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Brent Strom’s Go-To: An Interview with Perry Husband

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Talking to the leading industry expert in all things pitching and the godfather of EV!

Today, I’m excited to announce that I had the opportunity to pick the brain of the one and only Perry Husband. For those of you who don’t know him, the shortest introduction I can give is that Brent Strom referred to him not only as his #1 pitching consultant go-to, but also acknowledged while the Astros front office is advanced, Perry is truly the bleeding edge for pitching.

So what is it about Perry that Strom holds to such a high standard? Well, most importantly he’s the godfather of Effective Velocity, but you can thank him for a myriad of advancements in the game (including measuring EV / Launch Angle). I attempted to cover Effective Velocity in my first Brent Strom Magic Method article, but I felt significantly short, highlighting really only one element of the theory, although the other components in the article are largely built off Perry’s EV work, they’re often un-credited back to EV.

So what is it and how is it different than what you know?

Today, when we look at the speed of a pitch, we take a look at the radar gun. Understandably, this provides us a snapshot of the speed the ball is traveling at the time of measuring. But that doesn’t tell the full story, and arguably can mislead you as to the effectiveness of the pitch.

Perry gave me an excellent analogy. When looking at an airplane, you could take a radar gun to a Boeing 757 and say it’s traveling at 609 miles per hour. That’s 100% correct, but EV is essentially looking at the full flight plan. How fast is it going at different times (launch/landing), where/when will it land, etc. It gives a true analysis of the total flight - not just a picture of the speed at the time the radar hit it.

Why? Well we’re not really worried how fast a pitch is, we’re worried about how well does it perform and how fast does it seem to a batter?

**This gives a generalization as a starting point of the impact to the speed of the perceived speed of the pitch based on location. In a very simplistic view **

To analyze that, we have to realize that measuring reaction speeds - from the timing of how long it takes to get the bat to a spot to hit a pitch well, recognizing a pitch, and when they need to pull the trigger to be able to have a chance at hitting the ball well.

** I took a screen shot of this video, as I think it gave a good visual representation, You will see the 3 ideal points of contact based on the location of a pitch. This shows the actual amounts of time till that point, which may be an easier way to grasp the concept than a MPH approach for some, the pitches are outside, mid, then inside from left to right on the boxes with the measurements **

This is the first and core element of Effective Velocity. Because while the radar gun would clock a down and away pitch at the same speed as one up and in, for the batter - there’s massive differences between the two from the batters perception and from a physical element - from when they need to swing to square up a pitch.

This causes a pitches up and in to require an earlier swing (thus perceived to be faster) or a pitch down and away to allow a batter to sit back and get deeper into the zone (thus perceived to be slower). So effectively, a pitcher can vary speeds or utilize a pitch in different areas to maximize the effect - or use pitches in the best way to maximize their effect (make your fastballs faster and off-speed have a larger differential of speed).

So how can we define Effective Velocity? Perry had this definition on one of his presentations “Effective Velocity is the EXACT measurement of the pitched baseball from release point to perfect contact”.

And that’s what it is, a better way to accurately measure what the pitcher is throwing in a real sense, not just a snapshot of it’s speed that a radar gun provides.

And with improved measurements, comes better strategies.

From there, Perry took a scientific look at the recognition of pitches from a batter. The image above shows a rough look at what that would mean and highlights the different areas of importance. In this graphic, you can see EV tunnel, which goes back to the tunneling element that we discussed in the original article.

Perry came to the realization that through EV Pitch Tunneling - it would take a batter longer and longer to recognize what pitch was coming - and ultimately impact their ability to make a decision from a ball/strike perspective as well their ability to simply hit the pitch well.

Some of these concepts are not new, but they didn’t have the scientific backing to understand why they were occurring or the best way to maximize the results. Here are some quotes from Greg Maddux that while they don’t say pitch tunneling or effective velocity are reinforcing the same theories.

“They can identify pitches if there are different releases points or if a curveball starts with an upward hump as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. But if a pitcher can change speeds, every hitter is helpless, limited by human vision.”

“make all of my pitches look like a column of milk coming toward home plate.” Every pitch should look as close to every other as possible, all part of that “column of milk.” He honed the same release point, the same look, to all his pitches, so there was less way to know its speed — like fastball 92 mph, slider 84, change-up 76. - Maddux, Washington Post

I can only imagine how much more dangerous Maddux would have been with the full data to build the best approach.

