Spencer Strider Continues to Dominate, and Reaches a Milestone

Spencer Strider
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani — in whatever order you want to place them in, I’ve said my piece — there might be no player in the majors who’s putting up numbers that boggle the mind as Spencer Strider’s do. The fireballing 23-year-old rookie has been utterly dominant this season, particularly since entering the Braves’ rotation on May 30. In Sunday’s start against the Phillies, he reached 200 strikeouts for the season, joining and even outdoing some notable company along the way.

Via his usual one-two punch of an upper-90s four-seam fastball and a baffling slider, Strider struck out 10 Phillies in six innings during his 5–2 victory, with Nick Maton going down swinging against a 99-mph heater in the fifth inning for no. 200. Strider had a no-hitter in progress at the time, and he maintained it for 5.2 innings before Alec Bohm connected against him for a solo homer.

Strider became the sixth pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts this season. What’s extraordinary is how few innings he needed to do it relative to the previous five:

Pitchers with 200 Strikeouts in 2022
Pitcher Team IP TBF SO K% Date of 200th Innings to 200
Gerrit Cole NYY 182.1 725 236 32.6% 8/26 157.1
Carlos Rodón SFG 167.2 670 220 32.8% 9/4 157.0
Corbin Burnes MIL 179.0 713 219 30.7% 9/3 163.1
Dylan Cease CHW 167.0 674 214 31.8% 9/8 158.0
Aaron Nola PHI 186.1 736 210 28.5% 9/6 177.1
Spencer Strider ATL 131.2 528 202 38.3% 9/18 130.0
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

In fact, Strider set a record for the fewest innings needed to reach the 200-strikeout plateau, doing so in 130 innings, 0.2 fewer than Randy Johnson needed in 2001. Cole was the second-fastest by that measure, doing so in 133.2 innings in 2019.

To be fair, Johnson was doing so in a much lower strikeout environment. By K%+, a normalized strikeout rate where 100 equals league average, Johnson had a 208 mark in 2001, meaning that he was striking out batters at a little more than twice the league-average rate. Using a 120-inning cutoff, that ranks 13th among pitchers of the integration era (1947 onward). Strider has “only” a 170 K%+, meaning that he’s striking out hitters at 1.7 times the league rate, merely 105th by those parameters. As with so many context-adjusted pitching stats, it’s Pedro Martinez who tops this particular list, with a 239 K%+ in 1999, the year he struck out 313 hitters in 213.1 innings. Martinez reached 200 in 147 innings, via a rare relief appearance necessitated by a late arrival to the ballpark (and foreshadowing his Divison Series Game 5 heroics a couple months later).

Strider is the 17th rookie since 1901 to strike out 200 batters in a season, and the first in this millennium to do so without previously pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball:

Rookie Pitchers with 200 Strikeouts
Player Team Season Age IP TBF SO K%
Spencer Strider ATL 2022 23 131.2 528 202 38.3%
Yu Darvish TEX 2012 25 191.1 816 221 27.1%
Daisuke Matsuzaka BOS 2007 26 204.2 874 201 23.0%
Kerry Wood CHC 1998 21 166.2 699 233 33.3%
Hideo Nomo LAD 1995 26 191.1 780 236 30.3%
Dwight Gooden NYM 1984 19 218.0 879 276 31.4%
Mark Langston SEA 1984 23 225.0 965 204 21.1%
John Montefusco SFG 1975 25 243.2 1018 215 21.1%
Bob Johnson KCR 1970 27 214.0 894 206 23.0%
Tom Griffin HOU 1969 21 188.1 810 200 24.7%
Gary Nolan CIN 1967 19 226.2 932 206 22.1%
Don Sutton LAD 1966 21 225.2 916 209 22.8%
Herb Score CLE 1955 22 227.1 978 245 25.1%
Pete Alexander PHI 1911 24 367.0 1440 227 15.8%
Russ Ford NYY 1910 27 299.2 1112 209 18.8%
Tom Hughes CHC 1901 22 308.1 1325 225 17.0%
Christy Mathewson NYG 1901 20 336.0 1361 221 16.2%

Cautionary tales abound on the above list, though the problems of Score, Gooden, and Wood — to cite three of the most famous ones here — bear little relationship to each other. The chronological distribution of these players is noteworthy, with four pitchers (including Hall of Famers Mathewson and Alexander) from the dead-ball era, then just one between that period and the comparatively pitcher-friendly 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and then a jump to five from the Wild Card era, three of whom got their starts in Japan. If you’re wondering about K%+ from this group, Score (222), Gooden (212), Wood (190), and Nomo (177) all outdid Strider.

