During the trade season, I highlighted a ton of potential Astros acquisitions, and part of my analysis included the fit with the “Strom Magic Method”. Obviously a coined term, with a vast oversimplification based on what we know so far. I figured I would start with writing an article that covers a broad range of topics highlighting not only how we got here, but what theories Strom subscribes to and what they mean.
Everyone on this site knows who Brent Strom is. The second man to ever have Tommy John, last year’s Coach of the Year, and the magical wizard of all things pitching.
But Strom hasn’t always had such storied success. The New York Times has an excellent article that I highly recommend which tells the story of a pitching coach who was let go from 5 different teams before an oddball story of a cartoonist recommending Strom to Luhnow. It has some excellent quotes from players, Luhnow, etc. and really captures the story of how we got here today.
Now on to the theories: These will all be high level overviews of the topics and not explained to perfection. But with the goal of giving a high level summary, I do want to point out that a lot of the below is based on my speculation/observation, and what Strom has spoken on.
By now, I’m sure almost everyone on this site has heard that the Astros target pitchers with high spin rates. But why?
Some fun with the spin axis ball. Seeing the red line hold true as the ball travels through the air indicates near perfect spin efficiency. Having that spin efficiency read close to 100% (per @Rapsodo) means maximizing deflection with the 4-seam pic.twitter.com/ZU8J6wiJwL— Eric Jagers (@ericjagers) October 6, 2018
The answer in short? Magnus force. With increased spin rates, you increase the air pressure on a ball, which ultimately affects the movement of a pitch. The linked Diamond Kinetics article does a good job explaining in more detail. But due to the different spins on pitches, it changes how the pitch reacts to spin rates and how “useful” the spin is due to gyroscopic versus transverse spin. Driveline data has two excellent articles which have useful graphics and a much more detailed explanation: What we know about Spin Rate Part 1 and Part 2. These are excellent reads if you want to learn more.
4-Seamers will “rise” more with a high spin rate. (actually drop less than anticipated)
Curveballs will “sink” more with a high spin rate (drop more than anticipated)
Bauer Units (yes, I hate the name too) is a very simple measurement: RPM/Velocity. The overview on the theory is that the location of your fastball should largely be determined by your Bauer units. If it’s high, throw high in the zone (and it rises more than expected). If it’s low, throw low (and it’ll sink more than expected). If it’s in the middle, well... learn a different fastball.
Spin rate naturally increases with velocity, and generally there’s not a lot of “known” solutions to increasing spin rate. There are some theories, and I do think the Astros have some knowledge that I personally can’t speculate on. Driveline Baseball does have an article on increasing spin rate, and of course there’s the Trevor Bauer accusation of how the Astros do it and Nix claiming we stole his method.
Targeting pitchers with higher spin rates will result in larger deviations of where batters would expect the ball to cross through the strike zone. With a high spin 4-seamer the pitch “rises”, resulting in more chases and worse contact when pitched higher in the zone. A curveball would sink further, again providing more chases and worse contact at the bottom end of the zone.
In effective pitch tunneling, the goal is to make pitches follow the same “tunnel” (path to the plate) for absolutely as long as possible to prevent a batter from knowing what pitch is coming until the last second. Baseball Prospectus did a good article covering the topic, which I’d highly recommend, if you’d like to read a more in depth write-up.
This seems like a pretty simple topic but there’s some debate as to the validity, as the results did not show a notable difference in a batters ability to catch up to the pitch.
“For me, to succeed at the highest level is to have control and command, and the ability to change speeds. Understand sequencing, hiding pitches etc. If different pitches look the same coming out of your hand, they don’t have to be as crisp. Hitters don’t hit the radar gun and they don’t hit the break on the ball. They hit what they see or don’t see. If you can disguise your pitches, you’re halfway home.” - Brent Strom (Fangraphs Interview)
Effective velocity is what the batter perceives the velocity to be based on the reaction time necessary to get their bat to the ball. A pitch that is up and in requires the batter to start swinging much earlier to get the bat to the ball than a pitch down and away.
SB Nation had an excellent article detailing when Perry Husband coined the term “Effective Velocity” and introduced it to the Astros. It includes some great commentary from Strom on his belief in this and the Cardinals’ reluctance to implement it.
This is also a fairly widely accepted theory, although Driveline Baseball’s research was somewhat inconclusive.
“As such, one of my main go to references is Effective Velocity (EV) designed by Perry Husband. The teams that realize there is more than just a pitchers “stuff or velocity” in having a successful pitching staff EV helps give a blueprint or plan to win the pitcher hitter confrontation. The research and time he has put into this endeavor can’t be quantified. We as pitching coaches are the recipients of his ground breaking work. For that I personally am grateful. Thanks Perry…” - Brent Strom (HittingIsAGuess.com)
The other item you’ll generally notice is the elimination of the Sinker all together, and the increased usage of the breaking pitches.
“If you ask hitters what they want, they want the heater,” Astros’ pitching coach Brent Strom said. “They all want fastballs. They grow up being able to hit it. They want it straight.”
The Crawfish Boxes had an article back in 2014, when they got to personally see Brent Strom speak and provide some insights and observations. I highly recommend checking it out.
This one is pretty easily shown with the trend of nearly every pitcher that the Astros have acquired. Eliminate the sinker, if they have high spin, throw 4-seamers up, and increase usage of best breaking pitches.
Brent Strom explaining to young pitchers how to use their glutes...in a way they can understand. pic.twitter.com/2UVc6w9mha— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) December 28, 2018
This is the area I’m probably the least qualified to speak intelligently on. Strom is noted as being very progressive with ideas in regards to momentum, pelvic loads, and the changing of grips for increased spin rates.
Strom is rumored to have taken elements out of Mike Marshall’s book - focusing on advocating against forearm bounce that looks to have a direct correlation to injuries resulting in Tommy John Surgery.
The Astros and Strom specifically were sued (although reportedly beaten in court) for stealing the “Nix Method”, which was not described in detail, but looks to be based off Mike Marshall’s work and designed a computer program to help improve spin rates and reduce injuries.
Strom is also an advocate of Ron Wolforth who runs a pitching ranch in Texas, where they focus on mechanics, different strengthening techniques, long toss, etc. It was noted that at the 2010 ABCA Pitching Discussion that Strom and Wolforth are proponents of the “Blending” and “Chunking” theories. Dr Rick of The Crawfish Boxes also profiled some of the other discussions from that day.
“Ron develops velocity, but it’s much more than that,” Strom says. “He promotes arm health, control, command.”
TCB’s Dr. Rick also had this note in his article about the pitching bootcamp he had also noted this mechanical component:
“One correlation that Strom discussed was the back knee angle and how it correlates with vertical drop, swinging strikes and FIP. By having a bigger knee bend, a pitcher recruits more glute and hamstring and less quad, resulting in increase vertical movement of their breaking ball and swing strike rate (K%). The optimal back leg angle appears to be less than 105 degrees. “
This is all based on observation and what has been reported, and the Astros are ever evolving, and obviously the coaching is not one size fit all.
In Baseball America’s coach of the year article, there were a few quotes which I think highlight it well:
“He showed up and he understood all of the principles of Mike Marshall and Tom House, all the different schools of thought out there,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He had taken the best elements of different ones and was reading books, telling me what books to read.
He’s always been a curious mind. I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I think he truly is always seeking the truth and he doesn’t stop. He knows it.”
This is obviously a mountain of data that I tried to shove into a single article with lots of good reference material for those who want to read further, but I figured it gives at least an initial glimpse into the “magic” of Brent Strom.