The Braves’ spin is deep, and Spencer Strider can make it to the next level formidable

Its 6-foot runway height seems generous, even on cleats. And listening to Spencer Stryder speak—low, thoughtful, philosophical, technical—or looking at him from the waist up offers no idea what he becomes when he steps on a pitcher’s mound.

Totally dominant. Very confident. Punishing force, with some skill – that little spin on his landing foot as he kicks his right leg up and across his body on a floor he seems to know is a jab that won’t be hit.

The Braves have more first-class pedigree, Cy Young and Hall of Famer honors than most franchises can dream of. But they never had anything like Stryder, a vegan intellectual with huge thighs and crushing fastballs who in 2022 carried him to 200 strikeouts faster than any pitcher in major league history.

Did we mention he did it as a rookie?

His record-breaking performance pushed the power-show bar and forced everyone to reset expectations for the right flank, a fourth-round pick from Clemson in the 2020 draft.

Strider has become a household name and one of the Braves’ most recognizable, with a distinctive mustache that has appeared since the 2021 minor leagues season. He and his wife — they married after the season — and their two dogs are getting ready for their home in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“We’re out there in Braves Country,” said Stryder, who grew a beard early in the winter in an effort to avoid being noticed. “It didn’t work out,” he said with a smile before adding, “It’s great to see the fans. It just reminds you that you’re playing in one of the best organizations in the game. And the fans are everywhere.”

As he prepares for his second season, the Strider is the element most capable of making the Braves’ preseason ranking among MLB leagues look conservative. Rookies are rated somewhere between fifth and seventh, but this could be an elite unit with at least two Cy Young Award contenders, Strider is one if he delivers for a full season anything like he did after joining the course two months after his rookie. season.

“I think that can be the strength of the team,” Stryder said of the rotation. “We’re stacked pretty well all over, but I think we kind of consider ourselves, not necessarily the backbone, but the game can be won and lost on the hill, sure. And we’re all very proud of the fact that we can give us a chance to win.”

The rotation is mostly set with a quartet of returning 2022 NL Cy Young runner-up Max Fried, major league winning champion Kyle Wright, veteran Charlie Morton (70-30 with a 3.53 ERA over the past six seasons) and Strider, who went 11-5 with 2.67 ERA and 0.995 WHIP in 31 games (20 starts) and had 202 strikeouts with 45 walks and 86 hits allowed in 131 2/3 innings pitched.

He was the first in MLB history to have at least 200 hits with fewer than 100 hits allowed and hit his 200th K in exactly 130 innings—twice as fast as former Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s mark in 2001. Strider was the NL Rookie of Overall runner-up after Braves teammate Michael Harris II.

The rotation is so strong that the 39-year-old Morton, who is re-signed to a one-year, $20 million contract, will be in fourth place behind Fried, who turned 29 on Jan. 18, with a 2-3 No. in both rankings. From Wright, 27, and Strider, 24.

“We have a lot of talent,” said Wright, who was 21-5 with a 3.19 ERA in his first full season. He’s a former first baseman who put it all together after wildly inconsistent rushes for the Braves over parts of the previous four seasons. “Obviously it starts with Max; Max was incredible. He’s just the leader for us, getting us going. And then the Strider 400 might have a stroke this year, starting at the beginning. I’m excited to see him go the full year, starting at the very jump.”

Significant contributions from their fifth starter – whether it’s Mike Soroka coming off more than two years of rehab after tearing his Achilles twice, Ian Anderson returning from a cut to Triple A, Bryce Elder coming off an impressive rookie season, or a combination of all three – can That makes Atlanta’s deepest rotation in the majors.

But Stryder, with his incredible ability to miss the bat and force weak contact, can make spinning the next level formidable.

Strider started the 2022 season in the bullpen and did not move into the rotation until May 30. The Braves were 23-25 ​​and had a 4.38 starts before he went into the rotation, a move made after several pitchers struggled in the fifth inning spot. After Strider moved on, the Braves went 78-36 and their starters posted a 3.46 ERA.

Obviously, transformation wasn’t all Strider did. It also coincided with Harris being brought in straight from Double A and headed into the lineup at the field position. The improvement in spin also reflects Morton overcoming a slow start after spending the winter rehabilitating a broken leg.

But there was no disputing the influence of Stryder, whose beginnings became a TV must-have. His performance energized the Braves and left countless opposing hitters shaking their heads and muttering as they walked back to the dugout. They couldn’t catch his 98-101 mph fastballs, which look foolish with a devastating slider or fooled by the shifting.

