Spencer Strider Analyzes an Overpowering Outing

Spencer Strider
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

One of the leading candidates for this year’s National League Rookie of the Year Award was first featured here at FanGraphs last June in a piece headlined “Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect Spencer Strider Nerds Out on His Arsenal.” Six months later, the 23-year-old right-hander with the triple-digits heater appeared as a guest on episode 952 of FanGraphs Audio. On each occasion, Strider showed that he’s not just one of the game’s most-exciting young pitchers but also a bona fide analytics geek.

On Monday, I caught up to Strider at Fenway Park, where we focused primarily on a relief outing back in mid-May against the Milwaukee Brewers. Our conversation then segued into some nerdy pitching talk and, for good measure, his six scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts against the St. Louis Cardinals in early July.

On the season, Strider has a 1.96 FIP to go with a 3.11 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 89.2 innings. His average fastball velocity has been 98.1 mph, and he’s topped out at a scintillating 102.5.


David Laurila: You had an inning in Milwaukee earlier this year, your only inning that game, where you stuck out the side on 11 pitches. Take me through that outing.

Spencer Strider: “This was before I was starting. I was still in the bullpen and had sort of just earned some more important innings. We were up [4–3 in the seventh inning], it was only my second time pitching with the lead, and I was facing the Brewers for the third time. They knew fastballs were coming, but I think they wanted to see me throw strikes, too. There was a bit of that ‘wait him out and see what he’s got’ to their approach.

“I just went right at guys with fastballs. I struck out the first guy [Victor Caratini] on three pitches, then the second guy [Kolten Wong] on four pitches. I struck out the third guy [Luis Urías] on four pitches as well.”

Laurila: Was the plan to attack almost exclusively with fastballs?

Strider: “No. It was just… obviously, the fastball is kind of my crutch pitch. I lean on it. But we need to know how guys are responding to it, and if I’m commanding well… like I said, they were waiting me out to see what kind of command I had that day. They were patient enough to let me get ahead and then weren’t committed enough to fastballs to stay alive with two strikes.

Travis d’Arnaud was catching. The one non-fastball we threw was a 1–0 slider to Urías, who hadn’t seen my slider well the first two times we’d faced them. I fell behind 1–0 with a fastball, d’Arnaud called slider, I agreed that it was a good pitch, and Urías took it. You could tell by his take that he wasn’t expecting it. At that point, it put a lot of doubt into his head. I’d got the first two guys on seven fastballs, and he gets a 1–0 slider. Now he doesn’t know what’s coming.”

Laurila: I assume you and d’Arnaud touched on the inning when you went into the dugout? What was that conversation like?

Strider: “Just that the fastball was really live. That was also my first time throwing on one day of rest. I’d pitched two days prior, two innings, so we wanted to see how I bounced back. It was good. My velocity was good. My command was really good. [d’Arnaud] felt that, based on their takes and based on how they were getting in the box, they weren’t seeing the fastball well. They also weren’t 100% committed to swinging early, so there was no reason to stray away from the fastball.”

Laurila: Did you look at your pitch analytics after the game?

Strider: “I did. Early on in the season, I was sort of having to get my spin back to being true backspin. In spring training you’re kind of kicking the gears back in action and finding your mechanics again, and sometimes things get a little off. I was gyro-ing the ball a tiny little bit. I wasn’t truly efficient with it coming out of my hand, so I was getting some cut. It was just killing the vert.

“Right about this time is when I figured out some mechanical cues and got used to spinning the ball back again. The vert picked up a ton. I think I hit 20 induced on a couple of those pitches, and I was 98-plus [mph], so it was a good inning.”

Laurila: What was the mechanical cue?

Strider: “Just sort of gathering myself at the top of my leg lift and not letting anything get too too far away from center, and not moving down the mound too quickly. Everything has time to line up and stay behind the ball and get fully extended, with my hand getting out front all the way to get that true, tight backspin.”

Laurila: Were most of the heaters you threw in the Milwaukee game elevated?

Strider: “They were. Away and up. That’s kind of been the game plan. The four-seam fastball plays away really well. The further away from you it is, the harder it is for the barrel… guys’ barrels, with launch angle and everything, are usually a little bit lower than the hands. Their hands may perceive the location of the pitch, but the barrel is usually under that. The further away from their hands, the lower the barrel is. It’s just simple geometry. Away, and then up-away, is a good progression for fastballs.”

Laurila: In terms of effective velocity, a heater in that follows an off-speed pitch away tends to get on a hitter pretty quickly.

Strider: “It seems quick. And even with good vert, it’s a good pitch. But it’s more difficult, I’ve found, at least, to get a swing and miss [inside]. The part of the bat that’s hitting the ball at that point is closer to their hands, which is not as below the ball, based on the ride and their perception of the location of the pitch.”

Laurila: “Is it easier to get true backspin glove-side or arm-side?

