Brent Strom has been considered a pitching guru by some of the best pitchers in the game over the last eight seasons. Over that period, he was the Houston Astros pitching coach where he would inherit a pitching staff with the league’s fifth-worst ERA. By the time he left, he was the owner of a world series ring and had dragged the pitching staff from the basement of league rankings to the summit.
Strom is most definitely a baseball lifer. The 73-year-old has been around the game for the overwhelming majority of his life and has seen first-hand the dramatic change in both coaching and the use of analytics in the game today. For a coach who was the second-ever recipient of Tommy John surgery, he has had to merge two differing schools of thought when identifying his own coaching style. Indeed, it would be understandable to expect him to stick to the old school machinations of ‘rear back and throw it over the plate’. Strom, however, defies those stereotypes and instead has perfected the balance of old school thought and new-age analytics and tools to get the best out of his pitching staff.
It is not uncommon to find Strom talking through the mental aspect of pitching and the deception involved before launching into a data-driven deep dive on how best to use the fastball to set up a breaking pitch or how spin rates can help get the most out of a pitch. It is this ability that has allowed Strom to get the most out of his players. He reportedly had already done his homework on his new staff before he joined the club and had recommendations ready to implement. One such tweak was to throw the high fastball, a tactic that Arizona used the least out of all 30 MLB teams.
In the short time he has had with his pitchers, which has been even shorter thanks to the lockout, he seems to have had a noticeable impact. Previously, Spring Training increasingly became a Madison Bumgarner velocity watch after a marked drop off in his first foray in the desert. He averaged around 92mph during his San Francisco tenure but this dropped to 89-90mph. Bumgarner seems to have been revitalised by Strom’s arrival after comfortably sitting 92mph in his first spring appearance and touched 93mph. The results in that game weren’t great, but it is important to contextualise a first spring start in which results are less important than mechanical improvements. After his outing, Bumgarner described working with Strom as “Awesome… absolutely amazing”.
So far in spring, there have been a number of standout performances from starting pitchers. Merrill Kelly staked an early claim to be the opening night starter with a solid three innings with eight strikeouts and zero hits against a strong Giants line-up. Humberto Castellanos is another early standout with a strong scoreless three-inning display giving up two hits and thus placing himself in contention for the fifth starter spot.
It is this fifth starter spot that is clearly up for grabs with other options, including Dan Straily, folk legend Tyler Gilbert and recently signed Zach Davies. It is shaping up to be a straight shootout between this group, but the favourite currently is newly signed Davies, who is due to receive $1.75 million this year. Davies had a rough year in 2021 posting a 5.78 ERA but between 2015-2020 had an ERA over four only once. If there is anyone that can get his career back on track, it is Brent Strom.
It will be interesting to see how Strom gets on with Arizona’s pitchers this season, though it is clear he has his work cut out. In 2021 Arizona’s team ERA of 5.12 was good enough for 29th place out of 30. This was exacerbated by a league-low in saves (22), and a measly save percentage of 44%. If Strom is able to replicate, even just some of the improvements he oversaw in Houston, Diamondbacks fans can expect to see a much better team on the field in 2022.
Featured image of Brent Strom by Carlos M Saaverda/Getty Images.
Matthew O’Brien is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter; @DiamondbacksUk.