Just think if we were able to take any pitcher’s fastball and add 5-7 mph to it, or increase the difference in speed to their off-speed by a similar amount how devastating that pitcher could become. But this is all theory right? I get that some people don’t buy into theories - even with the massive amount scientific testing as evidence until they see it live on a field. Lucky for us, we have Brent Strom who have started to implement these theories on the field.

** Earlier in the article, you saw the +/-, but here are the calculated numbers and the impact on perceived velocity by the batter based on location. As Perry explained this, he highlighted the line, and it quickly becomes evident that some of the old adages of pitching down and away with fastball, seems ridiculous **

We’re still covering this topic from a pretty high level. I’m absolutely shocked that more major league teams have not implemented this concept to date. But there’s far more depth as you dig into building a pitcher’s ideal ‘EV Ecosystem’ (Pitch Design), in our ability to truly take advantage of every ounce of a pitcher’s potential.

Every pitcher has 3 EV Ratings. (1) Present EV Ecosystem (how they use their stuff), (2) How they could use the same stuff and maximize their ability to deceive batters (3) an EV Rating utilizing tweaks, new pitches etc.

In the future, major league teams I envision teams not only implementing the basics that we’re covering here - but continuing to truly weaponize a pitcher’s arsenal by scientifically designing the best approach for a pitcher to utilize.

So let’s look at some live examples.

If you didn’t know, Charlie Morton was identified by Perry as a strong candidate to implement effective velocity strategy with. As we all know, the end results were astonishing, and like many others, Perry believes it was only the tip of the iceberg if Morton had fully embraced EV for his pitch design/sequencing.

In 2016, Charlie Morton had a 46-71 line with a rough 4.54 ERA with a 4.10 FIP. He was a ground-ball pitcher, with a K rate coming in at 6.3 per 9, and walks coming in around 3.4/9.

Nothing there screams that he would be a target to pursue, but Perry was confident that if Morton took advantage of EV, there was something special in the making. Why? Well the EV Ecosystem ratings that I briefly touched on showed a huge amount of wasted potential by Morton based on his approach.

Here are some of Morton’s quotes from the Gazette:

“I think Strommy [Astros pitching coach Brent Strom] has a reputation of being a guy that supports pitchers using elevated fastballs.”

“Looking back, just throwing sinkers to lefties was just an awful idea,” he said. “Just feeding them sinkers was a bad idea. I think I looked at my sinker and I was like, well, this is my best pitch, so I’m going to throw it, and I did. It worked to righties, it didn’t work to lefties. That was my identity.”

The results? Here’s the Pre / Post:

Morton Pre-Strom: 46-71, 4.54 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Morton Post-Strom: 45-16, 3.24 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 10.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

And while I’m sure there were many other tweaks to Morton’s approach, his words speak volumes about EV. Morton is hardly the only one.

Let’s look at Cole:

“I’ve incorporated some of the tunnels because now I know what pitches work off one another,” he said. “And the four-seam at the top makes all my breaking balls better, and not necessarily the ones for strikes. They’re over the plate, so immediately out of the hand the hitter has to decide if it’s a strike. If it’s at the top, even if it’s a ball and it’s over the plate, you’re still putting pressure on them. You’re making them make decisions so you can get a read. When it’s off both corners, like down an in, it doesn’t register [with the hitter]. It doesn’t put any pressure on them. They forget where that pitch comes from.” - Sports Illustrated

Cole Pre-Strom: 59-42, 3.50 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9

Cole Post-Strom: 35-10, 2.68 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 13.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

The list goes of examples goes on and on. When Brent Strom was on Collin McHugh’s podcast, he talks about implementing it. Justin Verlander has come out and praised it. Although the words “effective velocity” aren’t necessarily the words they’re using, it’s exactly what they’re saying.

Want more examples? Pitcherlist did an entire article looking at the results of elevated fastballs based on Perry’s theory. The Astros? Had the highest usage of high fastballs, and their results show the success they had with it it (other zones -> high fastball). BAA improved from (.312 to .149), wOBA from .383 to .249, xwOBA from .355 to .243, and a 4.4 mph reduction in exit velocity!

