Rowan Wick emerged as a viable bullpen arm for Joe Maddon‘s Cubs by throwing almost exclusively fastballs and spike-curveballs. That latter offering is something Wick developed last year with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy in the Cubs’ Pitch Lab and it’s since been adopted by Brad Wieck, Tyson Miller, and Trevor Megill (Yu Darvish throws it too, but he picked it up on his own). Not content with just one breaking secondary, Wick is back in the lab experimenting with he calls a hybrid monster that conjures thoughts of Jake Arrieta‘s explicit-sounding slutter.
“I’m experimenting with a slider/cutter thing,” Wick told Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic. “I didn’t throw it my last outing, but it’s something I’ve been working on. It’s nice to see how it’s coming out of my hand. Last year it was more cutter-ish. I’m trying to slow it down and get more depth on it.”
Wick isn’t completely unfamiliar with throwing sliders, which made up ~5% of his total pitches last season. But by the end of 2019, he had essentially scrapped the pitch in favor of his filthy fastball/curveball combination. Focusing on the mix was the right decision because his slider’s 34% “active spin” or “spin efficiency” was near the bottom of the league, whereas his curveball was over 90% and one of the top rates in baseball.
Imagine how insane it would be if Wick could really develop that new pitch to match his spike curve. That’s not out of the question at all, especially when you consider how quickly he picked up the curve, not to mention pitching in general. A converted catcher, he’s only been on the mound full-time since 2016.
Wick hadn’t thrown the cutter/slider in his first outing, but it appeared as if he went to it for the first time this spring in his most recent appearance. Have a look below…
You can immediately tell that the pitch has some depth to it. I went back to video from 2019 to find a matching slider to a lefty in a similar location, but he didn’t throw one last year at all. A fair comparison between then and now isn’t possible, especially without any supporting data to confirm what we see. Oh well.
Wick’s follow-up pitch also caught my attention. During the same at-bat, he spun in a disgusting spike curveball that got the Rockies batter way out front for a weak groundout. Notice that the curveball below dives in almost the same direction as the slider/cutter above, just with far more movement. Seeing those pitches back-to-back got me thinking about how Wick’s curveball efficiency could get an even greater boost if he indeed develops a slider.
Wick wasn’t on many folks’ radars going into 2019, but now he’s considered an anchor in the Cubs bullpen. And, as noted above, he’s still getting a feel for pitching as he continues to refine his repertoire. If he actually implements a new slider this season, I’m struggling to figure out how opposing batters will hit him.