The free-agent market might have played out slowly in Major League Baseball this offseason (and still is, in some cases), but the Milwaukee Brewers made some early signings.
Starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin, who had a 3.89 ERA and 1.270 WHIP for San Diego last season, was one of the first players to get a deal. Milwaukee signed Chacin on Dec. 21 to a two-year contract worth $15.5 million.
“He’s always been a guy throughout his career that some of our people that have been here for a while have really liked,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
A couple of weeks after inking Chacin, Milwaukee bolstered its bullpen, signing veteran reliever Boone Logan on Jan. 10 to a one-year deal, adding a much-needed second left-hander to the Brewers’ bullpen.
Other than signing as free agents with the same team, the pair have something else in common: Both possess a devastating slider.
The 30-year-old Chacin has had success with that pitch since entering the major leagues in 2009 with Colorado, where he toiled until 2014. In every season but one, Chacin has held opponents to a .171 batting average or lower when using his slider.
“His slider is really a very effective pitch,” Counsell said. “It makes him very tough against right-handed hitters.”
Last season, righties hit just .134 with a .229 slugging percentage against Chacin’s slider. But unlike in years past, when Chacin would primarily only use the pitch against righties, the Padres asked him to also start throwing it against left-handed hitters.
The idea was a good one. In 2017, lefties managed just a .163 average and .326 slugging percentage when Chacin threw his slider.
“It worked out pretty well for me,” said Chacin, who noted he also worked on his changeup this past offseason. “Really helped me to get them out and pitch better”
In 2017, according to the website baseballsavant.com, Chacin threw 355 sliders to lefties. The previous four seasons combined that total was 305.
Overall in 2017, Chacin threw 991 sliders. His previous high for that pitch in any season was 715 in 2013. However, in that 2013 season, Chacin threw his slider 23.5 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs (which also was in line with his career usage rate of 22.4 percent). That was his highest percentage until 2017, when he used his slider 34.8 percent of the time.
Logan, by comparison, has come to rely on his slider the majority of the time he’s on the mound, particularly in the past three seasons when he’s thrown it 52.3 percent, 52.9 percent and 60.1 percent of his pitches.
“The slider — it’s kept me around. It’s my bread and butter,” Logan said. “When in doubt, throw the slider, that’s what I always tell myself. It’s definitely helped me stick around in the big leagues.”
The 33-year-old Logan knows of what he speaks. Other than in 2008 (the first year data is available on baseballsavant.com), opponents have never hit .200 against his slider and slugged over .300 only twice.
One player the Brewers brought in to spring training camp who would like to have that same kind of success with a slider is Ernesto Frieri. Unlike Chacin and Logan, Frieri isn’t on a major-league contract; he’s in camp on a pure looksee basis as an invitee on a minor-league deal.
Known for his fastball, which he estimates he throws “90 percent of the time,” Frieri has been working on throwing more secondary pitches — including a changeup and slider.
“Hitters make adjustments. To stay playing this game for a long time you have to make adjustments, too, and that’s what I’m doing now,” Frieri explained. “(In his first spring training game) I used my secondary pitches a lot and everything’s looked great so far.
“I want to go in with the same mentality — attack the strike zone always, and then work with my secondary pitches. I have to show everybody, myself first, that I can throw my secondary pitches whenever I want.”
Frieri has thrown a slider in the past, but with little success. Over his career, batters have accumulated a .299 average off the pitch with a .481 slugging percentage, according to baseballsavant.com.
Despite being a veteran in camp — he entered the majors in 2009 and turns 33 in July — Frieri said he isn’t shy about gleaning information from teammates, regardless their age or experience.
“You want to be around people who know how to throw a good changeup or slider,” he said. “And I want to be next to that guy and ask him something.”
Sidling up to Chacin and Logan certainly would be a good place to start.