To be a pitcher in baseball today, a solid fastball is key. If your velocity reaches the high 90s, chances are you'll be able to have a career as a solid fireballer out of the bullpen.
Yet, in looking through the baseball annals, there's one other pitch that stands out from the fastballs and curveballs that have passed through history. I'm talking about the slider.
Here's a pitch that's usually average in velocity and moves like an inside fastball, but sort of dishes, or slides, to the side at the last minute and psychs out the batter, who will either swing through it or take it. Those who have mastered the pitch, such as Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia Phillies ace Steve Carlton (pictured), have mostly gone on to have lucrative MLB careers.
Thus, in the spirit of celebrating the pitch, here are the best slider artists in the history of each MLB team.
Forget guys like Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson or Stephen Strasburg. The one pitcher I would be most afraid to face would be dominating left-hander Randy Johnson.
At 6'10", the man looked just plain scary on the mound and besides having a blazing fastball that often reached the triple digits, Johnson also possessed a nasty slider that he dubbed "Mr. Snappy." This pitch had so much movement on it that the man known as "The Big Unit" led the lead in hit batsmen two years in a row (1992-1993) and led the majors in walks three years in a row (1990-1992).
Yet, during his first stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Johnson's slider made him one of the best pitchers in the game. In the six seasons he initially spent in the desert, Johnson won four consecutive NL Cy Young Awards and led the majors in strikeouts five times. In the 2001 World Series, he went 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA as the Diamondbacks went on to beat the New York Yankees in seven games.
Ironically, Johnson would be traded to the Yankees prior to the 2005 season and spend two years in the Bronx before being traded back to Arizona in 2007. By that time, he was well past 40 and a shell of the pitcher he used to be. Still, it's hard to argue that when it comes to slider artists in Arizona, Johnson was the man.
Greg Maddux was certainly an interesting type of pitcher. His fastball never topped more than 93 mph, and his velocity gradually declined over the course of his 23 season career. Still, considering how many other pitches he threw, including a nasty slider, that is probably why Maddux was able to pitch for so long.
He spent 11 years with the Braves and was simply incredible. In his first three years with the team, he won three NL Cy Young Awards and posted an incredible 55-18 record with a 1.90 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. In 1995, he went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA as the Braves won the World Series.
His stuff may not have been overpowering, but there's no denying that Maddux and his slider were a tough combination to face even for the best hitters.
They say that if you truly love someone, you should let them go. Such was the case with Jim Palmer, who threw the slider so often and so well that he claimed it nearly ruined his arm.
Still, the man was one of the best in the game when it came to throwing that frustrating pitch. He pitched for 19 seasons, all with the Orioles, and took home three AL Cy Young Awards. To go with those trophies, he also had three World Series rings.
Yet, the most incredible stat of Palmer's slider-throwing arm was probably his 2.86 career ERA. That's just plain amazing. He may not have thrown the slider for all of his career, but it surely played a role in his early success.
Each time my beloved New York Yankees are scheduled to face the Boston Red Sox, I pray that they don't have to face lefty ace Jon Lester. The man's slider is so unbelievably devastating that opposing hitters can't help but stand and watch it go by. As the late Ernie Harwell would say of a batter who just became a victim of Lester's slider, "He stood there like a house by the side of the road."
Seeing as how he is just days away from turning 28, chances are that Lester and his slider will be torturing batters for years to come.
Easily one of the best pitchers never to win a World Series, Fergie Jenkins was the ace of some Chicago Cubs teams that just couldn't keep up with the rest of the talented squads in the National League. Yet, his pitching arsenal included a hard slider that consistently froze hitters, so much that Jenkins finished his 19-season career with an NL Cy Young Award and 3,192 strikeouts.
Regarding his slider, former Cubs pitching coach Joe Becker said it best.
"His hard slider and his sinker are his best pitches," said Becker. "But your stuff is never good unless you can throw strikes. He can. And he can throw them all day."
A fadeaway slider was just one of many pitches that former White Sox ace Eddie Cicotte threw. The man threw a knuckleball, fastball, screwball and many other pitches that he himself invented. His dominance on the mound was instrumental in the ChiSox winning the 1917 World Series.
From 1917-1919, was simply unbelievable as he went 69-38 with a 1.99 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. Unfortunately, just a year later, he was banned from baseball for life after being one of the eight White Sox players who threw the 1919 World Series.
Save for his fastball, Don Gullett's best pitch was his hard slider. He was never an amazing ace pitcher, but his slider was effective enough that he was a prominent cog in the dynasty known as the Big Red Machine. Gullett spent seven of his nine MLB seasons with the Reds, going to the World Series four times, winning twice in 1975 and 1976.
