Drafted in the 21st round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals, left-hander Matt Strahm has had an injury-plagued professional career to date. In his rookie league debut, Strahm threw 30 and a third innings and posted a 5.64 ERA. Strahm did strike out 42 batters during those innings, but also walked 17 batters. Strahm ended up missing the entirety of the 2013 season after Tommy John surgery and missed much of 2014 as well. Strahm looked much improved in his short stint in rookie ball at the end of 2014, posting a 2.29 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks in 19 and two-thirds innings.
To begin 2015, Strahm started the season in Low-A with 26 solid innings, posting a 2.08 ERA. However, Strahm’s walk rate still remained over 12 percent, even with an increase in his strikeout rate to 38 percent. During this time, Strahm was pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. Upon his promotion to High-A later in that year, Strahm was used mostly as a starter. In 68 innings in High-A, Strahm experienced a decrease in his strikeout rate, but an even more substantial decrease in his walk rate. Most importantly, Strahm nearly halved his walk rate during this time and posted a 2.78 ERA.
In 2016, Strahm spent a majority of the season starting in Double-A, throwing 102 and a third innings and posting a further improved 4.65 K-BB rate, improved from 4.37 the year before in High-A and 3.17 in Low-A. Despite posting a higher ERA than in the year before, Strahm had shown himself capable of being a starter at a higher level.
With his solid Double-A performance, Strahm earned himself a late-season promotion to Kansas City, where he pitched 22 innings out of the bullpen and struck 30 batters while walking 11. Weirdly enough, Strahm has seen an increased walk rate every time he has pitched out of the bullpen, which is the opposite of what you would expect with the average pitcher. Even so, Strahm showed himself capable of being an immensely valuable relief pitcher, as evidenced by his 0.8 fWAR in just 22 innings.
Although he had a bit of Triple-A time in 2017, it was only five innings, so let’s focus on his time at the big league level. In 34 and two-thirds innings prior to a leg injury ended his season, Strahm took a big step back, posting a 5.45 ERA and the highest walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate of his career. Given his leg injury, it’s fair to speculate about whether or not Strahm was pitching hurt.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 51 innings, six games started, 27.7% strikeout rate, 13.6% walk rate, 3.90 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 0.6 fWAR
In 2018, it appears that Strahm will be given the chance to earn a rotation spot in spring training. However, there is a lot of competition for those last few spots, so it may be hard for him to do enough to earn it, especially given his health status. If Strahm pitches well this spring, the Padres will likely give him a chance to start. His long-term value is immensely more important than some of the other arms the Padres have, so he seems to have a good shot.
It will be interesting to see if the Padres start Strahm out of the bullpen because of his injury history. With only 40 innings under his belt in 2017, it seems unlikely that Strahm will take on a full starter’s workload right away. However, Strahm could prove himself to be a valuable rotation piece, or perhaps an even more valuable relief piece, in the future.