The San Diego Padres have an intriguing pitcher on their staff and must decide if he’s a starter or reliever.
What is Matt Strahm? Is the 26-year-old a reliever or a starting pitcher? That question was asked for much of the 2018 season, however, we now have an answer. Strahm will enter spring training next season as a starting pitcher competing for a 2019 rotation spot for the San Diego Padres.
According to one talking head, Strahm can’t make it as a starter because he can’t work through a lineup a second time. Well, a simple check up on Fangraphs immediately proves this “expert” wrong, seeing as opposing hitters are 2-14 against Strahm when they see him for the second time. This is an extremely small sample size, seeing as Strahm was used as a starter for a small portion of the season. More accurately, he was used as an Opener for a small portion of the season. As a reliever, he rarely went beyond one inning. It may be a small sample size, but it’s an impressive one.
Regardless, Stram has been extremely effective this season. A major reason for his success has been the slider. He hasn’t been using it any more or less, as compared to previous years, but it’s become much more lethal.
The first thing you notice about Strahm’s slider is the velocity. He’s added four miles per hour to the pitch, averaging just over 87 mph this season and accounting for 15.2% of his pitch usage. Just four hits have come against the slider, all of them for singles and averaging a pedestrian 78 mph exit velocity.
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Would you believe me if I said that 54.5% of sliders swung at have produced a swing and miss? Of course you would, because it’s such a beautiful pitch. Just in the month of September, 67% of his sliders have resulted in a swing and miss. When you can sequence pitches as you see here, you’re going to find success at the major league level.
Strahm is forcing hitters to swing outside of the zone at a much higher clip this season (26.3%), which is below the league average, however, opponents’ contact rate outside the zone is well below league average, coming in at 49.6% (league average is 60%).
Keep in mind, the 2018 season was all about slowly building up Strahm’s endurance and workload as he continues to recover from a knee injury that cost him much of the 2017 season. Imagine what he will accomplish after dedicating a full off-season and spring training to becoming the best starting pitcher he can be?
Should Strahm pan out as a starting pitcher, the San Diego Padres will be well on their way to forming a competent starting rotation. Now if they could just spend the money for two top of the rotation starters, this team could start going somewhere.