Hunter Strickland of the San Francisco Giants missed a considerable portion of the 2018 campaign because he punched a door and broke his hand. Since he’s returned from his injury, he hasn’t been the Strickland of old.
Strickland’s one saving grace throughout his career has been his velocity. It’s the reason he was called up in 2014 since the San Francisco Giants bullpen was full of guys who maxed out in the mid-90s.
What a weapon to have someone coming out of the ‘pen who could throw triple digits. ‘That’s the kind of weapon I want on a postseason roster!’ Bruce Bochy probably thought to himself.
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Now, while that weapon didn’t quite pan out that postseason (except for Strickland’s save in the 18 inning game versus the Nationals which is grossly overlooked) and while it hasn’t quite panned out since, Strickland still provides something to the Giants bullpen.
At least he did, until he punched a door.
According to FanGraphs, Strickland’s average 4 seam fastball this year has been 95.1 MPH. That’s down from an average of 96.1 in 2017 and 97.9 in 2016.
So, it appears that Strickland’s velocity drop isn’t coming out of nowhere. But it is troubling when watching him and seeing the radar gun hover around 91-93 MPH instead of the high 90s that we’ve grown accustomed to from him.
This marked change occurred ever since he returned from punching the door, so maybe his hand hasn’t fully healed to the point where he can throw heaters again.
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But it’s also possible that his arm just doesn’t possess the firepower that it once did. He’s 29 years old, which is about the time that pitchers begin to lose some steam on their fastball. We saw it with Tim Lincecum and a whole slew of other pitchers.
Guys can’t throw hard forever, which usually means they have to shake up their approach. Most of the time this comes in the form of nibbling the corners and relying on off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance.
I don’t know about you, but to me Strickland doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who wants to nibble at corners. And despite the fact that his curveball has become a much more effective pitch over the years, there’s only one way he knows how to pitch: and that’s by blowing guys away with fastballs.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and I think the same goes for “country hard-ball” pitchers. Perhaps Strickland can vary his arsenal enough to still be effective, but I’m not convinced.
With rookie Ray Black showing that he can throw the ball hard, I think the velocity torch has been passed in the bullpen.
But maybe all Strickland needs is an offseason to get his hand and arm in check so that he can start throwing heaters like we’re used to.