Sudoku Answer Key: Maurer's Epic Slider
The key to his game on a night-in, night-out basis


In last Saturday's cartoon section, we offered this little puzzle:


Open this Brandon Maurer vid in a new window.  See if you can find the reasons that his slider is functionally invisible... Here are the pitches, in sequence.  

  • 0:15 - 87 changeup
  • 0:24 - 86 high slider to LHB (contradiction in terms)
  • 0:34 - 84 slider low-away to RHB, garbage swing
  • 0:44 - 84 slider cap-to-knees vs RHB, garbage swing
  • 0:51 - 86 slider letter high, topped
  • 1:00 - 74 change curve
  • 1:15 - 85 slider low-away to RHB, garbage swing

Per F/X, Maurer's slider has a normal break ... -0.0 sideways, actually +2.0 inches up and down.  


=== Command?  Well ... ===

A few brave souls ventured their interpretations.  Most waited for the answer key, so those who slid their papers forward, they (um) command ... respect.  

:- )

Maurer has unusual control of the slider?  No doubt control factors in.  On the three garbage swings above, all were well located.

But on the other hand, you'll notice that the batters poked at the ball with much-reduced, two hand "pepper" swings -- and still missed by a mile.  It is precisely this that is the phenomenon we're referring to.

On the second pitch too, at the 0:24 mark, the lefty batter takes a two-hand pepper type swing and barely manages to top the ball. There is a weird effect going on as though the batter's aren't seeing the ball well.


=== Deception ===

Rockies Jeff is a man who speaks softly and carries a very, very large pitching-coach stick.  Looks to him, he says, like batters are not seeing the ball well in the first 20 feet.

Just so!  It is in this case that it can be an advantage to have a slider that is close in velocity to the fastball.  In this event the VELOCITY AS SUCH gives no clue, none at all, as to which pitch is in flight.


In my opinion Maurer has four separate things that create extra deception between his FB and SL:

  • Hard, above-average, spin on both the FB and SL (F/X confirms the spin advantage)
  • Similar velocity (Maurer's slider is one of the hardest RH sliders in baseball)
  • Similar "first 20 feet" flight paths
  • Unusual hand action and arm action on both

Would love to have RockiesJeff, or a pitcher, or somebody, take a real close look at Maurer's release in the video above.  He's doing something weird with his hand ... can't for the life of me figure out what it is.


=== High Velocity, and 12-6, Slider ===

Because Maurer's slider drops straight down, and comes in so hard, its early flight path mirrors that of his fastball.  It's a Clayton Kershaw effect -- whipsawing the batter between high FB's that stay up out of the zone, and high-to-low yellow hammers that drop down into it.



Maurer's slider drops normally relative to baseball, but drops hugely relative to Maurer's fastball and change -- which rise almost as much as Stephen Pryor's.

There should be an "F/X Vertical Delta" column, I guess. Maurer throws his fastball, and sets the batter's brain for the vertical flight path.  Then his slider rolls off the table with a vengeance, relative to that baseline.  Maurer's slider will read on F/X as having normal drop.  It will read on the batter's mind as having a hellacious drop.


=== Felix' Dry Spitter ===

Felix' awesome changeup has become his signature pitch.  It comes in so hard, and drops so sharply, that sometimes it seems like a miracle when batters make contact.  (Such is the stupefyingly grand skill level of the modern MLB hitter.)

Felix' "changeup" comes in just a few MPH slower than his heater -- and on a similar trajectory.  It's got to look, to the hitter, just like a fastball that does an "L" down to the ground just as he swings.


Maurer's slider is the same:  comes in as a fastball, does an "L" as the batter swings.  You'd think there would be more pitches like this around baseball, but there really aren't.

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a signature pitch.  Baseball history is woven around the fabric of pitchers who used One Signature Pitch to torment batters for decades at a time - Sparky Lyle's screwball, Mo Rivera's cutter, Bert Blyleven's curve ball, David Cone's slider, Mike Mussina's knuckle curve, Jamie Moyer's changeup, on and on.