I know what you’re thinking, it CAN’T be that simple can it? Well the answer is yes, and no. First, there’s a LOT more depth to this topic. A college-level course could be taught on it - and our knowledge is continuing to grow by the day.

So if it’s now proven with the Astros, has a scientific testing with evidence, and has Coach of the Year Brent Strom’s backing - why isn’t it implemented everywhere?

Well, there’s a couple reasons for that.

1.) You have to get players to buy in. This is a much bigger factor than people may realize. Morton talked about his “identity” earlier as a “groundballer” for example. Between hearing the same old myths since they’re a kid, and where they’ve had success it can be extremely difficult to convince a pitcher to try something radically different. AJ Hinch’s quote from a USNews article about convincing the players is very telling (and he considers the process a trade secret):

“Selling them is about providing them as much information as you can in an environment that’s a two-way street and applying it onto the field, which is what the player is in charge of. So that’s about as much detail as I’m going to give you about our meetings because it’s something that we consider very important to the development of our players.”

2.) It requires a whole team approach. Perry referred to it as different cooks in the kitchen: General Manager, Pitching Coach, Manager, Catcher, Analytics guys, etc etc. all involved in the process, making it hard for it to be bought into holistically to maximize the results.

3.) It’s still fairly new. Well, this is true and false. While Perry has been advocating for EV since before Moneyball became a well known term, it defies a lot of the old adages that are accepted as true in baseball. Brent Strom has talked about on multiple occasions that some of the elements of EV he’s been advocating to implement for years - and it got him fired. With Perry’s scientific testing and data, the Astros gave Strom some rope - allowing him to test it out.

The Rays and Reds have coaches that have bought into EV, and I think the results from their teams this year will help solidify EV’s place in the game, and rapidly evolve the sport.

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On a personal note, I can’t thank Perry enough for taking the time to chat with me. What started off as a quick follow up on my previous article turned into an amazing 3-hour discussion. Perry exudes enthusiasm - you can hear it in his voice as he talks about pitching.

I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m out of my league especially when talking to one of the industries leading experts, but he never made me feel that way. He was even fine entertaining me as I talked through some of the players I had previously identified as trade targets, development of different players, or even my takes on identifying why certain pitchers had failed.

It’s tough for me to capture all of the great examples and stories in an article without this turning into a short novel, but here were some of the other notes I took

  • He hasn’t found any evidence to back-up Bauer Units (rpm/mph) determining the most effective place to throw your fastball.
  • In his third book, he wrote about what causes pitches to move. Spin rate, while a tool in the pitching design - he finds to be a bit overrated with a focus on velocity changes to throw off timing of the batter being far more critical.
  • He believes the effects of back-spin on a ball, and the ball being juiced - while potentially having an impact- is over-hyped.
  • Perry advocated for the reduction of use in fastballs. The Astros were an early adopter, but the league has followed their footsteps.
  • Groundballs are not as desirable of a result as they were once believed to be. Perry has an entire analysis on this, going into the batting averages, xwOBA, etc of hard hit ground balls. The largest gap in the old-school analysis is that pop-ups were removed from fly balls.
  • While Brent Strom is 100% a backer of EV, the Astros have been a bit more reluctant. We talked about the cooks in the kitchen - Perry believes if any players were to truly go “all-in” the results could be mind blowing as even Cole hadn’t fully tapped into his potential last year.
  • I briefly mentioned in the last article that Short Pitchers have an advantage - which is another old myth these theories contradict. Why? Well a lower release point allows for a pitcher to tunnel better due to the angle of release. (This is part of why Oswalt lowered his release point by 4” and part of why he was able to hide a 70 mph curveball behind a mid-90s fastball.

I was honored to have the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the greatest minds in baseball. I think the biggest note in my mind was how simplistic but revolutionary this approach will be in baseball. Personally, I believe that Effective Velocity will have a far larger impact on baseball than Moneyball did, although it may never gain the recognition it should which is truly a shame. As teams begin to shift to this approach, I think we will see a significant drop off in offense.

Lucky for us, we have Brent Strom as a true student of the game bringing these approaches to the Astros!

As much as I enjoyed my time speaking with Perry and I hope that he is recognized and given the credit he deserves for pioneering these approaches - we can selfishly hope no other teams make the shift so we can continue to take advantage of one of the core elements of the “Strom Magic Method”.