Sunday Notes: Brent Strom Ponders the End of the Road

Brent Strom may or may not be calling it a career. The 73-year-old Houston Astros pitching coach said earlier this week that he’s been considering retirement, adding that a decision will be made “when the season ends.” With his team battling Boston in the ALCS, that determination could come as soon as next week, or it could extend into November. Regardless of when he ultimately steps away, Strom will have made a meaningful mark on the game of baseball.

A southpaw whose playing career saw him take the mound for three big-league teams, Strom had his best seasons in 1975 and 1976 when he cumulatively logged a 3.02 ERA over 331 innings with his hometown San Diego Padres. In 1978, he became the second pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The guidance that he’s subsequently provided is what’s garnered him the most respect. For the past three decades, Strom has tutored hurlers at the minor- and major-league levels, serving as both a coordinator and as a pitching coach. Prior to being hired by Houston in October 2013, he spent six years with St. Louis.

I asked Adam Ottavino about Strom prior to ALCS Game 1.

“We had ‘Strommy’ with the Cardinals toward the end of my time in the minors,” said the Red Sox right-hander, who spent five seasons in the St. Louis system after being drafted out of Northeastern University in 2006. “He worked with me when I was struggling in Double-A, and I really liked the way he talked about there being many different ways to go about pitching. You didn’t have to fit into some small little box. At the time, a lot of people were preaching one way of pitching — kind of pitching to contact and throwing fastballs low in the zone — and he wasn’t afraid to challenge that idea.”

Shortly after going from the Cardinals to the Astros, Strom was the subject of a FanGraphs Q&A. Addressing his ongoing evolution as a coach, he shared the following:

“I keep searching for better ways… Are you going to move forward, or are you going to be stuck in the one way that was taught to you?’ It’s an ongoing process, because I think teachers are developed, they’re not born.”

Those “better ways” include an embrace of analytics, and Strom’s reputation as a guru is certainly well-earned. Even so, he’s much more than that.

“That’s a perception,” Ottavino said of Strom’s analytical bent. “Obviously, he understands that stuff, but he’s really actually old school. I mean, he’ll talk about some of the greatest of all time, like Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale. I feel like the combination of having been around for as long as he has, and his insatiable ability to keep learning and evolving, puts him in a really special class.”

Alex Cora shared similar sentiments when I asked about his former colleague.

“He has an ability to use the information, and there’s also his experience,” said Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach before coming to Boston. “He’s been in the business for a long, long time, and he’s been able to adjust; he can make the information department adjust to what happens on the field. We always talk about ‘attacking red, attacking blue,’ but sometimes you have to deviate. He does that.”

Another thing Strom has done over the years is develop and maintain amiable relationship within the game. According to Cora, his own connection with Strom has temporarily been put on hold.

“He’s always paying attention to his peers, to his friends,” Cora said at the onset of the ALCS. “This year, he was always texting me, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ Now, obviously, those texts aren’t going to keep coming. But I love the guy. He’s amazing.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

David Freese went 8 for 18 against Madison Bumgarner.

David Ortiz went 9 for 21 against Max Scherzer.

Bill Mazeroski went 14 for 37 against Don Newcombe.

Yogi Berra went 19 for 52 against Jim Bunning.

Reggie Jackson went 21 for 51 against Doyle Alexander.

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Last Sunday’s column led with an explanation of how Randy Arozarena’s ALDS Game 1 steal of home would have been negated with a pitch in the strike zone. In short, there were two out and two strikes on the batter when Arozarena broke for the plate, and a legally thrown pitch would have taken precedence over what happened on the base paths.

The comments section included this excellent question:

“What happens if he stays on the rubber, waits until the runner scores, and then throws a strike?”

Unsure of the answer, I checked with a rules consultant for an MLB club. Here was Rich Marazzi’s response:

(A) The umpire will need to determine the location of the runner when the pitcher starts his motion to pitch. When the pitcher starts his motion to pitch, that is the start of play. The stretch is not considered part of the pitching motion. If the pitcher starts his motion to pitch while the runner is breaking to the plate, this is all part of the same play. The pitch would take precedence over the steal. In that situation, the umpire will make a call of ball or strike. If it is strike three and the third out, the run does not count, even if the pitch makes contact with the runner or even if the runner reaches the plate before the catcher catches the pitch. 

