Pittsburgh Pirates: Swing and Miss Slider Part of Sam Howard's Strong Start

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports


 The bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates has been among the busiest in the league. Currently with 46 2/3 innings pitched by relief pitchers, the Pirates bullpen is the sixth most used bullpen in baseball as of Wednesday morning.

One of their go-to pitchers has been Sam Howard, a former third round pick by the Colorado Rockies, turned relief pitcher now in his second season with the Pirates.

After pitching in Tuesday night's win over the San Diego Padres, Howard has now made appearances in six of 11 games this year for the Pirates, registering 4 2/3 innings. In that span, he has allowed three hits - two of which have been home runs, while walking four and striking out eight.

While limiting walks will be a focus going forward, as long as Howard is generating the kind of swing-and-misses he has been, there can be some give-and-take with his control.

Howard has registered a strikeout 40% of the time while he is on the mound, a number good enough to put him in a tie for 24th among all qualified relief pitchers so far this season.

He has done so with a wipeout slider that he throws 56.8% of the time, according to Fangraphs, and is the ninth highest usage of any relief pitcher currently.

Also according to Fangraphs, Howard's slider has been worth 3.23 runs above average per 100 thrown (wSL/C), good for 51st best among relief pitchers (among the 251 that qualify).

When it comes to swing-and-miss pitches, Howard has caused the opponent to whiff 22.2% of the time - good for 6th best in the league.

Of course, when he has been hit, he has been hit hard. Howard has only allowed three hits, two of which have been home runs. Both home runs have come off when he has thrown a fastball. His adjusted fastball rating (wFB/C) is -6.02 - the 19th worst in baseball.

Either way, Howard has always been game when called upon, and as the only lefty currently in the bullpen  expect that to be often. Adding on to being a lefty, only Aroldis Chapman is the only southpaw ranked ahead of Howard when it comes to swinging strikes.

Howard Not Alone in Swinging Strikes

While Howard has been off to a good start to generating swinging strikes, he hasn't been alone in the Pirates' bullpen. Out of the 251 relief pitchers that qualify, the Pirates have four other players in the top-100 in SwingingStrike%.

Duane Underwood Jr. is 17th at 18.8%.

David Bednar ranks 37th with a 16.2%.

Michael Feliz currently sits 68th with a 14.3%.

Chris Stratton rounds it out at 99th with a 12.2%.

Luis Oviedo took a hit to his percentage in his last outing, only creating one swing-and-miss but before that he was ranked just below Howard.

Getting Ahead Early

The Pirates used seven pitchers on Tuesday to get the win. They walked 13 batters. That's almost two walks per pitcher. Chad Kuhl walked seven on his own, and only two of the seven pitchers used didn't record a walk.

That may be a little less shocking considering that two of the pitchers the Pirates didn't use are also some of the better at getting ahead in the count.

Underwood ranks seventh among relief pitchers in first pitch strike percentage (78.9%). Michael Feliz ranks two spots behind him at nine (77.3%).

Next Up

The Pirates and Padres continue their four game set on Wednesday, with first pitch expected about 6:35 P.M. Former Pirates Joe Musgrove - fresh off his no-hitter - will toe the rubber for the Padres. He will be opposed by Tyler Anderson for the Pirates.

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