How Braves starter Spencer Schwellenbach redeveloped his slider over the offseason

Atlanta Braves pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

NEW YORK – On the morning of Hurston Waldrep’s MLB debut, Spencer Schwellenbach spoke glowingly of his good friend. To a question about Waldrep developing the splitter and what it says about his ability to adapt, Schwellenbach began by saying that if you put in the work, you never know what might happen.

Then his answer went to something that applied to his own development.

“And I mean honestly, the same thing happened with me,” Schwellenbach said. “You gotta try out different grips, you gotta do something different, to get different results. If you keep doing the same thing and expect something different, you’re not really going to have a long career.”

A fitting example for Schwellenbach is how he re-developed his slider over the offseason. “It was pretty flat last year,’ he said. But he said he added seven inches of drop to his slider over the offseason – “which I didn’t think was possible,” he added. In layman’s terms: He gave his slider far more depth than it had last season.

How did he do this?

His explanation of the process was a look at how these things occur over an offseason. It also provided insight into how Schwellenbach thinks and the intelligence that has made him successful in his first major-league stint.

To begin rebuilding his slider, the right-hander looked at videos – including from Pitching Ninja, who runs a popular social media account that breaks down pitchers. And other pitchers make their own videos, which can be helpful for guys trying to improve.

“There’s enough videos out there that Pitching Ninja does and just other guys showing their grips, showing how they’re releasing the ball,” Schwellenbach said. “One, putting that into your mind.”

This next part is important: Having a catch partner who can tell you what the ball is doing. Over the offseason, Schwellenbach threw with Shay Schanaman, a right-handed pitcher for High-A Rome. Schwellenbach and Schanaman played together at Nebraska.

“You’re throwing it, you don’t have the best view of it,” Schwellenbach said. “With your catch partner there and telling you, ‘That one did this, that one did that’ or ‘That was the one right there’ and you can do it again and again – and it’s really helpful to have that because without that, you don’t know which is right, which is wrong, or if it looks good or not. So, you have three or four months in the offseason to kind of do that. And it just took me a week of doing the same thing over and over again to figure out like, ‘Okay, I can do this, I can repeat it now. This is going to be my pitch.’”

Schwellenbach can recall the day he finally threw the slider he wanted.

“I remember (Schanaman) saying, ‘That’s it, do that again,’ and I couldn’t do it again – until I did it another time and he said, ‘That’s it’ again,” Schwellenbach said. “But doing it two or three times in a row was the hardest part, and then after a couple weeks, I kind of got it, and it’s kind of stuck with me. "

Another interesting part of this: Schwellenbach got his slider grip from his cutter. The cutter – also developed during his time in pro ball – helps him get in on lefties’ hands and get them out.

When trying to improve his slider, he asked himself, “How can I throw the same exact pitch with more depth to it?” So he used the cutter grip but tweaked his fingers a little bit.

He found a pitch.

“That kind of was something that I didn’t realize that I could do, and then it kind of just happened – with the cutter grip (helping develop) the slider,” he said.

To get more drop on his slider, Schwellenbach tries to get on the outside of the ball as opposed to behind the ball, while throwing it with the same intent. If he’s behind the ball, it will have more ride – or vertical movement. But getting on the outside of the ball, Schwellenbach said, produces more spin, which helps it drop. It’s more complicated than that, but this is the simple explanation.

“But like I said, it takes a long time to figure something out for you,” Schwellenbach said.

Schwellenbach has a 4.98 ERA through four starts, but that’s inflated by a six-run outing. In the three other starts, he’s surrendered six runs over 17 innings. He’ll start again on Monday, when the Braves open a three-game series in St. Louis.

To this point, Schwellenbach has thrown six pitches. After his four-seam fastball, which he throws most often, he has almost identical usage of his cutter and slider.

Opponents are batting .176 against the slider. Schwellenbach has six strikeouts with the pitch.

And he did, in fact, achieve more drop: In the majors, Schwellenbach’s slider has featured 40.6 inches of drop, according to Baseball Savant. That is 6.4 inches more than the average amount of drop for MLB sliders comparable to his.

His development of it is an example of how he got here and why he’s succeeding thus far. And since Schwellenbach came up, Braves manager Brian Snitker has learned about the traits that have stood out.

“I didn’t know him from Adam when he came up,” Snitker said. “He’s been very impressive too, just his wherewithal and feel. I had no idea the stuff was that good. People texted me about him during the year, I saw videos, stuff like that. And then you get him here and you just kind of see the total package, the makeup feel, all that kind of stuff.”