If the runner breaks for the plate and the pitcher never starts his motion to pitch until the runner reaches the plate, the runner is either out or safe in which case the steal would take precedence. When the pitch is delivered it is a separate play. Again, the stretch is not part of the motion to deliver the pitch. So, if a runner breaking to the plate reaches the plate while the pitcher is still in the stretch, the steal would take precedence over the pitch and the runner would score, regardless if the pitch was called a ball or a strike, or even if it the pitch resulted in the third out. 
 
So long as the pitcher is not committed to pitch, a runner may advance and is considered to occupy that last base touched at the time the pitcher initiates his actual delivery to the batter and that includes the plate.

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A quiz:

A Seattle Mariner holds the record for most consecutive hitless at bats in postseason play. Who is it?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Baseball America announced that Don Dondero has been hired as the publication’s new President, and that J.J. Cooper has been promoted to Editor-in-Chief. Dondero’s experience includes stints at ESPN and USA Today. Cooper has been with Baseball America for 19 years, most recently as co-Executive Editor.

The Detroit Tigers have hired Ryan Sienko as their Director of Coaching and Field Coordinator. The 46-year-old former minor league backstop has spent the last seven years in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, most recently as Catching Coordinator.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum announced that it will be adding 17 inductees for their historical contributions. Details can be found here.

Chuck Hartenstein, who pitched out of the bullpen for five different teams from 1966-1977, died earlier this month at age 79. Hartenstein’s best season came in 1967 when he appeared in 45 games for the Chicago Cubs and logged a 3.08 ERA to go with nine wins and 11 saves.

Longtime Oakland A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse died on Wednesday at age 74 after a 17-year battle with cancer. An All-Star catcher in his playing days, Fosse had his best season in 1970 when he homered 18 times while putting up a 123 wRC+ and 4.2 WAR. He was awarded two Gold Gloves.

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2022 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards. Comprising the categories are Contemporary Baseball Analysis, Contemporary Baseball Commentary, and Historical Baseball Analysis/Commentary. More information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Dan Wilson. The perennially light-hitting Mariners catcher went 0-for-42 over parts of three postseasons before swatting an ALCS single against the New York Yankees on today’s date in 2000.

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The Tampa Bay Rays scored 857 runs during the regular season, second-most in the American League behind only the Houston Astros. Balance played a big role in that production. A total of ten Rays batters — this in a lineup largely bereft of household names — logged at least 275 plate appearances and put up a wRC+ of 100 or better.

Prior to ALDS Game 3, I suggested to Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash that most fans around the country couldn’t name his club’s hitting coach.

“We could certainly name him,” said Cash. “I hope that’s not right, because Chad Mottola, since he has come here, has built relationships as well as any coach on our staff. Our pitching department gets a lot of credit, and it should, but what he’s done — how he’s been able to individualize plans for each player, and the work that he puts in — you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Along with [first base coach/assistant hitting coach] Ozzie Timmons, he’s been very special for us.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Twenty-one-year-old Yakult Swallows infielder Munetaka Murakami went deep on Wednesday and needs one more home run to become the youngest player in NPB history with 40 in a single season. Sadaharu Oh (1963) and Koji Akiyama (1985) reached that number at age 23.

Forty-four-year-old Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome pinch-hit in the ninth inning last Sunday, making him the 54th player in NPB history reach 2,000 games played. Fukodome played in 596 MLB games.

Masataka Yoshida is slashing .339/.429/,563 with 21 home runs for the Orix Buffaloes. The 28-year-old outfielder is a .326/.416/.536 hitter over six NPB seasons.

Hyeon-Jong Yang will reportedly be rejoining the KBO’s Kia Tigers after just one MLB season. The 33-year-old left-hander logged a 5.60 ERA over 35-and-a-third innings with the Texas Rangers. (Per the Korea JoongAng Daily.)

David Buchanan is 15-5 with a 2.97 ERA and a 3.35 FIP over 27 starts with the KBO’s Samsung Lions. The former Philadelphia Phillies right-hander has 148 strikeouts in 160-and-two-thirds-innings.

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MLB’s social media account proverbially rolled its eyes earlier this week when it posted “The MLB,” followed by a string of red-flag emojis. Good on them for doing so. People who use that term are essentially writing or saying “The Major League Baseball,” which is markedly different than saying “The National Football League,” or “The National Basketball Association.“

If you’re guilty of the misuse that the account good-naturedly made fun of, all is forgiven… but only if you change your errant ways. “The MLB” is a misnomer.