Strider: “It should be the same. I’m centered on on the mound. I try to eliminate having to throw across my body, because my ideal location would be middle-up, above the zone — the four-seam right there. That’s the direct path. My hand is perfectly behind the ball, it’s coming through on a straight line, so it should eliminate any unwanted horizontal movement and get pure vertical-induced movement. That also enables me to not have to throw crossbody, or throw inside the ball too much, when I’m going arm-side. Usually, my ride is the same to either side of the plate.”

Laurila: Circling back to how you threw all but one fastball in the game against the Brewers, have there been any others that were similar? Maybe you went away from the scouting report because your fastball was especially sharp?

Strider: “I’d say so. The Cardinals are a great hitting team. They’ve got Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, some of the best hitters in the game. This sort of applies to my experience the entire season. I expected them, and I expect other teams, to adjust to the fastball and be able to get to and maybe cheat off of it sometimes. That hasn’t really been the case. Even when they’re always on the fastball, they don’t want to be late. I’m throwing 70% fastballs, so they know what they’re going to get most of the time. But even when they’re clearly on it, an executed four-seam fastball with good ride is still a hard pitch to hit. And when it is hit, it’s usually a favorable outcome for me.

“I remember that game, getting a lot of swings and misses way out of the zone and in two-strike counts, even though I’m sure that’s what they were trying to avoid doing. For whatever reason it was playing really well, and they were chasing it. Like I said, an executed four-seam fastball with good ride is a hard pitch to hit.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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5 months ago

LOL. How timely. Someone should ask Spencer about all the ‘luck’ the Mets had against him last week.

5 months ago
Reply to  David Laurila

Which of the 4 doubles the Mets hit has an xBA below .3? I’m not sure a ball which hits the bag (Alonso) is ‘bad luck,’ as we don’t know what the contingent outcome would have been,

5 months ago
Reply to  David Laurila

As a statistician, I appreciate the fact that not all unexpected outcomes are down to luck; a hard hit ball which hits the bag isn’t the epitome of luck.
As a Mets fan, I am looking forward to facing Mr Strider next series, he certainly has armed the Met hitters with a reason to disprove his allegations!
As an avid reader of this website, I look forward to your Sunday column (which is one of my favorites).

5 months ago
Reply to  gblasius

That “hard hit ball” that hit the bag was hit 80.5 mph… doesn’t seem very hard to me and definitely seems lucky.

5 months ago
Reply to  David Laurila

Not to overblow the point, but my first foray into the Statcast data on Baseball Savant was to look at how Chase Utley managed a .143 BABIP over 46 PA in April 2017, leading to a .122 batting average and a 6 wRC+. Incredibly enough, Utley’s batted ball quality was right on line with his 2016 numbers (and remainder of 2017) – he just couldn’t buy a single bloop hit and had more than his share of line drives right at others.

5 months ago
Reply to  David Laurila

While it is true Strider himself was “unlucky” in his outing,
(6 hits vs. 2.9 by xBA)
in the entire game, Mets had 10 hits vs. 8.8 by xBA.

Moreover, during the entire 5 game series,
Braves had 42 hits on combined xBA of 40.6 while
Mets had 52 hits on combined xBA of 49.8.
And of course, 19 walks vs. 8 walks matters.

Luck certainly can and does play a role,
but that wasn’t the reason why Braves lost the series 1-4.

5 months ago
Reply to  David Laurila

Salt isn’t a good look on you, David.

5 months ago
Reply to  gblasius

The Mets will always be the Mets. The 2nd most popular baseball team in their city that perenially finds a way to lose when it matters most. It’s why the Mets haven’t won anything in forever and why the Braves are the defending champs. Good luck in the postseason to them though, I’m sure DeGrom and Scherzer will both be there and healthy for whatever series they end up in.

5 months ago
Reply to  howieloader

You do know that since 1962, when the Mets came into existence, the Mets and the Braves have won two championships each – so both teams have managed to lose when it matters most in equal amounts.

5 months ago
Reply to  Phil

You do know that you are including when dinosaurs roamed the Earth in that timeline, right?

Fun fact: in the last 20 years, only one division has as many as three teams that have won the World Series. The other five all have exactly two, but not three but four of the NL East teams have won a World Series in the last 20 years. I’ll let you figure out which one hasn’t.

5 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Meh. Being a Mets fan teaches you about life – heartbreak, suffering, and disappointment lurk around the corner. We are inured to the jibes.
But every year, hope springs eternal! And wow, this year hope is blooming.

5 months ago
Reply to  gblasius

You must not have been around in 1986 then.

5 months ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

WTF – I remember exactly where i was for every game – save game 6 when I drank a bit too much anticipating another sh&t sandwich (but I do remember the evening started at an NYU viewing party downtown and ended with me puking in a trash bin on the upper west side).
Sometimes life is good! But that was over 35 years ago.

Here’s a nascent thought to the fangraphs staff: create an xWS measure based upon the expected win probability for each team based SOLELY on ownership metrics. That would probably satisfy the Met haters (or more specifically for Met fans, the Wilpon haters).

5 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

And if you had done this fact this time last year, the NL West and NL East would be tied with three each – with the Braves not having won this millennium.

I don’t think I’d be surprised if the Mets won multiple WS in the next five years (I’d equally not be surprised if they won none, and the Braves won several)