Following yet another abridged start by Kevin Slowey on Monday in Toronto, Ron Gardenhire implored his marksman to throw to contact more. “That’s how he will get away from those 100-pitch, five inning performances,” Gardenhire said Monday night, “by making guys swing the bat.” In truth, opponents have been swinging just fine against the Twins righty. Slowey’s opposition is swinging at 48.8 percent of his pitches, well-above the 44.7 percent league-average.
Gardenhire continued by saying “[He needs to] pitch to contact better because he’s got great stuff and he can move the ball in and out. [He] just has to not try and be so fine and get them to hit the ball.” Likewise, contact does not see to be a problem for opposing batters either. According to Fangraphs.com, since ’08, Slowey’s swinging strike percentage has dropped from 8.6 to 7.7 to just 5.8 this year. His contact rate has jumped from 82.3 percent to 83.5 percent in ‘09 to his current 87.7 percent.
The Twins manager is correct in assuming Slowey has been too fine at his approach at the plate. As he has nibbled outside the zone more frequently this season, the right-hander has found himself behind hitters more often. In ’08 and ’09, opponents were in favorable counts 26 and 25 percent of the total plate appearances. This season, that percentage has increased to 32 percent. Seeing more favorable counts has led to more hittable pitches thus the higher contact rate.
But there’s more. Slowey’s not getting nearly the same movement on his pitches this year as he had up to this point in his career. Here is a view from above on Slowey’s pitch mix in 2010:
Compare that to what his assortment looked like in 2009:
Or to 2008:
In comparison to the two prior years, it is obvious that Slowey’s pitches in 2010 are flat and not experiencing the same type of movement. Furthermore, there is a glaring difference between several pitches in his repertoire, the most notable being his slider. In the previous two seasons, Slowey’s slider cut through the space in front of the plate from right-to-left and on average wound up outside of the strike zone.
Without the movement of the slider, Slowey has taken on heavy fire from right-handed opponents:
Aside from his fastball, Slowey turns to his slider nearly 20 percent of the time when dealing to righties. Whereas in past seasons when he was able to avoid hard contact and occasionally rack up a strikeout, same-sided opponents have feasted on his assortment.
Perhaps this is lingering effects of his off-season wrist injury. After all, in February Slowey remarked that his throwing wrist had a new sensation and wasn’t certain if it would ever feel the same again. The wrist is heavily utilized in pitching to put various spin on the ball hence moving it in different directions in the zone. Without spin and deflection, Slowey’s margin for error decreases that much more.
Without question, Slowey deserves several more starts to find the right track. However, if he continues to exit in the fifth inning and further tax the bullpen, Brian Duensing is always available as a potential replacement.