In the seasons that saw the Reds end as champions, Gullett went a combined 26-7 with a 2.68 ERA. Arm problems forced him to retire at 27 years old, but there's no denying that his slider was one of the nastiest in the game, so much that the New York Yankees immediately signed him following their loss to Gullett's Reds in the 1976 World Series.
On paper, Bob Lemon is an average pitcher. In 13 seasons, all spent with the Cleveland Indians, he went 207-128 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Yet, he had seven seasons of at least 20 wins and also played in seven All-Star games, plus he won a World Series ring in 1948.
However, Lemon was one of the first pitchers to rely solely on the slider. His innovation of the pitch may have played a role in his being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976 and it was baseball historian Roger Angell who called Lemon the "first man to have pitched his way into the Hall of Fame with a slider."
He may not have been the most dominant arm of his era, but Lemon's slider was good enough to get him a spot in Cooperstown as well as a chapter of history in baseball lore.
It's a shame that Ubaldo Jimenez's dream 2010 season seems to have been a fluke, as his slider is probably the best in the Rockies' young history. Much like the aforementioned Don Gullett, Jimenez relies on his slider the most after his four-seam fastball.
His slider has been clocked as high as 90 mph and features a late break that is borderline un-hittable. Hopefully, Jimenez can turn his career around with his new team, the Cleveland Indians.
Before he learned how to throw a slider, Hal Newhouser was an average pitcher. Over his first five seasons, he went 34-52 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. Then, prior to the 1944 season, he incorporated the slider into his pitching repertoire and won that year's AL MVP award when he went 29-9 with a 2.22 ERA.
This was the start of a three year stretch where the lefty known as "Prince Hal" was one of the most dominant arms in the game, going 80-27 with a 1.99 ERA and taking home consecutive MVP awards in the process. He was never as dominant again, but this three-year stretch is probably what got him inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Don't let the 6'0", 190 pound frame and seemingly constant injuries fool you. Roy Oswalt was once a nasty pitcher whose slider was one of the best in the game.
The pitch was at its best when Oswalt was with the Houston Astros, with home he spent the first nine and a half seasons of his career. Over that stretch, Oswalt posted a respectable ERA of 3.40 and went an impressive 142-82.
He was never a strikeout artist, nor was he ever incredibly dominant. Yet, the man was instrumental in the Astros' successes in the early 2000s, particularly their 2005 run to the World Series. Thus, he deserves his due credit.
David Cone may seem like the obvious choice here, but he only spent two full seasons in KC. Larry Gura wore Royal Blue for nine full seasons and was the ace of the pitching staff that took the Royals to 1980 World Series, not to mention to the playoffs against the New York Yankees multiple times.
Armed with a nasty, offspeed-ish slider, Gura went 111-81 with a 3.70 ERA as a Royal. His WHIP was a respectable 1.24. He was never the best pitcher in baseball, but Royals fans will always have a special spot in their hearts for him as he came to work every day and did all he could so that his team could win.
Though primarily a four-seam/two-seam fastball pitcher, Jered Weaver's slider is a thing of beauty. Sometimes he'll throw it using his regular delivery, while other times he'll throw sidearm just to throw the hitter off.
Also, during any pitching delivery, he'll turn his back to the plate and hide the ball so that the batter is unable to pick up any release point. Thus, it's no wonder he has posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.04 WHIP the past two seasons.
Simply put, with the slider and all of his pitches, the man is an artist.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have had so many great pitchers pass through their hallowed halls, but none has used the slider as well as 23-year-old Clayton Kershaw. This past season, the 6'3" lefty relied heavily on the slider as his "plus pitch" and pitched to the tune of a 21-8 record, an MLB-best 2.28 ERA, an NL-leading 248 strikeouts and an 0.98 WHIP.
Just how good is the man's slider? Well, FanGraphs named it one of the top plus-pitches of 2011. Thus, despite his young career, Kershaw's status as a slider artist is already approaching elite status.
Robb Nen was the closer for the then-Florida Marlins for four seasons from 1994-1997, registering 108 saves over that stretch. His signature pitch was his slider and it was so ridiculously good that it was dubbed "The Terminator." It was also fast for a slider, sometimes reaching 92 mph.
Nen's effectiveness out of the bullpen earned him a World Series ring with the Marlins in 1997 and while his career may have been brief at just 10 seasons, his 314 saves are good for 17th on the all-time list. And to think that this was all thanks to something called "The Terminator."
