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OC Register: Angels pitcher Aaron Slegers prefers polish to power


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ANAHEIM ― At 6-foot-10, Angels pitcher Aaron Slegers is an inch shorter than the tallest player in major league history. Among active big leaguers, he’s first in height, first in the alphabet and, perhaps surprisingly, far from the hardest thrower in the game.

Slegers’ fastball regularly hits 91-92 mph on the radar gun. He sometimes begins at-bats by throwing a slider or a changeup in the mid-80s. The right-hander is averse to strikeouts by today’s standards, averaging fewer than one an inning across 23 career appearances. He prefers to rely on the Angels’ defense to provide most of his outs, making Slegers a throwback to an earlier era of pitching – in style, not in stature.

None of this prevented Slegers, 28, from seizing the final bullpen job in spring training. He has not allowed a run in three regular-season appearances, including a scoreless inning in Tuesday’s loss to the Houston Astros.

“Big league hitters are creatures of familiarity,” Slegers said. “They like seeing the same thing over and over again. They’re the best in the world at making adjustments with their swing. And because I provide such a unique look, with the balls coming at a different angle – I hide the ball well, I’m not showing the ball early, I’m releasing it close to (the hitter) – all these things add up to an outlier look for a right-handed pitcher. That really allows me to pound the strike zone and use that to my advantage, and not let a hitter get comfortable.”

That sounds straightforward enough, but Slegers’ path to success was not always so obvious.

When he was first promoted to Triple-A by the Twins, Slegers said he felt “massive pressure” to become more of a strikeout pitcher. He turned in a solid season for the Rochester Red Wings (15-4, 3.40 earned-run average) in 2017 and earned his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. But he was still not a strikeout pitcher.

Slegers repeated Triple-A the following season and made three more spot starts for the Twins. That offseason, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Then, in spring training, Slegers was traded to the Rays for cash.

It was there that Slegers said he felt free to buck to the trend of “three true outcomes baseball.” He did not issue many walks. He didn’t allow many home runs. He got more outs via ground balls than strikeouts. For the Rays, that was OK.

“People forget that pitchers have control over keeping the ball in the ballpark,” Slegers said. “That’s also a major factor. If you fill up the strike zone, if hitters know you’re going to come right after them no matter the point in the game, you’re going to run into your fair share of strikeouts. If you look at your repertoire, keep hitters off-balance, provide a different look, keep the ball in the ballpark, well, you’re helping your team win there too.”

Joe Maddon, who began his managerial career in the Rays’ organization, sees the benefit in having Slegers in his bullpen.

“I’ve been around a staff with the Cubs going to the (2016) World Series, a lot of contact, but weak contact,” he said. “Stay away from the barrel. That’s an art form in and of itself.”

Actually, it’s a statistic now too. The “barrel” metric was created by Major League Baseball to describe an optimized combination of exit velocity and launch angle. For a pitcher, fewer barrels allowed is better.

In 2020, Slegers allowed a “barrel” on 2.7 percent of all batted balls, better than all but 4 percent of major league pitchers. The Angels acquired him in February for a player to be named later and cash.

ROTATION SHUFFLE

Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney will start Thursday and Friday, respectively, against the Toronto Blue Jays. That leaves Alex Cobb, Shohei Ohtani and Jose Quintana as candidates to start any of the final two games of the series.

Maddon said the Angels would determine the assignments before they arrived in Dunedin, Florida, where the Blue Jays are temporarily playing their home games at their spring training ballpark.

ALSO

Maddon’s scouting report on TD Ballpark in Dunedin? “The ball really flew,” he said. “The wind was constantly blowing out. I’m curious to see what it looks like. They had to have done a lot of work to get it major-league ready for a regular-season game, but windy. Not a bad ride from my pad in Tampa. From that perspective, I like it. Otherwise, it was kind of nondescript.” … Third baseman Anthony Rendon was given a routine day off Tuesday. Anaheim native Jose Rojas got his first major league start at third base and went 0 for 2 with a walk.

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3 hours ago, AngelsWin.com said:

“Big league hitters are creatures of familiarity,” Slegers said. “They like seeing the same thing over and over again. They’re the best in the world at making adjustments with their swing. And because I provide such a unique look, with the balls coming at a different angle – I hide the ball well, I’m not showing the ball early, I’m releasing it close to (the hitter) – all these things add up to an outlier look for a right-handed pitcher. That really allows me to pound the strike zone and use that to my advantage, and not let a hitter get comfortable.”

It was there that Slegers said he felt free to buck to the trend of “three true outcomes baseball.” He did not issue many walks. He didn’t allow many home runs. He got more outs via ground balls than strikeouts. For the Rays, that was OK.

“People forget that pitchers have control over keeping the ball in the ballpark,” Slegers said. “That’s also a major factor. If you fill up the strike zone, if hitters know you’re going to come right after them no matter the point in the game, you’re going to run into your fair share of strikeouts. If you look at your repertoire, keep hitters off-balance, provide a different look, keep the ball in the ballpark, well, you’re helping your team win there too.”

This really illustrates why the Rays are so successful at developing pitchers, and even position players. They let players focus on their strengths and emphasize them. They don't try and change players to fit a certain mold.

On the position player side, for example, Mike Brosseau crushes LHP, so they mold him into a versatile guy who can play against LHP.

With Slegers, they emphasized his unique arm angle via his height and his ability to get ground balls.

 

It's good to see that the Angels saw Slegers' value. Hopefully they start adapting this type of approach throughout the Angels organization.

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7 hours ago, Trendon said:

This really illustrates why the Rays are so successful at developing pitchers, and even position players. They let players focus on their strengths and emphasize them. They don't try and change players to fit a certain mold.

On the position player side, for example, Mike Brosseau crushes LHP, so they mold him into a versatile guy who can play against LHP.

With Slegers, they emphasized his unique arm angle via his height and his ability to get ground balls.

 

It's good to see that the Angels saw Slegers' value. Hopefully they start adapting this type of approach throughout the Angels organization.

Exactly.  The Rays are fantastic at growing and cultivating their talent.  There's a reason they continue to be a really good team despite having virtually no payroll.

That's why when I see comments from people complaining that we need to continue to spend more - no, we don't, we just need to "spend" on front office talent that can do the same thing the Rays do with their organization.  Look at what the Dodgers have accomplished - they took the Rays' PBO and he brought their system with him, and combined with their payroll, they're the best organization in the sport.  Minasian and Tamin, who have deep ties to that FO, can hopefully bring the same system here, and combined with our already significant payroll, we can start to see this team get significantly better from top to bottom.

We are, hopefully, already starting to see that.  4-2 to open the year against two really tough opponents.  A lot of young players (and veterans) looking a bit improved from the previous season.  Etc ..

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