Pitcher Spotlight: Matt Strahm, The Starter

For those that are familiar with my work may know that Matt Strahm is a bit of an inside joke. Entering 2017, I labeled him as a dark horse sleeper, possibly in position to steal the #5 spot in the Royals rotation and transform from a shadow on the wire into surprising fantasy relevancy.

That didn’t go so well – the Royals signed Jason HammelStrahm struggled as a reliever, got knee surgery, and was shipped off to San Diego in the Trevor Cahill deal. My vision was put on the backburner.

But it’s June 15th, 2018, where the Padres have had to deal with injuries to Dinelson Lamet and Joey Lucchesi, and a demotion of Luis Perdomo after struggling like car tires in a swamp. The door has opened for Strahm to get a spotlight as a starter – albeit in “bullpen games” – and it’s time to consider what that could be. We may have to wait until the second half (or maybe 2019!) to see Strahm stretched out and penciled into the rotation, but I want to make sure he is on your radar. I want to show you why you’ll probably consider picking up Matt Strahm this season.

I’m going to focus on the last time we saw Strahm on the hill because we’re talking about upside and with a 3.0 IP performance with zero baserunners and four strikeouts, this outing clearly showcased it.

The first at-bat of the day was against Matt Carpenter and it sets a great foundation for us to discuss Strahm’s entire approach. Here’s the first pitch, a 93mph fastball at the knees:

It’s a decent first pitch to get ahead. He throws it about 63% of the time this year, though I have hesitation talking about pitch usage for Strahm as he hasn’t spent time in a real start yet. These two/three inning bursts are a bit different than grinding out 100 pitch starts, which means we can’t focus too heavily on his current pitch mix.

As for the pitch itself, he’s done a great job of preventing damage on the pitch – just a career .120 ISO allowed on four-seamers – while inducing pop-ups at a remarkable 63.6% rate. To emphasize this, Strahm gets over 50% flyballs on his heaters. That’s a lot of pop-ups.

I know what you’re thinking. Strahm must elevate his four-seamer a lot if he’s getting that many flyballs. Right you are:

Those elevated heaters are getting plenty of pop-ups, as well as whiffs, boasting an impressive 13% whiff rate thus far. Yes, the sample size isn’t large (only 179 thrown), but if you read my piece on J.A. Happ early in the year, you’ll know I love pitchers comfortable with throwing high heat.

This fastball to Carpenter wasn’t elevated, but across all three frames, We



And I can’t ignore this absolute paint to send Tommy Pham back to the dugout either at a blistering 96mph:

But alright, I’ve said enough about his heater. It’s great, it has plenty of potential, and should carry Strahm well if he’s trusted above 80 pitches during the year, but there’s more to his arsenal. Heading back to the Carpenter at-bat, it was a 0-1 count and next was an introduction to his curveball:

I thought the same thing you did: This looks like Rich Hill’s curveball. It’s hard not to, with a sweeping break that froze Carpenter in the box and earned a smooth strike two. And why not, let’s compare the two:

Rich Hill & Matt Strahm Career Curveballs
Swing % Contact % Zone % Whiff %
Rich Hill 43.6% 75.9% 53.9% 10.5%
Matt Strahm 43.9% 75.9% 36.4% 10.6%

Those are career marks for each pitch and there is one number that is staggeringly different: zone %. What if I told you that instead of a 36.4% mark, this season Strahm is throwing it inside the strike zone 51.5% of the time? It’s a very small sample thus far, but if that is Strahm’s approach, his curveball can be valuable weapon.

Outside of this one curveball to Carpenter, Strahm threw only two more that were well executed, with most missing the zone like this one to Gyroko.

What’s interesting here is that it’s not just missing the zone, but also missing the horizontal bend of the first deuce. Horizontal bend that would have pulled it over the plate for a strike. I’m curious if this is something Strahm is controlling himself or is simply a flaw in his hook.

This could turn into a surprise strikeout pitch (like Hill) or simply one to steal strikes with constantly like he did here against Carpenter. Either way, it’s a welcome presence in his arsenal.

Now an 0-2 count, Carpenter’s mind is racing. What does Strahm have? He’s shown me a fastball and curveball, I imagine it will be heat again on the outside corner…

Yep, this is what Strahm pulled out of his hat on the first batter of the game. A fastball, curveball, then a perfectly placed slider that started on the outside corner before falling off the plate at 90mph. It’s one of the luxuries of being an “opener” as you don’t have to save anything for Carpenter’s second at-bat – in this case, Strahm did so well he didn’t even see Carpenter a second time.

I would show you another slider, but Strahm didn’t throw another. The Cardinals went right-handed heavy, making Carpenter the sole lefty bat and Strahm seemingly saves the slide piece exclusively for left-handers. I’m not too thrilled with that choice. Strahm clearly has an effective feel for this and the exact same execution will get chases to right-handers if not jammed grounders to third and hopefully with more time on the hill, Strahm can exploit more of its 22.5% whiff rate to batters on both sides of the plate.

I went through this piece on Strahm without mentioning that he has a fourth pitch, a changeup:

The offering was reserved for right-handers but I question if it’s a necessary element in his blueprint for success. It’s not particularly effective and may get pushed aside in favor of other options. I can see a meld of Blake Snell and Rich Hill from Strahm, elevating four-seamers, stealing strikes with curveballs, and missing bats with sliders. That formula should work against both left-handers and right-handers (it has for Snell this year!) and I wonder if this changeup will be a major piece when the time comes for Strahm to flex his muscles in the rotation.

This piece isn’t a call to arms that you should be picking up Matt StrahmHe’s weeks if not months or even years from locking down a rotation spot and earning fantasy relevancy. This is a piece to share my hope that one day Strahm gets his chance to prove his worth as a starter and how he has the tools to deserve our love. Be ready.

Nick Pollack is the founder of PitcherList.com and has written for Washington Post, Fantasy Pros, and CBS Sports. He can be found making an excessive amount of GIFs on twitter at @PitcherList.

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5 years ago

That’s not really fair about Perdomo! He had a .510 (!!!) BABIP in his 4 starts, and his FIP is 3.73. He was walking a lot of guys, but his strikeout rate was way up too. He’s pitching well in the minors too so I don’t understand why they’re letting guys like Lauer and Lockett get pummeled.

5 years ago
Reply to  Jon

perhaps he has a .510 babip because he has been throwing beach balls up there? you can’t really walk 2 guys every 3 innings either.