Fingers only spent the last four seasons of his career with the Brewers, but he certainly made the most of his time there. In his first season with the team, the strike-shortened 1981 campaign, the 34-year-old closer used his sharp slider (which had been his go-to pitch his entire career) to save an MLB-leading 28 games and post a remarkable 1.04 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. This performance garnered him both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards.
The following season, Fingers was instrumental in the Brewers reaching their first and currently only World Series, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.
His time in Milwaukee may have been short, but the work that Fingers did with his slider over those four years was pure art.
Prior to joining the Minnesota Twins in 1977, Geoff Zahn was a reliever/spot starter who had spent the previous four years with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. His performance over that stretch was, to say the least, underwhelming.
Yet, upon coming to the Twin Cities, he incorporated a slider into his pitching repertoire and immediately became an effective starter. He was still prone to giving up hits and walks, not to mention that the teams he played on weren't exactly top-tier, but Zahn managed to go 53-53 with a 3.90 ERA in four years with the Twins.
Following the 1980 season, he signed a long-term contract with the California Angels and pitched through 1985. Long story short, the slider basically saved his career.
When people think of the greatest Mets pitcher of all-time, most immediately think of Tom Seaver. Naturally, I am not at all surprised as he was essentially the face of the franchise for a decade.
The man's two best pitches were his fastball and slider, of which he had amazing control. Both pitches helped him become one of the game's best strikeout pitchers and take home three NL Cy Young Awards to go with his 1969 World Series championship ring.
All in all, Seaver pitched for 20 years and retired with 311 career wins and 3,640 strikeouts. The fact that he relied heavily on the slider and fastball and not so much a curveball was unique for his time, and that is why he is truly one of the best to ever throw the pitch.
Growing up a Yankees fan, one of my favorite players to watch was David Cone. I remember from the time I was about 9 or 10 up until I was about 13, my dad deemed every Friday night as "ballgame night" as he would sit down with me and my brother to watch the Yanks play and if Cone was pitching, his eyes would be glued to the TV whenever the Yankees were in the field.
Whenever Cone had two strikes against the opposing hitter, my brother and I would be told to pay close attention. Each time, almost like clockwork, Cone would unleash this devastating slider that the hitter would just sit on or swing right through, either way being out on strikes. To a child absolutely in love with baseball, that right there is the definition of baseball magic.
Sure enough, Cone and his slider were instrumental in the Yankee dynasty of the 1990s as the man took home four World Series rings and posted a 6-1 record in the postseason. He may have lost his effectiveness in the latter years of his career, but the fact remains that his slider paired with his splitter was pure baseball pitching art.
Once his fastball velocity went down and he became a closer, Dennis Eckersley started throwing a slider and immediately became one of the best stoppers in baseball history. In nine years spent with the Oakland A's, he appeared in three consecutive World Series (taking home one championship ring) and recorded 320 of his 390 career saves. That's pretty incredible considering how he didn't start closing until he got to Oakland.
Either way, no matter how you look at it, there was no stopping Eckersley and his slider during his Oakland days. Over that nine year stretch from 1987-1995, he led the majors in saves twice, made four All-Star teams and took home both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 1992. With that slider of his, it's a wonder he didn't start closing sooner.
Up until Roger Clemens started his never-ending farewell tour of the 2000s, Steve Carlton was second on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,136. Paired with a fine fastball, his slider played a huge role in his taking both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series two times apiece. He ended up winning one ring with each time, in 1967 with St. Louis and in 1980 with Philadelphia.
Carlton's great slider was instrumental in the Phillies' dream season of 1980 when he went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA and an MLB-leading 284 strikeouts. That year, he won the third of four Cy Young Awards he would win with the Phillies.
The latter years of his 24-season career were marred by a heavy decline, but that doesn't at all take away from the fact that Carlton was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game and easily one of the best to throw the slider.
The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded a winning team, this man was the ace of the pitching staff. Armed with a decent fastball and a devastatingly hard slider, Drabek relied on his effective mechanics and strong work ethic to produce good results.
In six seasons in the Steel City, the mustachioed right-hander went 92-62 with a very impressive 3.02 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. His postseason ERA was an even more impressive 2.05, but his record was a less than average 2-5.
Still, it's hard to deny that any other Pirates pitcher worked the slider better than Drabek.
A couple of years after playing on a Boston Red Sox team that came within one out of winning the World Series, lefty Bruce Hurst headed west and became the ace of some dismal San Diego Padres teams. Despite being on teams that couldn't compete with the top dogs of the NL, Hurst was effective as he used his excellent breaking slider to badly fool right-handed hitters.
