Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Should We All Be Aboard The Matt Strahm Hype Train?

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There were numerous questions about the San Diego Padres’ starting rotation entering 2019, as many of their prospects aren’t expected to arrive quite yet (with the exception of Chris Paddack).  We all know about Joey Lucchesi, who has further opened some eyes this spring, but it’s the performance of Matt Strahm that has really come as a surprise:

9.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 12 K, 1 BB

He’s also done a good job generating groundballs, with a 1.33 GO/AO.  This comes after tossing 4.0 shutout innings, with 8 K, this past Saturday against the Reds.  Obviously he’s not quite this good, but is there reason for optimism heading into 2019?

Strahm is easily a forgotten man, having worked as a reliever recently and having missed time due to injury.  Over 118.0 innings in the Majors since 2016 he has posted a 2.90 ERA and last season showed impressive skills (61.1 IP):

  • Strikeouts – 10.13 K/9
  • Control – 3.08 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 34.9%

Obviously we’d like to see more groundballs, even pitching in San Diego, as home runs could be an issue (he posted a 0.69 GO/AO as a reliever last season).  It’s a significantly small sample size, but it’s an adjustment he may have already made (and all he really needs to do is get to the 42-44% range).

Even while working out of the bullpen Strahm was seen as having starter stuff.  Here’s how Baseball America described him prior to the 2017 season:

Strahm’s arsenal is that of a starter, but it plays up even more as a reliever. His 90-93 mph fastball (which sits 92-96 mph as a reliever) is a plus pitch with swing-and-miss capabilities thanks to its late-riding life, his mid-80s changeup is an average pitch and his now-harder curveball is also average. He worked in 2016 to stop collapsing his front shoulder in his delivery. That helped him firm up his slurvy curveball (it bumped up from 68-72 mph to 75-78 mph) and gave it more depth and less sweep. It also helped Strahm get more consistently down in the zone—-he’s always been comfortable elevating his fastball.

He uses all four of his pitches, even coming out of the bullpen last season:

  • Fourseam Fastball – 58.02%
  • Slider – 15.33%
  • Changeup – 14.33%
  • Curveball – 12.32%

It was his slider that was the dominant, swing and miss pitch, with a 24.84% SwStr%.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see him utilize it even more, and while we wouldn’t project even more strikeouts working as a starter it’s realistic to believe that he can post a strikeout per inning.

He also has consistently shown an ability to get both right-handed and left-handed hitters out (career slash):

  • vs. RHH – .171/.273/.295
  • vs. LHH – .246/.350/.387

The biggest question facing Strahm is the number of innings he’ll be allowed to throw (he had a total of 75.2 IP last season, and has never been above 124.1).  He also is already 27-years old, so how long can they keep the kid gloves on?

While he’s hardly a can’t miss, as a late round flier he’s well worth the gamble for those in deeper leagues (and in shallower leagues he’s worth keeping a close eye on).

Sources – MLB.com, Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball America

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