Shortly before the Grand League camp broke up three weeks ago, Chicago Cubs pitcher Ethan Roberts tried to use a new handle for his slider.
The offer came from assistant pitching coach Daniel Mascas. Given Roberts ‘natural supine position for his quick release and how well the right-hander can spin a baseball, Mascos felt that Roberts’ slider was not the best version of the field.
So, Mascas thought it worth trying to use the next level slider, which will give Roberts more opportunities to knock out.
“The first thing in my equation when I’m going to make an adjustment or an implementation is,‘ Okay, what are we deciding for? ’” Mascos told the Tribune. “Are these platoon splits? Doesn’t he betray enough people, whatever it is. So, probably, the place to look for was to find a break ball with a swing and a miss ”.
Roberts ’new handle doesn’t look like a traditional slider handle and is more reminiscent of a two-stitch handle for a fast ball, placing its right index and middle fingers to the left of the two seams. His natural throw makes his hand and wrist in the right position to create a devastating rotation from his fingertips.
“It’s actually very comfortable in my hands,” Roberts told the Tribune. “In the spring training, when I threw him in a couple of bullpen, I could throw him on strike, but there’s a different atmosphere, so I pull out a few of them. But I stick to it because it worked very well for me. ”
Roberts creates elite rotation speed and horizontal movement with his slider, and they both rank first among right-handers in the major leagues. His average of 3,044 rpm surpasses only Oakland Athletics left-hander Sam Mol (3082).
Roberts ’21-inch horizontal movement equals New York Yankees left-hander Lucas Luetge for best among 283 pitchers who throw at least 10 reptiles this season.
Roberts also gives a bigger drop vertically than the league average. The combination of his horizontal break slider and vertical drop challenges the eyes of the strikers and makes it a great move.
“I had a feeling that given the back profile that he does with his fastball, it could be a really good serve,” Muscos said. “I really didn’t know it was going to be as good as it used to be. You can’t set your expectations so high, even though what he did exceeded your highest expectations ”.
The pitcher usually works through progress when introducing a new serve or grab during spring training, starting with bullpen and batting practice live before using it in show games. A shortened spring due to the lock meant creativity. Roberts was looking for any chance to throw his new slider: on a level ground, in a game of fishing, in throws between exits or somewhere where he could climb out of the mound and collect data about the field.
Mascas introduced Roberts to the grip on March 27, and Roberts first deployed it the next day during a rescue opportunity in the Cactus League against the Cincinnati Reds. Roberts threw his slider a new look just once more in the game before the regular season, releasing it again on April 1 against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Fortunately, he took it up right away, and changing his grip was easy for him,” Muskos said. “Right from the gate, he pretty much nailed it, so now the hardest thing for him is to find lanes that can be thrown.”
Because Roberts gets so much horizontal running on his new slider, he can’t adjust his sight lines the same way as his old version. On Tuesday in Roberts ’first major league against Pittsburgh Pirates, catcher Wilson Contreras placed his glove on the inside edge of the zone to show where he wants the right-hander to throw the slider. Contreras knew that the field would end where they wanted – low and far.
Roberts did it perfectly. Roberto Perez waved at the slider that generated 24 inches of horizontal motion.
“Part of it is an element of trust that will shift when I start,” Muscos said. “If you’re aiming for a right-handed reflector to start your slider line, you have to believe it will break so you don’t give up a free kick on the step when left with your hand on your hand.
“And so it is an element of trust that needs to be overcome. But for him, he was able to do it, and he finally found his lines in Pittsburgh.
Roberts ’disgusting strike brought him a cry on Twitter from analyst Rob Friedman, who runs the popular @PitchingNinja account.
Roberts admitted that it was cool to watch this moment spread on social media. But he added a reservation.
“No one saw the three bad guys I threw away,” Roberts said of his walk to Pittsburgh. “I see three bad ones. But it’s nice to see because that’s what I know I want my filing to be done almost every time. ”
Naturally, due to the change in grip there is pain when using what is essentially a new feed. That doesn’t even take into account that the 24-year-old Roberts first found himself in the majors and learned what it takes to be successful at the Premier League. Throwing with conviction is doubly important when trying to trust a new grip and movement in a key situation.
Roberts faced such a scenario Thursday night at Coors Field, trying to maintain the Cubs lead in three series.
He came in with two inclusions and one exit in the fifth inning and was allowed to strike from his slider into each of the first two Colorado Rockies reflectors he encountered. Roberts did not drop another slider, passing the next two strikers by 12 straight in a row. He allowed two inherited runners to score a goal, including on a loaded base walk earlier Keegan Thompson came in to avoid the traffic jam and contain an advantage in one race.
Muscos thought Roberts made good innings with his reptile, especially Rocky Mountain hitter Chris Bryant, who managed to turn the slider down and away and hit it into the left field. Maskas believes that it is important to emphasize that, although sometimes you can make adjustments, there are cases when all the pitcher can do is tilt his hat to a good striker.
“Should the emphasis on failure be exaggerated? No, ”Muskos said. “I like to reinforce the positive side of things because this game is hard and you play it every day. And for a guy like him, he has to be available every day, so if we keep reminding the negative, yesterday can flow into today and can flow into tomorrow, and we don’t want that either. ”
Reflecting on Thursday’s exit the next day, Roberts said he had lost a bit of confidence in his slider after giving back-to-back hits off the field. Catcher Ian Gomez learned this and went to Roberts ’boat to try to miss the barrel and get out of the half.
“I was just trying to be too kind,” Roberts said. “If I hadn’t been too good and thrown my fastball and boat into the area, I would have missed the barrel. But it was a young self, and I learned a lesson. “
Since Roberts didn’t get the full spring to work with his new slider handle, there’s a clear balance of desire to use it as a weapon while still feeling on the field. Mascas understands that Roberts may not fully trust his slider at key moments like Thursday’s exit.
“I can’t ask him to do that. This is unfair to me, because sometimes it’s just a matter of survival, ”Maskos said. “It doesn’t have to be beautiful all the time. It’s just a matter of going through it and keeping your team in a position to win. “
Roberts ’things will still make him a valuable option for manager David Ross. Roberts ’role in the bullpen may change over the course of the season as the Cubs have already shown confidence in the newcomer. His last two performances have been in a high-leverage situation, and despite Thursday’s hiccups, Roberts remains an intriguing hand that could become a viable backend option.
“He’s a really friendly kid who wants to do everything you can,” Muscos said. “It sets me on fire that he is always trying to recover.”