In four full seasons with the team, Hurst went 55-37 with a 3.22 ERA before shoulder problems robbed him of his effectiveness.
Oh well. At least we still have memories of that nasty slider.
Considering how the Giants are over a century old, the fact that Matt Cain is being named here as the team's best ever slider artist is a testament to how great he is. He's only 27, but has proven over the past three seasons that his slider is not something to be taken lightly. Over that stretch, Cain has gone 39-30 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, plus a World Series ring in 2010.
If he can continue to develop that pitch and use it more against lefties, then he has the potential to become one of the best pitchers in the game today.
Seeing as how we've already discussed Randy Johnson's skills with the slider, let's take a look at his overall career stats with the Mariners so as to silence any doubters. In 10 years with the team, he went 130-74 with a 3.42 ERA and 2,162 strikeouts in 1,838.1 innings.
He was instrumental in getting Seattle to the 1995 postseason, where they defeated the heavily favored New York Yankees in extra innings of the fifth game of the inaugural ALDS. On top of that, the man has his devastating slider to thank for much of his career's success. Upon his retirement after the 2009 season, he was second on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,875.
I could give you a myriad number of stats and awards to prove how great a slider artist Bob Gibson was, but instead I'm going to spotlight just one season: his 1968 campaign. That year, the 32-year-old fireballer went 22-9 and tossed 13 shutouts while striking out 268 hitters and posting an 0.85 WHIP. Yet, that's not even the greatest part.
In 1968, Gibson posted a remarkable 1.12 ERA. To date, that is the record for a starting pitcher in a full season. Sure enough, he took home both the NL MVP and Cy Young awards. His slider played a large role both in this season and throughout his career as batters simply could not hit it.
When it came to the pitch, the man was a virtuoso.
David Price is already an intimidating presence on the mound at 6'6" and 225 pounds, so the fact that he has great pitches to go with his frame is even more impressive. In just four seasons, he is already well on his way to becoming a dominating pitcher for the young Rays' franchise.
In the team's brief history, he is easily the best slider artist. His slider only averages about 88 mph, but its sharp break makes it one of the best in the game today.
Given the slew of young pitchers the Rays have on the roster, this team could be one to watch out for in 2012. Of course, leading the way could be Price and his devastating slider.
This one proved to be tough, as the Texas Rangers have a long history of having pitchers who throw hard and not much else. Thus, when it comes to the slider, there is none better than the recently L.A. bound C.J. Wilson. In just two seasons as a starter, he established himself as one of the best slider-throwers in baseball.
Wilson isn't the type of pitcher who'll get regular strikeouts, but his slider does a good job of fooling hitters both in striking them out and breaking low so that if contact is made, it results in a ground ball. Thus, it's no surprise that Wilson's WHIP the past two years has been a respectable 1.21 and his ERA an impressive 3.14. Were it not for the excessive walks, he'd easily be one of the top pitchers in the game.
Either way, his slider is not one I would want to face with the game on the line.
Before there was Roy Halladay, there was Dave Stieb. This man was the ace of some Blue Jays teams that were talented, but couldn't compete with the opposition come playoff time. Still, the man was a decent hurler and appeared in seven All-Star games.
Though a power pitcher by trade, Stieb's best pitch was a hard slider that broke sharp and late and proved to be the nightmare of many right-handed batters. He was never the best pitcher in the game, but his slider was one of the best of its time and the man was worshipped by the fans.
Of his 16 seasons, 15 were spent in Toronto and he went 175-134 with a 3.42 ERA in a Blue Jays uniform. He may no longer be the best pitcher to ever wear the uniform in Toronto, but fans still remember his effectiveness and that nasty slider that was just art coming out of his hand.
I don't care that he only has 17 major league starts under his belt, he hasn't yet played a full season and has already had Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg and his curving slider (known as a slurve) will go down as the best in Washington Nationals' history.
Having watched the 23-year-old pitch from college to the pros, I feel safe in saying that his stuff is borderline untouchable. In his brief MLB career, he has already struck out 116 hitters in 92 innings while posting a remarkable 0.98 WHIP.
He just makes pitching look so unbelievably easy to the point where he truly is an artist on the mound. Throw any situation at the kid, and he'll make something out of it, good or bad.
The fact is he has an extremely high ceiling and since he appears to have shown no ill-effects of the surgery, Nationals fans should be getting excited for Strasburg's slider to take over DC.