I’ll be the first to admit that, in the early days of this season, I was the founder, president, and CEO of the “Keep Spencer Strider in the bullpen” club.
I didn’t really have a great reason for it other than feeling overly protective of the novelty of him, so when prompted, I usually parroted something about how he needed to really develop another pitch first, and then maybe I’d feel comfortable with it.
Of course, no one with decision-making power asked me, and the starter experiment has gone well—almost too well. In still marveling at each pitch that registers over 100 MPH on the radar gun, I’ve finally realized that there just might be a concrete rationale behind keeping Strider in the pen that virtually no one has been talking about, so it begs the question: What are the Braves going to do with him?
I used to be one of the faces behind atClemsonBaseball on social media, so I had a dugout seat to Strider’s first college season in 2018. To be honest, my memories aren’t exactly glowing. I remember a lot of outings, a lot of walks, and a lot of HBPs. Looking back on the stats now, I’m not too far off—aside from the weekend rotation, he was one of Clemson’s most utilized pitchers with 22 appearances in the 63-game season, and during those appearances, he totaled 35 walks, nine wild pitches, and eight hit batters over 51.0 innings. The walks, wild pitches, and hit batters were more than any Tiger weekend starter, and they all threw a minimum of 20 more innings. So, when we’ve seen flashes of lack of command during some of Strider’s starts this year, it’s felt pretty normal to me.
What I didn’t remember was that he posted another number higher than the weekend guys that year: 70 strikeouts. Clearly, the more telling sign of what was to come.
Fast forward two years, and I wasn’t surprised when the Braves drafted Strider, as it definitely feels like they have a penchant for taking the Tommy John guys—he’d been sidelined for the entire 2019 season recovering from the procedure. I was just beyond thrilled to have another Tiger join Jake Higginbotham in the Braves’ farm system and looked forward to the coming years of following their journeys that would hopefully culminate in Major League debuts and solidified roster spots.
Of course, then Strider’s 2021 season happened, and the rest is history.
It was a surreal moment when I finally got to see him pitch for the Braves in person against the Red Sox in May, and I was rooted to my spot above the Chophouse for his Sunday Night Baseball start against the Dodgers just a few weeks ago. As he and Travis d’Arnaud made the trek to the dugout from the bullpen before first pitch, I could not believe I’d gone from watching him start on Sundays at Clemson to this stage in just two years.
But as that Dodgers outing extended into the sixth inning, I couldn’t help but wonder the same thing I’d been considering for weeks—how sustainable is his usage as a starter?
After that aforementioned 2018 season at Clemson during which Strider pitched 51.0 innings in both starting and relieving roles, he spent the summer doing the same for the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League, posting 26.2 innings.
2019 was his Tommy John recovery year, and 2020 was, well, 2020. That season, the Tigers played 17 games, and Strider started four of them for a total of just 12 innings.
In 2021, he threw 94.0 total innings in stints with nearly every Braves MiLB team and added 2.1 with the big league squad—he and Dylan Lee made their Major League debuts on the same day last October, and Lee was ultimately carried onto the postseason roster, while Strider was not.
Tally all of that up, and you get 186.0 innings over a span of three rather disjointed seasons.
Counting his last start this past weekend in Cincinnati, Strider currently sits at 59.2 innings this year. And the way he’s throwing, while just as effective against hitters as it is enjoyable for fans and teammates alike to watch, is surely taxing on his body. He’s too valuable of an asset for the Braves to not consider limiting him sometime after the All-Star break from a personal arm care standpoint and from a team standpoint of ensuring that he’s fresh down the stretch.
What that limitation looks like will be interesting to see. With the East race as close as it is, there’s certainly an argument to be made for just letting him go as long as he can to help the Braves win now. The Braves also need to have someone very ready make up for any innings of Strider they lose, and particularly given the recent struggles of Ian Anderson, that guy isn’t abundantly clear at the moment.
What is abundantly clear is this: however he’s used, Strider is a special talent, and I will not be taking a single 100+ MPH pitch for granted.