The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Detroit Tigers left-hander Andrew “Big Country” Chafin on his signature slider.
Chafin has a keep-it-simple-stupid [K.I.S.S.] approach to his best pitch, and it’s hard to argue with success. Since the start of last season, the mustachioed southpaw boasts a 2.17 ERA and 2.78 FIP over 94 relief outings, allowing just 62 hits and fanning 88 batters in 87 innings. Chafin has thrown his breaking ball 35.8% of the time this year.
Andrew Chafin: “I hold a curveball grip, throw it as hard as I can, and it comes out a slider. So, is it a curveball or a slider? I guess whatever it does is what it is. Really, I don’t care what people call it as long as the hitters swing and miss. If that happens, I’m happy.
“I want to say I started learning [a breaking ball] in my junior year of high school, give or take. I don’t remember who I was working with in particular, I just found a grip that felt comfortable, and I tried to make it spin. There’s nothing special about how I grip it or throw it.
Andrew Chafin’s slider grip.
“It’s always been an out-pitch for me, so in that regard it hasn’t really changed. But it’s definitely grown and developed as I’ve gotten older. I’m able to be a lot more consistent with it, and can kind of change the shape a little bit if I feel the need to. If I need to make adjustments, I’m at the point where I can make those adjustments after just one bad one. I can do it pitch to pitch. As a younger pitcher, it might have taken me a couple of outings to realize what I was doing wrong.
“If I get around it a little too much, I can get back on top of it for the right shape. It’s all about the finish on the release point, those last milliseconds that it’s in your hand. That’s where you get more around it, or more on top of it. You finish down through it more, or it kind of spins out of the hand a little bit. I don’t try to manipulate the shape unless it gets too flat. If it turns into a bad slider, then I have to get everything back right.
“Again, all I really do is throw a curveball as hard as I can. I try to… really, I just try to throw a strike-to-ball pitch and hope that they’re swinging. Yesterday was the first time I ever did that TrackMan stuff. That was just to see what the numbers were, and to try to understand what the computer says about it. Apparently I throw a gyroball, or gyro slider. I don’t know what that means. I don’t really care. The way I look at it, you’ve got a good slider and a bad slider. If they hit it, it’s a bad slider. If they don’t hit it, it’s a good slider.
“So, yesterday – on Sunday – I threw a slider off the bump after [playing] catch. They had the TrackMan thing up, and whatever number was on there, I was like, ‘Cool. I have no idea what that means. ‘ But like I said, I guess it’s a gyro slider. That sounds fancy, at least. ”