high amount of the desired weak contact. He doesn’t throw it much against lefties, preferring to show it only to same handed batters, so there’s something to that. Yet according to Statcast, he has an xwOBA of of .233 on it. From what they see, batters just aren’t going to do much with the pitch. So, we can pretty confidently say that statistically, Velasquez has a pitch he should be throwing more often. By the numbers, it’s proven that he can get outs with it, especially ones that are easier for his defense to gobble up. But a good question to ask: what do opposing hitters look like when they are making contact? Are they squaring it up and getting unlucky, or are they truly fooled by the pitch?
Sometimes when a pitcher abandons a pitch that he has in his back pocket, there is a good reason (at least in his mind). One plausible reason is that hitters are putting good swings on it, barreling it up and leaving fate up to the BABIP gods. Due to that hard contact, the pitcher just doesn’t even bother throwing it anymore out fear of being crushed each time the pitch is delivered. But that isn’t really happening with Velasquez, at least from what I’ve seen. I went to the amazing Baseball Savant and did a Statcast search for all the sliders Velasquez has thrown that have resulted in contact, coming up with 12 of them. Of these 12, only one resulted in a hit, another was a throwing error, and the rest were outs. The average launch angle was -1.13 degrees, and the average exit velocity was about 85 miles per hour. But again we ask ourselves: how does the hitter look when he is swinging against the pitch? So, I looked for some gifs from four seperate instances when Velasquez threw a slider. Two are swings and misses, one is hard contact, and one is an elite hitter fooled by the pitch.
This first one is against Dansby Swanson, which resulted in a strikeout:
It was meant to be down and away (watch Andrew Knapp pound the dirt) and he buried it. Swanson is completely fooled by this pitch, committing to swinging because it started to look good before diving out of the zone. This next one is against Ryan Flaherty, a lefty, which also resulted in a strikeout:
Same thing as Swanson. Velasquez does exactly what Knapp calls for because Knapp is aware of the kind of movement the pitch has. It looks like a strike coming in, then darts down and out of the zone. These are two very good pitches. Now, here’s what happens when he misses:
This is a slider that is in a bad spot and is promptly hit squarely. This is the one hit Velasquez has given up on a slider this year and even that was smacked into the ground. Hit hard, yes, but still one into the dirt. Now, at this point you’re probably wondering why there isn’t much else other than Braves. Well, we all know that the Phillies only play the Braves in 2018, but here’s a short clip against Paul Goldschmidt:
This is an 84 m.p.h. slider that Goldschmidt is way out in front of, which is very important to Velasquez if he wants to start to use the pitch more. The reason relates to sequencing and tunneling. Velasquez started this plate appearance with a 94 m.p.h. fastball in roughly the same area. He followed it up with this slider, the result of which you see above. According to Baseball Prospectus, Velasquez has followed up a fastball with a slider 21 times this season to a right handed batter. When he throws it, there is an average of 1.41 inches of distance between the two pitches at the tunnel point, a number that is on par with pitchers like Chris Archer (1.39 in), Gerrit Cole (1.42 in) and Max Scherzer (1.45 in). Put another way, his slider looks almost the same as those pitchers at the same tunnel point, pitchers right now with some of the best sliders in the game. While Velasquez’s slider is 2-3 m.p.h. slower than theirs, coming at the hitter, it resembles a fastball until late in the at bat, which is resulting in the groundballs. It’s a pitch he needs to start trusting more often.
There is probably a very good reason why Velasquez has been so hesitant to throw his slider. That’s between him and the coaches on the Phillies. However, judging from some of the evidence we’ve seen here, perhaps he needs to be convinced to throw it a little more often. I’d be willing to bet it would give him more success on the mound he’s going to need as he heads into a very important month’s worth of starts. If he’s unable to have that success, there is a better than zero chance he won’t be making many more starts for this team.
As always, thanks to Paul Boye for the gif-making wizardry.