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Matt Strahm pitches with a starter’s repertoire out of the bullpen

Fastball, curveball, changeup, slider, he’s got it all.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

For as bad a team as the San Diego Padres are, you might be surprised to hear that they actually possess one of the better bullpens in the game, results wise. With a plethora of talent ranging from young arms in Jose Castillo, Robert Stock, Trey Wingenter, and Phil Maton, to well respected veterans having career years in Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates. This doesn’t even consider that they also had Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, two stellar arms traded away at the deadline, for the majority of the season.

One name that I’m more than familiar with coming out of the bullpen is young lefty Matt Strahm. Being a Royals fan, I was well accustomed to the name, watching his journey as a JUCO arm taken in the 21st round, to a legit starting pitching prospect in the upper-minors, and finally to a inconsistent, but at times dominant reliever in a major league bullpen. The 2017 season saw Strahm face severe struggles early on, see a demotion to triple-A, work his back to the major leagues as a starter where he also struggled, and suffer a season-ending knee injury right after he was moved back to a relief role. Shortly after, he was a part of a six player deal with the Padres that sent Trevor Cahill as a main headliner to the Royals (I don’t want to talk about it).

Strahm missed the beginning of the 2018 season recovering from his injury. He appeared in nine games at the double-A level while working his way back on rehab (a dominant 2.51 ERA, 2.54 FIP, and 36.1 percent K-rate in his time there). Once he had made his full recovery, a non-contending Padres team utilized Strahm in a handful different ways, most to the turn of success. He’s worked as a long man, a two inning opener role starter, and a setup man. The overall results have been a good, but not great 2.12 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 51 innings. It should be pointed though that he’s been near unhittable as of late though, almost doubling his strikeout-minus-walk rate between the first and second half (14.4 percent to 28.1 percent), along with rocking a 1.65 ERA in 16.1 innings post-All Star break.

Strahm isn’t what you would call your typical reliever. He owns an arsenal that on its best days holds three plus pitches with decent command. If it weren’t for durability concerns (and he still might find his way around those for at least the time being), he’d be a legit starting option with probable #3 upside. The bullpen is easily his most likely track for now, a place where he will get to show off what was considered one of the most lethal fastball/curveball combos in all of the minors not too long ago.

Going back to 2017, only six prospects out of 300+ on FanGraphs’ THE BOARD had the same or greater grades on both their fastball and curveball than Strahm. Out of the six, Strahm was the only lefty.

Best FB/CU combos among prospects in 2017

Name Team Pos Top 100 Org Rank Age FB SL CB CH CMD
Name Team Pos Top 100 Org Rank Age FB SL CB CH CMD
Francis Martes HOU RHP 18 1 21 60 / 60 60 / 70 45 / 55 40 / 55
Touki Toussaint ATL RHP 13 20 60 / 60 60 / 70 45 / 55 30 / 40
Lucas Giolito CHW RHP 19 2 22 60 / 60 30 / 40 60 / 70 45 / 50 40 / 50
Matt Strahm KCR LHP 72 1 25 60 / 60 60 / 70 45 / 50 50 / 60
Josh Staumont KCR RHP 3 22 70 / 70 60 / 70 40 / 45 40 / 45
Ariel Hernandez CIN RHP 18 24 60 / 60 70 / 70 30 / 40

Strahm has relied on four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, all of them generating fair results. Using prorated pitch values from FanGraphs and eliminating decimals to create a wider range, we see that 27 pitchers out of 291 with 50 innings have posted values at or greater than zero. Strahm is one of them, with the majority of the rest looking like great company.

Four pitches with run values at or greater than zero

Name Team wFB/C wSL/C wCB/C wCH/C
Name Team wFB/C wSL/C wCB/C wCH/C
Dellin Betances Yankees 1 1 4 18
Taylor Rogers Twins 1 3 2 7
Matt Strahm Padres 1 0 2 4
Jonathan Holder Yankees 1 1 1 3
Trevor Cahill Athletics 0 0 1 2
Jacob deGrom Mets 1 2 2 2
Zack Greinke Diamondbacks 0 0 3 2
Trevor Bauer Indians 1 3 0 2
Dereck Rodriguez Giants 1 1 1 2
Blake Snell Rays 0 4 2 1
Carlos Carrasco Indians 0 1 0 1
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 0 3 0 1
Felipe Vazquez Pirates 0 5 0 1
Mike Minor Rangers 0 0 0 1
Austin Gomber Cardinals 0 1 2 1
Gerrit Cole Astros 2 0 0 1
Noah Syndergaard Mets 0 1 1 1
Collin McHugh Astros 1 3 1 0
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 0 2 1 0
Mike Clevinger Indians 0 2 1 0
Shane Carle Braves 1 1 3 0
Jack Flaherty Cardinals 1 2 0 0
Yusmeiro Petit Athletics 0 2 0 0
Andrew Suarez Giants 0 0 0 0
Joe Musgrove Pirates 1 0 0 0
Joe Kelly Red Sox 1 1 0 0
Ross Stripling Dodgers 0 0 2 0
Minimum 50 innings FanGraphs

(Editor’s note: Looks like Cahill worked out pretty well after all... just not for Patrick’s Royals!)

If he can stay healthy, Strahm looks like he’s on his way to a career as at least a serviceable setup man at the minimum, with plenty of impact potential. If the arm can take on a bit more in the coming seasons, the Padres could be looking at another young arm to help build a promising future for the organization on the pitching side of things.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.