For about two weeks, I’ve had a tab open to an article about Michael Morse being out for the year with a concussion, but I haven’t gotten around to writing it. My thesis was going to be this: Dammit, Hunter Strickland. Dammit so much.
Since then, something has changed for me, personally. I spent money on Giants tickets to attend a game in person, and my whole family watched Strickland blow a lead. Now I’m as concerned with the “Is Hunter Strickland any good?” angle than the “So it turns out his tacky-ass petty grudge from years ago might have ended the career of a Very Good Giant” angle. Besides, there isn’t much to that last angle. It turns out his tacky-ass petty grudge from years ago might have ended the career of a Very Good Giant. We’re just lucky that Jeff Samardzija’s skull is the black box of the 2017 Giants, and that kept him safe.
No, I’m curious about Strickland because the Giants seem to be comfortable with some permutation of him, Sam Dyson, and Mark Melancon in the late innings next year. And I’m seeing a lot of this going around:
Strickland is leagues ahead of where he was facing left-handed hitters. I think he'll do fine in '18 in maybe 7th inning next year.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) August 22, 2017
So I thought I would do a statistical look at how Strickland is doing this year. What can we learn from a quick trip around Baseball-Reference.com?
His ERA is fine
This is important if you’re a time-traveler from 1988, and you want to evaluate a reliever. Out here in Smartypantsland, we know that ERA is just about the worst way to evaluate relievers. It doesn’t include inherited runners that are allowed to score, it’s not predictive, it’s easy to get messed up for short relievers after a couple of unfortunate outings ... don’t use ERA for pitchers.
Unless you’re running a Play Index search to prove that Santiago Casilla was a good Giant. Then it’s okay.
He’s not allowing a lot of home runs
For the third straight season, Strickland’s HR/9 is well below 1.0. After allowing six home runs in 8⅓ postseason innings, he’s allowed 11 home runs in 167⅔ career regular season innings. It would appear as if that weirdness was, well, weirdness. It was an unrepeatable fluke, and the Giants won anyway. Somehow.
For someone who struggles to command a mid-90s fastball, he certainly doesn’t allow a lot of home runs. This is counterintuitive as all heck, but we’re probably out of small sample territory, here.
He’s allowing all the baserunners. All of them.
Strickland’s WHIP (walks and hits allowed divided by innings pitched) is 1.552, which is miserable. The Giants have had 31 relievers throw at least 50 innings with a WHIP that high. Most of them didn’t last long. Tyler Walker was one of those pitchers. So was Clay Hensley. Jerry Spradlin. You get the idea.
Before this season, opposing hitters hit .207/.262/.300 against him. This year, they’re hitting .266/.358/.364, and he’s already set a career high in walks allowed. With another hit, he’ll have tied a career high in hits allowed with a month to go in the season.
He’s allowed 48 percent of his runners to score this year
This isn’t necessarily a predictive stat, but it’s something that can explain why you feel a certain way about a certain pitcher. There have been 25 runners on base when Strickland has come into a game. Twelve of those runners have scored. That is not an ideal ratio, and it helps explain why the ERA is deceptively low.
Bad teams are killing him, but he dominates good teams
Hunter Strickland limits teams with a winning percentage over .500 to a .184/.289/.214 line. There are too many walks there, but that’s a beautiful line, overall. It’s close to where he needs to be as a power late-inning reliever. He’s dominated the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Indians, and others this year.
Teams with a winning percentage under .500 are hitting .370/.447/.556 against against him. The Padres and Phillies have been especially cruel.
This doesn’t have to mean anything. But I saw it, and it made me squint a lot.
Left-handers are still absolutely crushing him
There was some chatter about his improved change, and how it’s fixed his struggles against lefties. It’s sure not showing up in the stats, though. Lefties are batting .357/.453/.457 against him this season, which means that every left-handed hitter he faces is roughly as good as Jose Altuve. That’s less than ideal.
In the Sunday outing that he blew, three left-handers singled off him. He had been doing a little better in that department after the All-Star break, but nothing that we can draw definitive conclusions from.
It’s this category that convinces me that Strickland should never, ever be a de facto seventh-, eighth-, or ninth-inning guy, someone who gets the ball because that’s his inning. He’s more like Javier Lopez, but for right-handers, and he needs to be used as such.
My conclusions are these: I’m okay with Strickland in a deep bullpen. He’s still striking out more than a batter per inning, still above the league average. I’m still mad at him for indirectly ending Michael Morse’s career. And it’s a very bad idea to consider him a permanent fixture of a three-headed bullpen monster. Strickland is someone you bring into the sixth inning when three tough right-handers are scheduled to come up. He’s someone you plug in against Paul Goldschmidt, Yasiel Puig, or Nolan Arenado. He’s someone you take out against Justin Turner, Joey Votto, or, yes, Bryce Harper.
And he’s limited enough that if the Giants get a good offer from another team this winter, they should consider it. I’d reckon there’s at least one team out there with a secret theory on how to make Strickland effective against righties and lefties alike. The Giants are mostly out of ideas.
If Strickland stays around, hopefully the Giants will find one more late-inning guy to take the pressure off. Because if the plan is to go Strickland-Dyson-Melancon with a little Will Smith mixed in, it’s not the worst possible plan, but there will be some gaps. Some painful gaps.
When a save is blown, I’ll retreat into my dark space, where Strickland is responsible for Morse never playing again, and I don’t think that’s healthy. But if the Giants can get one more solid reliever, it’ll happen a lot less. I’m not going to say that’s the top priority of the offseason (power! outfield defense! power!), but it’s certainly a worthwhile goal.