Strider is also the first of those rookies with a strikeout total that’s more than double his total of hits allowed. Using the same 120-inning cutoff, only 11 pitchers have doubled up in such fashion, including one other pitcher this year and two from last year:

Pitchers With Twice as Many Strikeouts as Hits Allowed
Pitcher Team Season Age IP H K K/H
Spencer Strider ATL 2022 23 131.2 86 202 2.35
Cristian Javier HOU 2022 25 131.2 85 173 2.04
Freddy Peralta MIL 2021 25 144.1 84 195 2.32
Carlos Rodón CHW 2021 28 132.2 91 185 2.03
Gerrit Cole HOU 2019 28 212.1 142 326 2.30
Justin Verlander HOU 2019 36 223.0 137 300 2.19
Max Scherzer WSN 2018 33 220.2 150 300 2.00
Chris Sale BOS 2018 29 158.0 102 237 2.32
Max Scherzer WSN 2017 32 200.2 126 268 2.13
Randy Johnson ARI 2001 37 249.2 181 372 2.06
Pedro Martínez BOS 2000 28 217.0 128 284 2.22
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Minimum 120 innings pitched.

Again speaking to the way that a high-strikeout era has made this possible, all but two of the pitchers here are from the past six seasons, with Johnson and Martinez the only pitchers to do so beforehand; the aforementioned seasons of both Johnson and Cole are represented here. Note that Javier has flown somewhat under the radar in making this list, as most of the attention paid to Astros starters has gone to Verlander, who’s the AL wins and ERA leader and likely Cy Young Award frontrunner, and Framber Valdez, who’s on the outskirts of the Cy Young discussion and just set a single-season record with his 25th consecutive quality start.

These eye-opening numbers shouldn’t obscure Strider’s impact upon the Braves’ season. He’s taken some giant steps in short order since being chosen in the fourth round of the 2020 draft out of Clemson University, that after missing all of the previous season due to Tommy John surgery. After making appearances at five levels in 2021, from A-ball to the majors (2.1 innings in two October regular-season games), he broke camp with the team in April and made 13 relief appearances, dominating in mostly low-leverage situations (2.22 ERA, 1.42 FIP, 38.9% strikeout rate). He joined the rotation on May 30 and quickly solidified the fifth spot behind Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Kyle Wright, and Ian Anderson. By most measures, he’s outpitched them all in that timeframe:

Since Strider Joined the Rotation on May 30
Spencer Strider 20 107.1 38.1% 7.9% 0.59 2.77 1.91 4.2
Max Fried 18 114.1 22.9% 4.5% 0.55 2.20 2.70 3.1
Charlie Morton 19 113.1 31.9% 7.9% 1.51 3.73 3.95 1.4
Kyle Wright 19 116.1 21.7% 6.7% 1.16 3.40 3.95 1.4
Ian Anderson 13 64.0 21.1% 10.7% 0.84 5.48 3.92 0.7
Jake Odorizzi 7 33.2 18.4% 7.5% 1.87 4.54 5.28 0.0

Strider is fourth in innings among this group but leads the pack — even Fried, who made the NL All-Star team — by more than a full win in this span. Including his time in the bullpen, he’s got a 4.9–4.6 edge in WAR on Fried and the lowest FIP (1.83) and xERA (2.39) of the group; his 2.67 ERA is second to Fried’s 2.52. Between Wright leveling off after a strong start and Anderson pitching his way back to Triple-A (and recently suffering an oblique strain that will likely end his season), Strider’s performance looms large in terms of the Braves’ turnaround from a 23–27 start.

