Patrick Sandoval’s favorite pitch wasn’t part of his arsenal until 2019.
That pitch, a slider, he actually developed on his own — the reason he concluded it was his favorite. It was a pitch his former organization, the Houston Astros, had wanted him to work on, especially for left-handed batters, while he was in their minor league system.
“I could not, for the life of me, figure out one that stuck,” the Angels pitcher recalled.
Now, interim manager Phil Nevin said his slider is one of three positive factors in innings Sandoval has dominated this season.
“The depth of it really, meaning like that later break to it,” Nevin explained before the team’s 7-2 loss to the Texas Rangers on Friday. “Instead of a sweeper it's more of a harder bite to it.”
The month of July has not been kind to Sandoval — he had four straight losses, giving up 15 earned runs in those four games before Friday — but in the 16 starts he has made this season, Sandoval has pitched to a 3.64 ERA, collecting 91 strikeouts, 33 of which have come off that slider, according to Baseball Savant.
To measure how the pitch has stacked up for him in 2022, his slider ranks No. 28 among all big-league pitchers in terms of run value — defined by Baseball Savant as “the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count.” Sandoval’s slider has a run value of -6.
By comparison, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw also has a run value of -6 on his slider. Mets closer Edwin Diaz’s slider has a run value of -13, Shohei Ohtani’s run value on his slider is -16.
Sandoval’s slider is still a work in progress, but it also has come a long way. The slider never found its groove when he was with the Astros and then he was traded to the Angels organization on July 26, 2018.
“I was still throwing that same [bad slider],” he said. “I was switching my grip and it was slow, pretty, like, big, but slow and loopy and not very good.”
It wasn’t until Sandoval reached double A that he started to really get a handle on the pitch. He finally unveiled what he’d been working on at triple A the next year.
“ ‘It's gonna be like a cutter,’ ” Sandoval remembered cautioning his catcher the first time he tried it in a game, “because it was still kind of new to me.”
The slider he showed off at triple-A turned out to be the one that stuck.
Asked about how Sandoval’s slider has evolved in the two years he has been one of his batterymates, Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki said: “Sandy’s slider’s been on point … kind of makes it look like his fastball, just makes it tough on hitters to recognize early.”
Sandoval made his major league debut on Aug 5, 2019, a five-inning effort against the Cincinnati Reds in which he used the slider with varying degrees of effectiveness. Four starts later was when he displayed just how nasty the pitch could be.
In the fifth and final inning of his outing against the Texas Rangers on Aug. 28, 2019, Sandoval’s last batter, lefty Shin-Soo Choo, took a called strike on Sandoval’s curveball, then whiffed on the final two pitches, back-to-back 87-mph sliders.
“It had a lot of sweep and little bit of depth,” Sandoval said. “If I can bottle that one up, that's the one that I want to throw every time.”
Though the pitch at one point was more effective against lefties, he’s now also seeing results on righties.
“If you think of Patrick Sandoval, immediately the best pitch he has is his changeup,” Angels pitching coach Matt Wise said. “But what he's really done a good job of this year is keeping his slider as consistent as possible.”
Sandoval has gone to his slider 26% of the time — compared to the 39% he uses his four-seam fastball and the 25% he uses his changeup, per Baseball Savant.
Those sliders have managed a 36.1 whiff rate, meaning when he throws his slider, batters swing and miss on that pitch 36.1% of the time. His changeup has a whiff rate of 46.4%. But when throwing the slider on two-strike counts, he’s able to get batters to strikeout 28.2% of the time — compared to 26.2% on his changeup — making the slider his most effective putaway pitch so far in 2022.
“He throws it hard, it's late, it's got really good shape,” Wise said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.