Earlier this week, left-handed reliever Matt Strahm was optioned to Triple-A Omaha after giving up a whopping seven earned runs in his first 1.1 innings of work. Sunday’s loss to the Astros was the straw that broke the camel’s back, with Strahm surrendering a walk-off walk to Evan Gattis in the bottom of the 12th. He walked three Astros in the inning, including back to back walks to end the game.
The left-handed rookie was also dealt some tough cards, with George Springer reaching on an infield single (that very easily could have been called an error) to “second baseman” Cheslor Cuthbert to lead off the inning. That was followed by an Alex Bregman sacrifice bunt, that may have turned into a force out at second, but Eric Hosmer bobbled the ball.
The third stroke of bad luck came after the Royals intentionally walked Jose Altuve to get to Carlos Correa, who hit into what looked like a tailor-made double play, but wound up being just a force out at second as Mike Moustakas threw high to Cuthbert, who awkwardly received and threw the ball to first base, as Correa easily beat the throw. As is always true, there is more to the story than just the box score, and in this instance, Strahm seemed to have everything going against him.
Those circumstances do not, however, explain Strahm’s sudden inability to throw strikes, as reflected in his zone profile, courtesy of Fangraphs
In his 1 1/3 innings this season, Strahm has thrown 46 pitches, and just 26 of those have gone for strikes. This is largely why he was demoted. In fact, Strahm was not getting hit hard - at all. His sample size is ridiculously low, considering he only had five batted balls against him this season and one was a bunt, but he has only given up one hard hit ball this season.
And before Sunday’s game, Strahm already knew that it was a control issue.
"I just need to stay on top of the ball," Strahm said. "I see the problem, but I need to correct it."
However, Royals Review’s own Shaun Newkirk took to Twitter because he wasn’t convinced that this was a mechanical problem.
It's nothing mechanical with Strahm. Release points are the same pic.twitter.com/oAvPaEluNJ— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) April 9, 2017
Ned Yost also seemed more concern with Strahm’s confidence than his mechanics in his weekly radio slot on Fescoe in the Morning:
“He came to Spring Training and was Matt Strahm of last year. But he went into one of his outings against Cincinnati, and gave up six runs and only got an out,” Yost said. “When I went out to get him...he had this look of shock on his face...I think that outing cost him a little bit of his confidence and he’s been having a hard time getting it back.”
Confidence isn’t necessarily something you want to publicize to the world. It’s much easier to say that someone has a mechanical problem than a confidence problem. As far as we can see with his release point, nothing has changed.
But a lack of confidence does mess with mechanics, especially when it comes to throwing a ton of balls. When you consider that a lot of his pitches are missing up, it would seem that Strahm is right about getting on top of the ball. The release point is the same, but he isn’t finishing his pitches. The ball is fading out of his hand. He is overcorrecting, with most of his other pitches riding in to right-handers, which makes sense, given his arm slot.
Now, I am a former pitcher, but I am also not a professional instructor. I could be way off. However, I do remember the head games that happened when I threw a bunch of balls. And that inevitably harms mechanics, not necessarily in the release point, but in how you finish the pitch.
Regardless of why he is struggling, it is clear that the Royals and Strahm know that it is something that needs to be fixed quickly. With Soria being somewhat of a question mark, Strahm’s 2016 season gave the Royals a bullpen cushion. Strahm was a guy that flew under the radar as a very, very important factor in the Royals 2017 success plan and now they will need him to fix his mechanics quickly if they hope to contend this year.