Scouting Notes: Vanishing Slider Critical to Colby Lewis' Game 3 Gem
Much of the credit for that success should go to the big right-hander's outstanding slider, which is both unique and extremely deceptive even as hitters get many, many looks at it. His ability to spot it time after time, coupled with the location of his fastball and curveball, made him a very difficult task for San Francisco hitters on Saturday night.
Slider Consistently Deceptive for Lewis
There are a lot of good sliders floating around the big leagues these days, but Colby Lewis' slider is not just a run-of-the-mill slider. His ability to spot it more like a cut fastball and its incredibly late bite makes it as deceptive as any breaking ball in the game today. If you don't buy it, take a look at where he lived in terms of fastball velocity in Game 3. This is a guy who relies heavily on his breaking ball, yet he has an outstanding ability to miss bats.
Lewis lived around 88-89 mph with his fastball, with his slider checking in around 85-86 mph. If you looked at the numbers alone, it doesn't seem all that impressive. But the closeness in velocity between these two pitches and his ability to locate them both put quite of a bit of mystery in the hitters' minds. And, that's why even though we saw quite a few mistakes up in the zone from Lewis, there still were not many aggressive swings from the Giants' hitters.
The slider is breaking so late and continues to move away from the barrel as it crosses the plate, which makes it a very tough task for hitters when Lewis is working ahead in the count. He's throwing it for strikes, and like pitchers with good cutters, Lewis' movement almost has the look of being continuous through the zone. So, even when hitters are picking it up out of his hand, they seem to have consistent inability to square it up. In other words, they are thinking the ball will end up in one spot and it's just not there.
Considering the way he locates that slider, the really unique movement with two plane action and the closeness in velocity to his fastball, you can see what gave San Francisco such fits on Saturday. If they run into him again, Lewis is a guy they will have to work hard on to get into fastball counts. Giants hitters proved that his upper-80s fastball is very hittable, but once he gets into counts where he can throw his secondary pitches, the at-bat becomes extremely tricky.
Sliders like his are the reason terms like "disappearing breaking ball" were invented, and it's going to be a tough task even if he misses his spots in the zone.
Approach Makes Difference for Moreland
It was probably unfair given Mitch Moreland's strong skillset, but when Justin Smoak was in the farm system, the Rangers' current first baseman didn't get a lot of mainstream chatter as he came up through the ranks. Moreland's tools don't jump off the page quite as much as Smoak at first glance, but as he continues to show this postseason, this is a big-league hitter with an advanced approach that can battle tough pitching.
I had the chance to scout Moreland back in 2006 as he starred in the Cape Cod League as an amateur. What stuck out back then was something that stands out to this day. The lefty-swinging Moreland has a natural power stroke, but it's how he gets to a point of using that stroke that's most impressive.
You can find hitters with patience and find hitters who hit mistake pitches, but what Moreland shows is an ability to fight it out with a pitcher until he can finally get that mistake pitch. He has a short enough swing and the quick wrists to fight off pitches until he eventually gets that mistake offering that he can handle.
He has done that exceptionally well this October, and it even showed up in the Yankees series against Mariano Rivera. In multiple at-bats, he was able to fight off Rivera's best offerings and put him in a position where he had to come over the plate. Jonathan Sanchez got the same treatment from Moreland in Game 3. Sanchez battled Moreland with good pitcher's pitches, pitches that should put a hitter away in a lefty-on-lefty matchup. Of course, Moreland eventually got his mistake and put it in the seats, and his ability to extend the at-bat was the difference in the game.
There are young hitters with more raw power, and ones that have a little more raw ability in general. What Moreland has and continues to show off is the elusive hit tool, or a feel at the plate that allows a hitter to look for a pitch in the zone and extend the at-bat until he gets it.
When a hitter shows that at an early age there is nothing flukey about his performance. This is a player that has staying power. Moreland, time and time again, has had some of this postseason's most impressive at-bats, some reminiscent of Paul O'Neill from years past. And, while Ranger fans may miss Justin Smoak, they can probably expect quite a few more moments from Moreland like what we saw on Saturday night.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.
Steve Phillips breaks down the Rangers' win in Game 3 of the World Series: