Blue Jays: Why Zach Pop should throw his slider more often in 2023

Damon Normohammadi
Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays - Game Two
Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays - Game Two / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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When Zach Pop came over to the Blue Jays in a deal alongside Anthony Bass at the trade deadline in 2022, many people weren’t too familiar with the 26-year-old who hails from Brampton, Ontario.

A quick search would lead you to find his bowling ball of a sinker that he throws 77% of the time and averages 96.5 MPH.  Clearly, it’s a weapon, and he should continue to utilize it because it’s near impossible pitch for hitters to elevate in the air as evidenced by his -1 launch angle against it.

However he also has a second pitch, a slider that he doesn’t use anywhere near as much as his sinker, in fact he only threw his slider 22.9% of the time in 2022 a dramatic decrease from 2021 (32.3%). His slider was actually quite effective last year as it produced a .222 BA (.277 xBA) .392 xSLG .224 wOBA and .291 xwOBA. However it did produce a +1 run value against it while his sinker was a very good -5 in terms of run value.

If you're wondering:

Run Value Definition: the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count. Run Value and Whiff % are defined on a per pitch basis, all other stats are on a per PA basis.

When it comes to pitch grades, his slider grades phenomenally using Eno Sarris' model which gives you an understanding of Stuff+, Pitching+, and Location+ (where 100 is considered average), here's how Zach Pop's slider graded out:

Stuff+

Location+

Pitching+

138.7

104.5

116.9

Clearly, it's a pitch he needs to start incorporating in-game a lot more than he did in 2022. The pitch itself tunnels very effectively with his sinker. If you're not familiar as to what that means, Prospects Live has a great breakdown on what it truly is and why it's so difficult to quantify: "Pitch tunneling is the difference in how pitches break before they reach the plate; pitch movement data from statcast has been publicly accessible since 2017."

You can see how it's nearly impossible for hitters to distinguish which pitch is which coming out of the hand because they're in the same quadrant before they ultimately end up in opposite directions at varying speeds. Clearly, Pop has the ingredients to be a high leverage arm in the Blue Jays bullpen. As it stands right now, the biggest thing he needs to work on is increasing the amount of whiffs he gets as both his sinker (18.0%) and slider (20.8%) were below-league average in 2022.

2023 feels like it could be a breakout season for Zach Pop. The stuff is off the charts, and he has elite command of both pitches.

As previously mentioned, they key will be figuring out a way to induce more swings and misses, something I'm sure Pete Walker and David Howell have worked tirelessly on with Pop over the winter.

Whether it's something as simple as using his slider more, or sequencing his pitches in a fashion that leaves opposing hitters guessing more often than not. The stuff leaves little doubt that he'll figure out a way to skyrocket his K/9. Unfortunately, Pop may be a victim of the options game as far as making the Opening Day roster goes, since he still has two options remaining while Trevor Richards and Mitch White are out of options. However you can be almost certain that whenever he does join the Blue Jays bullpen, he'll be there to stay for years to come.

Next. A deep dive into the Bo Bichette dilemma. dark

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