In fact, Strider’s FIP and xERA are the majors’ lowest among pitchers with at least 130 innings, and his 38.3% strikeout rate and 29.7% strikeout-walk differential are the highest. Even while falling 15.1 innings short of qualifying for the ERA title (the Braves have played 147 games, he has totaled 131.2 innings), he ranks seventh in the majors in WAR behind Rodón (5.7), Nola (5.5), Kevin Gausman (5.2), Verlander (5.1), Sandy Alcantara (5.1), and Ohtani (5.0).

Remarkably, Strider is doing all of this as a two-pitch pitcher, more or less. He’s like a closer who throws five innings at the start of a game (to paraphrase somebody whom I’ve momentarily forgotten; apologies in advance). No starting pitcher throws his four-seamer as often as Strider (67%), but then, it’s a damn good four-seamer. Not only does it average 98.2 mph with a high spin rate (2,343 RPM, placing him in the 76th percentile), but it also has a lot of movement and deception thanks to his size (listed as 6-foot-0) and extension (6.9 feet, 93rd percentile). When combined with that velocity — hey, good luck. As Justin Choi wrote in July in comparing Strider’s fastball to that of Hunter Greene, who reaches triple digits with greater regularity (28% of all four-seamers, compared to 5% for Strider):

[A] lack of height actually works in his favor, as Strider is able to get on top of the ball without having to drastically raise his release point. You can also tell from their respective deliveries that Strider releases the ball closer to home plate than does Greene. The benefit of added extension is straightforward: To a hitter, the pitch appears faster and is thus trickier to deal with. Triple digits from Strider is more devastating than triple digits from Greene.

…Compared to Greene, it’s Strider who not only creates more vertical movement, but also unleashes it through a lower release point and lengthier extension. His approach angle is flatter as a result, giving the illusion of rise.

Updating the table that Choi included in the comparison:

Spencer Strider vs. Hunter Greene Fastball Comparison
Pitcher Velocity V Mov (in.) H Mov (in.) V Rel (ft.) H Rel (ft.) Extension (ft.)
Spencer Strider 98.2 17.6 5.2 5.7 2.0 6.9
Hunter Greene 98.7 15.9 11.5 6.0 2.4 6.4
SOURCE: SOURCE: Alex Chamberlain’s Pitch Leadboard
Negative values for horizontal movement and release point have been flipped for ease of reading.

Batters have managed just a .201 average and .295 slugging percentage when connecting with Strider’s fastball, which isn’t all that often given his 27.7% whiff rate. They’ve struggled even more with his slider, which has improved mightily since Eric Longenhagen evaluated the pitch as “still below-average and not nasty enough to miss bats in the strike zone” in his June prospect report, grading it as a 40 present and 45 future. He throws it 28.2% of the time, with batters hitting .139, slugging .197 and whiffing 52.2% of the time. He rounds out his arsenal with a changeup (4.8%), which despite its minimal usage has baffled batters, as they’ve hit .136 and slugged .237 against it, whiffing 47.5% of the time.

If there’s a knock on Strider, it’s that he generally doesn’t pitch deep into games because of so many deep counts. He’s averaging an NL-high 4.31 pitches per plate appearance and only twice has thrown more than six innings, with the most recent time being his eight-inning, two-hit effort on September 1 against the Rockies, during which he set a franchise record with 16 strikeouts. Manager Brian Snitker has been reasonably cautious with him and has built him up slowly; he averaged 90 pitches per start in June, with progressions to 93, 94, and 104 pitches in each month since. In his last six starts, he’s thrown between 102 and 106 pitches (the latter his season high) and gone at least six innings five times, pitching to a 1.70 ERA and 1.46 FIP along the way. He threw 96.1 innings last year, so he’s 35 innings past that now, and I imagine the Braves’ postseason plans for him are to stick with the five-to-six-inning turns and let the bullpen take care of the rest.

In all, Strider’s had an amazing season. With all due respect to teammate Michael Harris II, who’s hit .305/.343/.537 with a 142 wRC+ and 4.4 WAR since arriving on May 28 and played a similarly instrumental role in the team’s turnaround, I think Strider would be my choice for NL Rookie of the Year. What Harris has done is special and impressive, but as the numbers above suggest, what Strider has done is out of this world.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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Cave Dameron
1 year ago

Thank you Jay, very cool!