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Meanwhile, MLB’s powers-that-be regularly talk about growing the game, and about how it needs to cultivate a younger fan base. Why then do so many postseason games have start times that make it near-impossible for kids to watch more than the first few innings? Due to the increased length of games — yet another issue to be addressed — it has become all too common for the clock to strike midnight before the final pitch is thrown.

It is understandable that some early-round matchups are going to be played with later start times. With a full slate of games on a given day, 8pm and 9pm ET starts make sense. But with only one game on the docket? Outside of TV-executive preferences — this is what’s known as the tail wagging the dog — there really aren’t good reasons not to start at least an hour earlier.

Would West Coast fans be compromised by earlier starts? Sure, but not to the extent that fans — particularly the youngest of the demographic — in the Eastern, and even the Central, time zones are currently compromised. The logic is pretty straightforward. An earlier start means that a kid in California might miss the early innings, but he or she will see the later innings. Conversely, a later start means that a kid in Connecticut will see the early innings, but will be asleep by the later innings.

The beginning of the game, or the end of the game. Which would you rather watch?

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Kyodo News, Jim Allen wrote about how Shohei Ohtani finally got free rein to prove the two-way-player naysayers wrong.

Our Esquina’s José de Jesus Ortiz shared how Cuban Stars are making a major impact on the MLB postseason.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold addressed the stunning dismissal of Cardinals manager Mike Schildt.

At Baseball America, Alexis Brudnicki wrote about Bailie Brown, a baseball operations apprentice for the Houston Astros who was the first woman to graduate from Syracuse University’s sport analytics program.

Mark Simon gave us a Fielding Bible Awards preview at the Sports Info Solutions blog.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Eddie Robinson had been the oldest living former-MLB player when he died earlier this month at age 100. That designation now goes to the aptly-named George Elder, whose career comprised 41 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1949.Elder was born on March 10, 1921.

Aaron Loup had a 0.95 for the New York Mets this season, making him the first pitcher in franchise history to record an ERA below 1.00 while throwing at least 20 innings. The 33-year-old southpaw logged 56-and-two-thirds innings.

Bill Mellor, the grandfather of Fenway Park head groundskeeper Dave Mellor, had a 129 wRC+ over 40 plate appearances for the Baltimore Orioles in 1902. Dave Mellor chronicled his decades-long battle with PTSD in One Base at a Time, which was published in 2019.

Mookie Betts through age 28: 1,152 hits, 567 RBIs, .296 BA, .890 OPS.
Andrew McCutchen through age 28: 1,151 hits, 558 RBIs, .298 BA, .884 OPS.

Andre Dawson had 2,774 hits, 438 home runs, a 117 wRC+, and 59.5 WAR.
Carlos Beltran had 2,725 hits, 435 home runs, a 118 wRC+. and 67.9 WAR.

Toad Ramsey had a 3.43 ERA when he went 37-27 with the American Association’s Louisville Colonels in 1887. He had a 3.42 ERA when he went 8-30 with the Colonels the following year.

Adam Wainwright recorded the first of his four career postseason saves on today’s date in 2006 as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Mets 4-2 in Game 5 of the NLCS. The last of his postseason saves came ten days later in a 4-2 World Series-clinching win over the Detroit Tigers.

The Pittsburgh Pirates outscored the Baltimore Orioles 4-1 in Game 7 of the World Series on today’s date in 1979. Series MVP Willie Stargell went deep for the winning side.

Players born on today’s date include Count Campau, a native son who played for the National League’s Detroit Wolverines in 1888 (and later for two other teams). Born Charles Columbus Campau, the outfielder was a descendent of one of the city’s most-prominent families. Joseph Campau Avenue runs through Detroit and the inner-city suburb of Hamtramck.

Also born on today’s date was Red Rolfe, an infielder who played in six World Series for the New York Yankees between 1936-1942. A starter for all but one of those seasons, Rolfe finished his 10-year big-league career with a 102 wRC+ and 26.2 WAR.





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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John Elway
Member

Now that Ohtani has put the naysayers out to pasture, the Angels best show him lot$ of hay so they can trot him out in Los Angeles of Anaheim furlong time into the future.

Just neighing.

Left of Centerfield
Member
Left of Centerfield

Personally, I thought he would flounder and was surprised they didn’t trout someone out there to protect him in the lineup. But obviously all my carping was for naught and I was just fishing for attention.

chisoxmatt
Member
Member
chisoxmatt

I wouldnt pay him yet, watch him for another season, his 189 K’s worry me.