I won’t pretend what follows makes any sense. It is simply a matter of taste, and my tastes have warped and mutated often into a territory I can no longer explain. If you’re an Atlanta baseball fan, Spencer Strider is a titan walking among men. Cobb County probably has dubbed it “Strider Day,” a game every five or six days when they know Atlanta is probably going to win, and there’s a good chance that they’ll see something special. Even if it’s just Major League hitters looking like 12-year-olds.
The facts are the facts. No starting pitcher in history has struck out hitters like Strider strikes them out. His K-percentage this season is 39. It was 38 last year. No other pitcher in MLB is above 32 percent. While Strider is only in his second season, and will have to go many, many miles dodging the landmines of arm injuries and loss of velocity (one assumes) and effectiveness and various rules changes that could be on the horizon, no starter in history has managed a career K-percentage of higher than 31 percent. Through his first 38 starts, Spencer has struck out more hitters than anyone in the game’s history (348 in 36 starts). Last night was another ho-hum start for him — he struck out 10 Twins over seven innings while giving up a run and three hits in a 4-1 Atlanta win.
It’s not that he’s unhittable. This isn’t Gibson ‘68. His ERA is 3.73, which is hardly bad but isn’t otherworldly either. He’s been let down by his defense a touch (3.10 FIP), and has been bit by the home run some, with his HR/FB rate doubling from last season. Shit happens. Still, when Strider takes the mound, it’s likely you’re going to watch a lot of guys walk back to the dugout after accomplishing a whole lot of not much.
There’s not much secret or style to it, unless you consider a pitcher tossing Hadoken after Hadoken at hitters to be stylistic. Strider throws the ball exceptionally hard, averaging 97.1 MPH on his fastball. He’s actually second in average velocity behind Sandy Alcantara. He also has a snapdragon slider, which looks even more like devil magic when paired with that fastball. It isn’t the most intricate arsenal, but it doesn’t have to be. Fastballs high and in (to righties) and then sliders low and away or at the feet of lefties. When you throw the pitches he does, it’s pretty simple.
And yet…there’s something…cold about it. It’s no different a repertoire, mainly, that Jacob deGrom featured when he was turning the game into a joke. To complain about a lack of couth would be ridiculous. Shohei Ohtani, the most interesting man in the world, basically only throws sliders and fastballs too (though now it’s a sweeper). Maybe it’s just the bloodless nature of watching Strider mow down a lineup. Maybe I’m nuts.
It feels on the rote side. It’s like watching the big kid in Little League just pump fastballs past hitters who just want to exit the box with all their teeth. And yet, watching one pitcher turn the best hitters in the world into a puddle should be hilarious, and exciting, and appointment television. And yet…it isn’t. At least not for me. Again, I fully admit I may be completely deluded.
Maybe it’s just the dumb mustache (never trust a baseball player with a mustache). Maybe it’s just playing for Atlanta, the most lifeless model franchise perhaps in any sport. At least the Yankees have a stupid no-beard policy and some palookas in the bleachers. Atlanta is the guy the cops pay to fill out a lineup, no matter their track record. Maybe it’s some combination of all of it.
Once or twice a week, Strider takes the mound and consistently puts up eye-popping numbers. Numbers never seen before. A unique level of dominance. A man standing out there with everyone knowing what’s coming, and helpless to do anything about it. Fastball then slider and back again. It should elicit giggles and delight. Perhaps it’s just a touch too mechanical. Perhaps just a little too much a product of the times, the hilt of tunneling and velocity and sliders. Strider just kinda feels like he came out of a lab, even though he’s spent his whole life honing his craft. He wasn’t even that hot of a prospect, drafted in the 4th round out of Clemson.
Or I’ve just lost all feeling inside. It’s quite possible.
Changing gears, only this could happen at the NHL Awards last night:
Remember, this is the league where the St. Patrick’s Day warm-up jerseys were mandatory.
Also on the NHL Awards:
Of course, it was Boston that kept Connor McDavid from a unanimous win. Where else could it have been?
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.