According to Baseball Savant’s data, Brad Hand, who threw sliders 50.7% of the time in the 2020 campaign (holding hitters to a .139 AVG on the pitch), did not throw a slider in a major league game until 2015.
When he moved to the bullpen full-time in 2016 in San Diego it became a weapon.
Hand, in a Zoom call with reporters, after he signed a 1-year/$10.5M deal with the Nationals last month, explained why he added the slider to his repertoire once he had transitioned to relief work with the Padres.
“The end of 2015, I started tinkering around with it,” Hand said.
“My curveball was just a hard pitch to land for a strike when I needed to, so I just wanted something a little smaller breaking that was in the zone more, so I started messing around with that [slider], and then in 2016, they put me in the bullpen and just kind of let me pitch and let me use the slider, and then obviously it turned into a real weapon for me, and I felt like it’s over the years gotten a lot better, just the way I use it and being able to backdoor it and then back foot it to right-handed hitters. I would think that’s the biggest thing.”
Brad Hand, Game ending White Castle Special.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 6, 2020
As he revamped his pitch selection, Hand adjusted to the new role. What were the biggest changes he had to make?
“Just learning the bullpen life, just being able to pitch every single day, so your routine’s got to change. Stuff like that.
“But I’d say the slider probably plays a big part into my success that I had in the bullpen.”
In 2016, opposing hitters had a .200 AVG on the pitch, though he threw it just 6.1% of the time that year (again, according to Baseball Savant). He threw it 45.1% of the time in 2017, holding hitters to a .104 AVG on the pitch, and that was up to 54.3% in 2018 (.158 BAA), and 54.1% in 2019 (.204 BAA).
While he still employed an assortment of pitches after moving the bullpen, he’s narrowed his focus in the past few years, and, in 2020, was essentially a two-pitch pitcher, with his slider (50.7%) and four-seamer (35.5%) his main offerings, and his sinker (12.4%) and curve used sparingly (1.4%).
“I would say I’m mostly four-seam,” Hand said when asked about his secondary, or non-slider pitch selection.
“I’ll throw the sinker a little bit here and there. I’ve been working on it this offseason and it’s been real good. I don’t know how much I’m going to end up using it more, but it’s been real good right now, but I would say I’m mostly probably 80% four-seam fastballs and then the slider.”
While he (and a number of other pitchers across the league) saw a drop in velocity in 2020’s truncated season, Hand has produced consistent numbers overall since moving to the ‘pen in 2016, with a 2.70 ERA, a 2.92 FIP, 106 walks, 434 strikeouts, and 104 saves in his 306 relief appearances and 320 IP out of the ‘pen. How has he remained so consistently effective?
Brad Hand, Nasty 81mph Back Foot Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/SeUU4WQ9ZX— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 6, 2020
“Obviously I’ve had bad months of the season, but I’ve always been very good at being able to — once I leave the ballpark I forget about what happened that day,” Hand said.
”You may reflect and look back on what happened, but I show up to the ballpark the next day wanting the ball, wanting to be back in that situation if I didn’t succeed the day before, so I think that’s what it takes as a bullpen guy, just to be able to brush things off like that. Obviously we’re not perfect and we’re going to make mistakes, but really being able to turn the page and get the job done the next day.
“We play 162 games, it’s a long season, so even if you do have a bad month, it’s over 162 you can get back where you need to be.”