Juan Nicasio and his wonderful, effective slider
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
To open this with a completely loaded and open-ended question: how huge could it be for the Colorado Rockies if Juan Nicasio enjoys a breakout season?
To submit one more rather large question for your consideration: how long have we wondered how great Nicasio would be if he had any secondary pitches worth a lick?
For one dominant start on Friday afternoon, Nicasio left us feeling hopeful and intrigued by the possibilities. The Rockies won 12-2 over the Arizona Diamondbacks behind great pitching from Nicasio and an exceptional day from outfielder Charlie Blackmon. Nicasio’s sparking line reads as follows: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 6 K’s.
Under consideration here: Nicasio’s slider, which was a sharp, high-quality pitch on Friday the likes of which we have never seen from him. If he has that pitch to go along with his electric mid-90’s fastball on even a semi-consistent basis, the Rockies will get a legitimate boost in the back of their rotation.
Legit swing-and-miss pitch
Per the pitch F/X data found on TexasLeaguers.com, Nicasio got a 33.3% whiff rate on the 30 sliders he threw. He also used it to log most of his strikeouts on the day. See this pitch to A.J. Pollock:
Also on display on strike three to Mark Trumbo, found below and with a Wilin Rosario adventure free of charge.
In the past there was some concern that Nicasio tipped his slider off to hitters, giving him additional reason to distrust the pitch. While release point is only part of the equation if a pitcher is tipping pitches, this data about his release point on Friday seems to indicate that it looked the same coming out of his hand as his fastballs did.
That presumably had something to do with all of those swings and misses, not to mention guys might be inclined to cheat a bit to catch his fastball, leaving them lunging if they guess wrong. The fact that Nicasio has another pitch, moreover, means hitters actually have to worry about something else instead of just sitting on one pitch.
A pitch with depth
When we say that Nicasio’s slider has depth, we do not mean that it ponders the philosophical problems of the universe, burning the midnight oil and struggling its way through the writings of political theorists. No, we mean that it has sharp downward movement. Put another way, it has north-south movement in addition to the usual sideways breaks usually associated with sliders.
Seen in game action here, once again victimizing Pollock:
It seems unfair to subject Diamondbacks’ pitcher Randall Delgado to a strikeout GIF to illustrate this point, but we’re going to do so anyway because this slider from Nicasio is just dirty:
With the movement Nicasio puts on his fastball, especially the sinking action that saw him turn into a groundball machine in his best starts in 2013, this slider stands to be a serious weapon. If Nicasio effectively deploys this pitch over the course of the season, he has one of the highest ceilings of any 5th starter in baseball.