Whatever its F/X, Maurer's slider has a late drop, a huge drop, and obviously comes out of his hand looking exactly like a fastball.  The batters' waves and misses are hilarious, creating a sort of Michael Pineda "U Can't Touch This" effect.


=== A Career's Worth of Sliders? ===

Can the league adjust?  Well, Ryan Dempster has used exactly this pitch -- and not a whole lot else, though he's a very fine pitcher -- to pile up 17 WAR the last five seasons.  Dempster has that pitch, and he throws it 30-35% of the time, and he bases the entire rest of his game off of that signature weapon. 

Where Dempster occasionally mixes a split for putaways, Maurer has a swerveball changeup that looks considerably more effective than Dempster's split (good though it is).  Also, Maurer is reported to throw 91-96 MPH, at least at age 23, so maybe he has a shot to run a few years with better stuff than Dempster's.  That's saying a whale of a lot.

We said that Maurer's top end is as a Grade A- or B+ starter.  That were true if his velocity settled in at 89-92.  We've heard rumors of 95, 96 MPH.  If THAT occurs, take two season tickets and call me in the morning.

The movement on Maurer's fastball and changeup ... that's a whole other story.  Freddy had terrific movement on his FB and curve, his second and third pitches.  For now let's savor the key to Maurer's game.


Here we went again today.  Maurer supposedly had his B game ... no, his C game against the Rockies.  After the game, he said he fell back on ... his slider.  He won the game.

The kid gets it.


Skittish beat writers -- who predict Maurer as having a 50-50 chance of washing out of the bigs this year -- would like to know what somebody could possibly tell you from watching the game on TV. 

... not everything, but some things.  Such as the fact that Brandon Maurer has a bread-and-butter game that is certainly going to survive AAA/MLB transition.

SSI Best Bet,

Dr D


SeattleNative57's picture

All of this wonderfully insightful analysis was garnered without stepping one foot into the clubhouse ... c'est incredible ... and free of charge (so far).

SeattleNative57's picture

along with his baseball IQ. His pitch selection and how he works the count seem advanced for his experience, or lack thereof. I'm anticipating a helluva year from this
kid. Which, if all goes well, should be the advance edition of a pitching renaissance unseen in these parts and most of MLB in quite some time. In the near future I can hear us referring to these times as, "...those days in Seattle when pitching was King...".


Three things were apparent:
1. He works quick
2. He struggled a bit and wasn't ahead in the count a lot...and still was tough
3. He throws the slider with impunity, whatever the count
Tulo's shot was a goner in Safeco. I'm not so sure about Helton's. I think there was a clear Salt Lake City effect on that one. Wasn't that the Changeup that he hit out? If so, it was still a neat pitch, catching too much of the plate, however. How many guys wrist out to the opposite field that pitch? Not many.
Wouldn't surprise me if he isn't our #2 guy right now.
Joe Saunders better get guys out soon. If not, I feel a DL sting coming up.

ghost's picture

If Doc ever needs to go behind a pay wall...I'll pay for it and do it gladly. Because he's actually providing something unique and insightful. Geoff Baker is a smart guy, but he's just doing what every other baseball beat writer does but with a little more flare. Doc has a unique type of analysis and a unique fearlessness with which he presents said analysis that I think would be worth paying for.
But what do I know...I've never set foot in the clubhouse.

