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Shut the front door: Anthony Volpe’s slider problem, and possible solution

After being tormented with in-zone breakers, Tony Fox may be on track to take advantage.

New York Yankees v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

At this time on Tuesday, I was fully prepared to write the case for Anthony Volpe to be optioned to Scranton, work on his swing decisions in a lower stakes environment, and target a return to the big league team after 50 or so games with the Railriders. I can still probably make that argument, that that’s best for his long term development, but with Hal Steinbrenner, Aaron Boone and the rest of the Yankee brain trust coming out and saying that Volpe is the guy and won’t be optioned, we must focus on what is, not what we wish to be.

So, Anthony Volpe is the shortstop for the Yankees, but he kinda stinks right now. He had a really promising night against the Mets on Tuesday, and in particular his double against Max Scherzer may provide a key that unlocks the kind of talent we know he has but hasn’t shown for the last six weeks.

Anthony Volpe loves inside pitches. He’s a pull happy hitter and always has been, with more than 40 percent of his batted balls yanked to the left side at every level of development save for a 39 percent in his brief Triple-A stint. He can get his bat around on pitches on the inner third, or at least he thinks he can:

Contrast this with a guy like Aaron Judge, who prefers pitches he can get extended on:

What’s been super interesting about Volpe’s struggles is how pitchers have adjusted to his penchant for inner-third pitches by feeding him a steady diet of front door breaking balls:

Everybody gets a steady diet of breaking balls down and away these days — the kinds of pitches that start over the heart of the plate and cut away from the swing path. Where Volpe is different is those hotspots in the middle of the zone, where pitchers have started their sliders inside and had them break away from the barrel of Volpe’s bat. He’s so ramped up to go after inside pitches that these middle and outer third sliders, that might be a danger to hitters like Judge, become weapons.

Part of this is rookie struggles, and the lack of pitch-level data for Triple-A means we can’t say for sure whether this vulnerability to front door breaking balls started at the major league level or not. Given the fact that Volpe’s strikeout rate jumped to 30+ percent once he arrived in Scranton, and it’s stayed there, I’m going to venture that those higher-level breaking balls have been a problem since that promotion.

Now that slider that Max threw on Tuesday night ran horizontally more than any other slider in his start. He did exactly what pitchers have been doing to Volpe; front door slider, have it cut over the plate and prey on Volpe’s hype to get the bat head around on inside pitches. And Max Scherzer failed.

It is just one pitch, the smallest of possible sample sizes. But what should be encouraging is that this problem should be identified by now; Volpe should be working on pitch recognition, picking up slider spin out of the hand and compensating for the expected front door movement. He apparently tweaked his setup on the off day Monday, putting his hands in a better slot which should allow him to start just a hair later, which could help him track that movement and meet it with the barrel in the middle third.

Every rookie is going to have warts and MLB pitchers are too good not to pick up on them. Volpe’s been able to hammer inside pitches since reworking his swing back in 2020, and now the opposition is too good to let him get away with it. To hit Scherzer’s front door slider 110 mph for a double may be a harbinger of things to come, and with Volpe clearly having the endorsement of the entire Yankee org, this adjustment may just be made in the games that actually count.