The Giants come into Philadelphia just 2.5 games back of the Wild Card with a chance to vault past one of the teams keeping them from the top. The belief that the Giants have a legitimate shot at the Wild Card is also a belief that the Giants are a different team than they were three months ago. There have certainly been enough personnel changes to make that argument, but there a few players who have taken a step forward in the past few weeks. Brandon Crawford has been hot through July,
Derek Holland Drew Pomeranz has looked much more effective out of the bullpen, and Tyler Beede suddenly looks like a solid major league starter now that he’s throwing his slider much more often.
The biggest change since Beede started throwing the slider is that the walks have all but disappeared. Since he started throwing the slider at least 10 percent of the time, Beede has only walked two batters in his last 27 1/3 innings. It’s not a coincidence that the walks came down when the slider appeared. The slider has given Beede another secondary pitch he can throw in the strike zone without fear of getting punished.
According to Baseball Savant, Beede has thrown the slider in the strike zone 39.1 percent of the time. Compare that to his curve, which he’s only thrown in the strike zone 28.7. The curve can still be effective pitch, but it’s purely a chase pitch. Take a look at Beede’s swing and miss rate on pitches in the zone.
Hitters almost never swing and miss at Beede’s curve when he throws it over the plate which put him in a precarious situation. He had to get strikes with his fastball and whiffs with the curve, but hitters could be relatively assured that he wouldn’t throw curves in the strike zone. They could instead just sit on fastballs they could hit, and they hit those pitches hard.
By throwing the slider for strikes, Beede has complicated a hitter’s approach. They can’t just wait for a fastball at the belt. They have to cover the slider, too. Splitting the batter’s alar like this has made his fastball play up, and Beede is more consistently getting whiffs on the fastball when he throws it for a strike.
Beede’s new approach isn’t immune to failure. We saw that his last time out against the Cubs, but it wasn’t the slider that failed him; it was the fastball. Beede wasn’t able to locate his fastball often missing with it well above the letters where hitters could lay off of it. The difference between his career-best start against the Mets and his struggles against the Cubs can best be explained by his fastball location. Here were Beede’s fastballs against the Mets when he threw eight shutout innings.
There were a few easy takes around shoulder height and on the outside edges, but for the most part, everything was concentrated in the upper half of the strike zone or just above it. Now, here were his fastballs against the Cubs when he gave up three homers.
When he missed, he missed badly. His fastballs either sailed high where not even Javy Báez wanted to swing at them or drifted a foot off the plate in either direction. When he did hit the zone, it was much closer to the heart of the plate and away from the edges. Beede picked a bad day to lose his fastball command considering the Cubs are the third-best fastball hitting team in the National League. Still, Beede got whiffs on nearly a third of the sliders he threw. Getting results independent of his fastball is highly encouraging.
Tonight’s start in Citizen’s Bank Park will be a test for Beede. Not only do the Phillies play in a child-sized ballpark, but they’re also one of the better teams at hitting sliders. They do happen to be one of the worst teams at hitting curveballs, however. If we see Beede throwing more curves and fewer sliders tonight, it’s not an indication that he’s abandoning his new approach, just that he’s shying away from Philadelphia’s strengths.