To sweep, or not to sweep. The sweeper has taken the baseball world by storm in 2022. It’s not a new pitch by any means, as players have been throwing this iteration of a slider since baseballs have been thrown. However, in the era of information, coaches and players have learned how to better program the sweeper into a different pitchers’ arsenals. As the months go by, we see another pitcher sporting it as their primary breaking ball. Yet not every sweep is a good one, and even when it moves across the entire plate, it may be very recognizable.
That last point stands for many other teams, but not the Yankees. Multiple pitchers on the Yankees have excelled with their sweepers this season, and it’s because they have the right idea of how to use them within the context of the rest of their repertoire.
The first four on the staff that come to mind are Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáísiga, Michael King, and Lucas Luetge. These four relievers use the sweeper in tandem with their primary fastball. The pitch can yield a whiff, or it can yield soft contact. My focus for this article will be a visual representation of how each pitcher does this, starting with Holmes.
Note the location on this pitch. Yes, the final endpoint Is low and away, but it breaks across the middle/middle-away part of the plate. This sets up the location of the next pitch.
Sinker middle-inside. Holmes excels at working within the lower two-thirds of the strike zone. The vertical break nature of his two primary pitches promotes him starting pitches in the middle part of the zone, vertically speaking. Being aware of this allows him to constantly yield uncomfortable swings. By no means is he an elite bat-misser. He lives by getting a happy combination of whiffs and soft contact. By focusing on this area of the strike zone, he gets the most out of his slider and sinker. The batting average against his slider this season is .182.
My favorite skill of King’s was his ability to run his sinker back over the strike zone with late life. Because of his consistent spotting of this pitch, he forces hitters to have to cheat on it. You have to recognize the pitch early so you don’t get fooled and beat to end an at-bat on a called strike.
Can you see why one slider was taken and the other was not? The first started too far below the zone. Despite its wicked movement, it did not matter. Reynolds easily was able to recognize and take. In the follow-up slider, King adjusts the location to just slightly below the zone and is able to yield an ugly whiff. Why does one location work and not the other? Reynolds is aware of King’s ability to get the backdoor sinker in at any moment. In trying to not get beat by it, he chased a slider which directly crossed paths with the sinker earlier in the at-bat. That’s King’s M.O. Backdoor sinkers and sliders low and off the plate. Without the sinker, there is no slider with a .130 batting average against.
Loáisiga’s bread and butter is the running two-seam fastball. When he lost the pitch’s location, his entire game collapsed. I say that because his sweeper is nasty, yet it didn’t matter. Hitters can lay off the sweeper if there is nothing else to keep them honest. In fact, they can even sit on a pitch as nasty as this if there is nothing else to show. With him spotting up his sinker like this again in the past two weeks, his sweeper has begun to get the soft contact it did last year. See for yourself.
A whiff, then soft contact due to Arozarena cheating to beat the two-seamer and not beat the ball directly into the ground. It’s nice to see Loáisiga back doing his thing and pairing these two pitches to perfection.
Luetge has one of the best left-handed sliders in all of baseball. On the year, the pitch has a .184 batting average against and is a miserable sight for any lefty. It starts at your face and ends in the other batter’s box. But this type of loop isn’t effective without another pitch to keep the hitter’s timing and swing path honest. Some batters can sit on the pitch and drill it if you’re throwing it with no other deceptive offering.
A cutter right down the middle that yields a pop up. Why exactly was this pitch not drilled in the gap? The answer is Arraez saw a slider as the pitcher traveled to the plate. As he enters the swing zone, you can see him drop his shoulder and barrel, trying to lift the slider and hit the bottom part of the baseball hard. This slight variation in pitch velocity and movement fooled Arraez. Deception deception. Yankees pitchers consistently do this better than teams across the league.
It’s a balance of a coaching staff and individual pitcher understanding what the outlier skill is, and how to adapt everything else to play that skill up. Pitch tunneling and design are only as effective as a player’s ability to actually execute pitches and changes to their arsenal. Certain deliveries, release points, and mechanics are more suited to specific pitch locations and movements. As a collective unit, the Yankees have done a great job at complementing the sweeper. Last year it was the sinker, this year it’s the sweeper. What will the future entail? If the last couple seasons are any indication, whatever it is the Yankees cook up will help their pitchers level up again.