Brent's picture

and Helton's HR got out due to altitude (something's he's quite familiar with) and the wind blowing out to left. The park is situated with home plate on the northwest corner, and the wind usually comes from the west/northwest off the salt flats and the lake, which means left to left-center is the wind-aided-home-run field. Grandstand isn't high enough to block wind like it would in a MLB park. That said, if the ball had been down at the knees, instead of belt high, it's a grounder to shortstop or perhaps even swing-and-a-miss. Pitcher made a mistake, MLB-quality hitter did what MLB-quality hitters are supposed to do to mistakes. Morales' HR wouldn't have made it out of Safeco either - it barely cleared the fence.
I think your point number three is the key. Maurer works backwards in the count and is confident in his off-speed pitch. Behind in the count? Here's a breaking ball that you'll be out on your front foot flailing away at because you were expecting fastball.

tjm's picture

You're exactly right, Doc, on the root of the deception. Having an off-speed or breaking pitch that looks exactly like a fastball out of the hand is almost unfair. In talking to hitters who have faced Felix's change this is exactly the point they make. "Nobody wants to swing at a pitch in the dirt," Tampa's Elliot Johnson said. The problem is the hitter has no way of knowing which it is.
Lots of pitchers throw what appear to be equally good change-ups, even better in turns of speed separation. But almost all of those have some tell. Often, a change will pop out of the hand - appearing to rise. The smart hitter sees a different trajectory and knows it's not fastball. Felix has none of that. Same slot, same release point, same trajectory. They all look the same until the last second, by which time it's too late. It's why the lack of speed separation doesn't hurt him.
You would think they could read Maurer's slider by the spin. That's the normal sign of a slider, the famous dot. Maybe like Felix it's just throwhn so hard they lose that extra fraction of a second they need to differentiate.
NB: Sparky threw a slider, not a screwball.


The greater the difference between the release point and the hitter's eye level, the more time it takes to see the red dot. That is one reason for lowering the mound in '68 - sliders from guys like Gibson were impossible to pick up. If Maurer is throwing with a very tight, fast spin (he is) and from a high release point (he is) and the velocity is relatively high (it is) and the deception is good (apparently it is - I'd have to go to the clubhouse for this piece (;-)), then it will be hard to pick up for the first few milli-seconds - enough to induce garbage swings from most hitters. It would be interesting to cross Fx with hitter height to see if taller hitters are getting a slightly better look.

OBF's picture

DID go behind a pay wall for a little while... And many people (including me) DID pay for it. And I would again.
Your quote from the other thread was SPOT on:
Your readers have told you what they want - they don't want to buy the whole paper...they want to buy YOU...that's how the economy will work in the future...the Times would be wise to see that.
I wouldn't be paying for KLAT or even M's baseball analysis per se.  I would be paying for...  Dr. D, Jemanji...  Jeff Clarke!  I would pay for Spec, and G and Lonnie too, btw.  THAT's what I would be willing to pay for!  It is the authors themselves and not the content!  Just like I am sure the USSM folks would pay for those authors, and the LL folks would pay out the nose to get Sully back (why so many Jeff's in the M's blog-o-sphere?)
This is not so dissimilar to regular books, you know.  Thats the reason John Grisham, or Stephan king can write practicaly the same novel over and over and over again, yet produce best seller after best seller.  People fall in love with the author.  Now journalism is catching up to that.
And Geoff, if you are reading this, FWIW I too would pay for YOU.  Not the seattle times, but for you.  (of course 4 bucks a week would be a little steep, but try a couple bucks a month and I bet you could make back your salary in a day or two of sign ups ;) )

RockiesJeff's picture

Everyone, great comments above. Love the reminders of the mountain mound and the Bob Gibsons of the world. I didn't get a chance to see the M's opener but did see on that Felix seemed to dominate with his changeup. Jeff, I agree. That acts like his signature pitch. Add a few extra pitches that might be signature for others and we have our King.
I love looking at the video on Maurer. What I see is the fun mystery of pitching like any sport mechanically. Ideal mechanics vary with each pitcher’s physical and mental make up. There are the Maurer peculiarities mixed in with the fundamental principles that every pitcher must do. He tends to dip more than most but not exaggerated as a Lincecum. Pretty upright at release. His glove arm has a funny twist yet is sound. The weird action? I see a slight hitch at separation but not sure if I am seeing what you are talking about. Low tech me!!

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