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2017 Player Profiles: Matt Strahm

After previewing a few established veterans, it’s time to focus on a rookie with upside in 2017.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Welcome! If you are reading this shortly after it is posted, you are probably a fantasy baseball nut like me, thinking ahead to ranking and evaluating players for the 2017 season, when the real baseball postseason is still in progress. Even if you are reading this in March as draft preparation, that’s ok. In fact, it is even encouraged!

If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

I’ve covered three veterans (some with more experience than others) who struggled in 2016 so far in my 2017 previews, but today I want to shift gears and focus on someone with very little experience and is under the radar. That someone is Royals left-handed pitcher Matt Strahm. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him. I only just heard his name a month ago.

Let’s start with a brief bio. He was drafted in the 21st round of the 2012 draft by the Royals. He missed all of 2013 with Tommy John surgery. He missed most of 2014 recovering. However, once he finally had a full, healthy season in 2015, he moved from A to high-A and looked great at both stops, posting K/9 well over 10. In 2016, he started in AA, pitching 102 innings as a starter (well, he did have four relief appearances in there) before being promoted to the big league roster in late July. On the KC roster, he threw 22 relief innings and looked very good in the process.

Moving on to his scouting report, Baseball America had him as the 8th best Royals prospect coming into the season and MLB.com lists him as the Royals #3 prospect at the end of the season and gave him the following grades: 55 fastball, 55 curveball, 45 changeup, 50 control, and 50 overall. That says he should be a league average pitcher. As you will see, I think that might be selling him a little short. For more info about his background, check this out.

Let’s look at his 2016 stats in more detail:

ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9
AA 3.43 3.72 25.20% 5.40% 1.23
MLB 1.23 2.06 34.10% 12.50% 0

You can see that he had success at both levels, but avoided any home runs in the majors, increased his strikeout rate (most likely due to relieving full time), and gained some control issues. His AA sample is five times larger and involves mostly starting, so that is probably a better estimate of his true talent and ability to pitch as a starter. His MLB relief numbers are certainly impressive, though. Here, have some more!

xFIP SIERA SwStr% GB% FBv
Strahm in MLB 3.04 3.07 12.20% 46.70% 93.8

Squeaky clean xFIP and SIERA. Elite swinging strike rate. Well above-average velocity for a lefty. He’s got a lot going for him. Going one level deeper:

FF SwStr% CU SwStr% CH SwStr% FF GB% CU GB% CH GB%
League Avg 7.60% 11.30% 14.60% 34.90% 49.70% 49.30%
Strahm 12.30% 12.80% 16.30% 52.50% 33.30% 0%

He threw three pitches, including an all-important change-up to get righties out. Many relievers get by on just two pitches, so the fact that he threw his change almost as much as his curve is a good sign of his confidence in the pitch. It is clear from the table that all three pitches are well above average at getting swings and misses. His four-seam is good at generating ground balls, which is great since he throws it 78% of the time, but his other pitches didn’t do so well in very small samples (<50 pitches thrown of each).

Just for funsies, I checked out his exit velocity allowed. His 86.1 mph average puts him in the top 50 or so in baseball, surrounded on the list with Jeurys Familia, Raisel Iglesias, Carl Edwards, Jr., and Kenta Maeda. That is good company. Looking at his heat map, he likes to work up in the zone with his fastball, which explains all the whiffs with that pitch.

Since this is a fantasy baseball post, we care about Strahm most if he can crack the Royals rotation in 2017. He will get his chance to earn a spot, the team has already said. So, he’ll have an opportunity to win a fourth or fifth-starter slot. How good will he be?

Obviously, his velocity will go down as a starter, his fastball usage will need to drop, and his fastball swinging strike rate will probably fall back to earth a bit. There are two big questions he needs to answer: can he have good control and is his changeup any good?

His awful walk rate as a reliever is obviously concerning, especially since he threw his fastball so much and that is supposed to be the pitch that is easiest to command. He struggled with control in A ball, but not in high-A or AA. His MLB first-pitch strike % was an awful 53.4%, putting him at #256 among relievers with at least 20 IP. That means he was working from behind in the count far too much. His Zone % was just 42.4%, good for #213. Once again, he’s not throwing many strikes. That can be ok when you have nasty stuff and are trying to get hitters to chase, but he’s doing most of his work with a four seam fastball, not a breaking ball, so he needs to throw strikes to keep hitters honest.

We just don’t yet have a large enough sample to know his “true” talent walk rate at the MLB level, especially as a starter. If he keeps walking at this rate as a starter, he just doesn’t have the raw stuff to overcome it and won’t be successful. However, his minor league track record suggests he can show good control, so he could certainly figure it out with more experience.

As for his changeup, well, you saw the swinging strike rate. So that’s a good start. His weighted runs allowed per hundred pitches compared to average (wCH/C) was a very good 4.05. His fastball also graded out as above average. Not so much for his curve, surprisingly. Maybe his change-up won’t be as effective as a starter, but I’m not seeing the scouts’ concerns showing up in his performance yet.

Another reason for confidence in his change-up? His wOBA allowed to left-handed hitters was 0.277, compared to 0.206 against righties. For a left-handed pitcher, that’s quite a feat (even if it won’t last and is just a small sample size). Righties slugged 0.137 against him. His strikeout rate to RHB was an enormous 37%! Unfortunately, that’s also where all his walks came from (16.1% BB% compared to 3.9% against LHB).

In the end, I like Strahm as a sleeper. He’s got three pitches, good enough velocity, and a good track record. He needs to focus on first pitch strikes and working in the zone more to cut down on walks. That is very do-able and could help him reach a #3 starter level for the Royals and a top 50 SP for fantasy purposes. I could see a 3.7 ERA, 1.2 WHIP, and 9 K/9 next season. Tschus!