Stryder added changeup to his repertoire last year because he knew it would be difficult to thrive long-term as a starter with only two courts, even if there were plenty of games where he did just that—and even some where he barely used the slider.

His fastball is that good. He’s different from what batters are used to seeing because Strider is four or five inches shorter than most three-digit fastball pitchers, and his point of release is accentuated by the fact that he uses his massive legs for stability to get more reach than most pitchers. The result is that he launches the ball several inches closer to the plate, like a taller, longer-armed pitcher.

The overall effect is a fastball that appears to be billowing from the batter’s perspective. He helped hit batters at an astounding rate—13.8 per nine innings, more than a complete strikeout higher than the previous best rate by any rookie in 12 or more starts, Kerry Wood’s 12.6 with the Cubs.

Of all MLB pitchers with at least 100 home runs in 2022, Strider’s strike rate is easily the best ahead of Blake Snell (12.02). In Braves franchise history, no other pitcher has had a strike rate as high as 11.0 in at least 100 innings.

There have been plenty of games when Stryder’s fastball was nearly unhittable. On July 7 against the Phillies, he became the first Courageous player since at least 1961 to record nine hits in the first three innings of a game. On September 1 against Colorado, he set an Atlanta era record with 16 strikeouts while allowing two hits in eight innings.

That broke the Atlanta record of 15 strikeouts, held twice by Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Stryder was just the fourth MLB rookie with as many as 16 strikeouts in a game. (Dwight Gooden did it twice.)

In four regular season games against the Phillies, including three starts, Stryder was 4-0 with a 1.27 ERA and had 34 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings pitched while allowing a 0.097 average (7-for-72). That only made the results of his final outing of the year, in Game 3 of the NL Division Series in Philadelphia, hard to swallow.

Stryder had finished the regular season on the injured list with a strained left oblique deflection, which he suffered in the September 18 game against the Phillies—a game during which he passed Johnson’s fastest strikeout mark to 200.

Stryder had not pitched in 26 days when he faced the Phillies in the division series, which was tied 1-1. Despite the lengthy layoff, he continued to master the Phillies early on, averaging 98.4 mph with his fastball in his first two innings including 100.6 mph on his fourth pitch.

But after hitting two in the first inning and cruising through two innings with his usual Philo, Stryder was tiring in the third, when he issued a four-pitch walk to Brandon Marsh to start the inning and threw some uncharacteristically low 95-96 mph fastballs.

Strider’s unique error off a wicket threw Marsh to third, and Bryson Stott doubled on a nine-pitch bat to drive in the first of five charged runs on Strider in 2 1/3 innings. An intentional walk to Kyle Schwarber was followed by a homer off Rhys Hoskins on a 93.8 mph fastball which was Stryder’s slowest walk.

He insisted afterwards that the sacking had not been the cause of his rough descent, but the players at both clubs knew otherwise. The Phillies, third in the NL East, took advantage of a 2-1 lead in a series they would end in a day, then beat San Diego in the NLCS before losing to Houston in the World Series.

Anyone who knows him will tell you that Stryder never lacks motivation. He’s compulsive with his drill and fitness, and has studied every ounce of pitching mechanics in an effort to become as close to a perfect baseball delivery machine as he can get.

He used the downtime during rehab after Tommy John surgery in 2019 to his advantage, seeking knowledge about eating, training and pitching at optimal levels. Now, there he is. But if there was any way to increase his internal drive even further, this postseason finale might have done it. This was evident when he was asked Saturday at Braves Fest about taking time over the winter to reflect on his stellar rookie season.

“I’m kind of enjoying this stuff right now,” he said. “My goal is to go out every five days and give us a chance to win. If that happens, I enjoy it that day. Then you have to start over between every start. And the way it[the post-season]ended, I smoothed it through to 2023 and going forward.” And getting ready. I had the wedding early. It was kind of my time off from baseball. But I wanted to work out since I had just had an injury and I realized I was healthy (now). I wanted to kind of build on that.”

Of the oblique injury and the NLDS, he said, “In a weird way, I’m glad it worked out that way. Because I don’t want to go into the offseason,” he said. “I had a good year; I am very good.’ Then it will happen again. The game will adjust to you, and the biggest milestone is failure. You don’t really know what you need to improve until something goes wrong, so this area is highlighted in a way.

“Obviously a vicarious injury is something that everyone in baseball is susceptible to. Mine wasn’t too severe. The coaching staff did a great job getting me back. And I thought I was a little bit of an impact there at DS. Unfortunately, we didn’t pull it off. But I think that The group we have now is able to move forward.”

(Photo by Strider: Dale Zanin/USA Today)

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