Do you know how much fun it is to either go to the ballpark or turn on the TV on any given night this season and wonder which 21-or-23-year-old is going to do something absolutely amazing? That’s been the case for the Braves this season, as the rookie trio of Michael Harris II, Vaughn Grissom and Spencer Strider have taken baseball by storm and hit the ground running at the major league level. It’s to the point now where Harris and Strider have turned the NL Rookie of the Year conversation into an Atlanta-only affair, as there’s no possible way that this particular award will be going to anybody outside of the Braves rookie class.
Last night was a prime example of what I’m talking about. Before we get into fawning over Spencer Strider, let’s take a little time to talk about Michael Harris. Last night, Harris smashed his 14th homer of the season and left absolutely no doubt about it from the second that his bat connected with the ball. He finished the night with a batting slash line of .298/.344/.523 with an Isolated Power number of .225 and a 138 wRC+. He’s also getting it done with the glove as well — he’s been responsible for 5 DRS and 5 OAA, with his OAA ranking him in the 90th percentile of all outfielders according to Statcast. All of that combined has resulted in Harris putting up 3.7 WAR so far according to Fangraphs, which is absolutely absurd when you consider that he’s doing this after completely skipping Triple-A.
Normally a performance like this would make you a lock for Rookie of the Year, but this is not a normal season and apparently Spencer Strider is not a normal pitcher. Seamlessly transitioning from a bullpen role to a prominent role in the starting rotation isn’t normal. It’s also not normal to not only succeed in that starting rotation role but also to thrive and become one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. It’s also not particularly normal to talk spicy after getting dinked-and-dunked by a divisional rival and then proceed to back up what you were saying the next time you ran into said divisional rival. Spencer Strider is not normal and his performance last night was a clear example of it.
You’ve no doubt either seen or heard about what Strider accomplished last night. He made like a buzzsaw and absolutely tore through Colorado’s lineup, striking out an Atlanta-record 16 batters over eight innings while only giving up only two hits. That’s it and that’s all. He didn’t give up any runs and he didn’t walk anybody, either. I feel pretty confident in saying that we may have seen Spencer Strider throw one of the best starts in this franchise’s history in Atlanta, which is saying a lot when you consider who’s been pitching here since the Braves moved down south. The fact that Strider was able to break a strikeout record that was held by John Smoltz is incredible on its own — the fact that he was able to do it as a rookie is simply astonishing.
Spencer Strider’s outing last night brought him to a point where he’s currently sporting a 2.67 ERA and a miniscule 1.84 FIP. He’s striking out just over 13-and-a-half batters per nine innings for a 38.1 percent strikeout rate and yet he’s doing it while only walking nearly three batters per nine innings for a walk rate of 8.3 percent. If we’re being completely honest, it’s not a huge shock to see pitchers come up to the bigs and throw 100 mph heat.
Strider is not only doing that but he’s proven that he has good command of what he’s throwing on the mound. It’s still not the best walk rate in the world, but you at least have the feeling that Spencer Strider knows exactly where he’s planning on putting a pitch when he throws it. If he can cut his walk rate down even further while keeping the velocity where it’s at, then he could be something special going forward.
While Strider could still have much better to offer in the future, I still think it’s important to appreciate what he’s doing right now because it’s absolutely crazy. Even though I like using WAR as a “cherry on top”-type of stat, I’m not the type to just constantly keep tabs on it. That’s why it was honestly pretty shocking to take a look at those leaderboards in order to see just how good Strider has been when compared to the rest of baseball. Following his start last night, Strider is now at 4.2 fWAR for the season.
That sounds pretty awesome and it sounds even better when you consider that he’s currently 0.2 fWAR ahead of Max Scherzer and Shohei Ohtani and the first person that Strider is looking up at in the FanGraphs WAR leaderboard is none other than Max Fried. There’s a very good chance that had Spencer Strider started the season in the rotation, he could have potentially been in the conversation for the Cy Young. He probably still might get some votes, which is crazy to think about!
That moment when you find out you just broke a team record pic.twitter.com/tJgVtUXQeQ— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) September 2, 2022
Again, I implore everybody to appreciate what they’re seeing from Spencer Strider right now. For all of the many times that the Braves have had a top pitching prospect come up only to eventually flame out, we as fans should know to appreciate when one of these guys comes up and not only hits but hits big as well. Again, there’s no guarantees about where Strider goes from here when it comes to his further development as a pitcher. Hopefully we continue to see him develop into a potential superstar and hopefully he avoids walking the same path that we’ve seen other star rookie pitchers go down — ones who dominated upon arrival only to either fall to the wayside due to injuries or bad luck or anything else.
While anything’s possible in the future, it’s still a future that figures to be very exciting for both this new crop of Braves players and the fans in general. The fact that we already know that a Braves player will be named Rookie of he Year is exciting and the fact that it’s going to be a choice between a dynamic outfielder and a flame-throwing pitcher makes it even more exciting. As long as guys like Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II are in town, the Braves are in good and capable hands as far as the future is concerned. Long may the reigns of the rookies continue.