A long and wide ranging interview provides insights into the D-backs new pitching coach and his approach
Brent Strom spent over half an hour today answering questions on ZOOM with the Arizona media. When it was over Torey Lovullo came on briefly with a big proud grin, almost as if he had hit the lottery and said :
“After spending these few minutes with him talking to you guys, I’m sure you can see very quickly that he is more than captivating, more than prepared”
Torey went on to describe a process where he felt very lucky and honored to have been able to hire Strom. As we know, skip can be a bit effusive in his praise at times when it’s not completely warranted, but in this case there is no hyperbole. Strom’s resume is well known at this point. But Strom is fascinating to listen to and is someone that very much seems likely to move the needle for this organization. His intelligence, humility, and willingness to always listen and learn while at the same time coming up with creative ways to impart his knowledge shine through here.
I really can’t do justice to his full interview. So if you have 30 minutes, just saddle up and listen for yourself. Were I to transcribe the entire thing it would take 3,000 words. I’m giving you 1,000 below that I felt most deserved to be highlighted, but trust me, you’ll want to listen to all of it.
Q: What made this landing spot appealing for you?
Strom: “ I live in Tucson,Arizona …obviously proximity played a piece in it.”
“I just felt like a change was needed for whatever reason. I’m grateful for the Diamondbacks to place some trust in me and see where we go from here.”
“It’s a new challenge, fresh start”
Q: How seriously did you think about stepping away from the game and retiring?
Strom: “I think over the last 8 years, and over the last 5 years in particular we’ve had some very high stressful moments. A lot of times I’d take that upon myself a great deal, and quite frankly I was living with every pitch in a playoff situation with a team that you hope to win a world series with… That’s not to say that any other job at this major league level is not stressful.”
“I’m very replaceable. The guys that are not replaceable are all the analytics people, the medical staff, and in particular the gifted pitchers that I had the opportunity to have for the last 8 years.”
Q: Known as someone who is very interested in analytics, how do you meld teaching with analytics?
Strom: “I had the opportunity when I was with the Dodgers to spend a lot of time with a lot of the great Dodger pitchers of yore. Primarily Sandy Koufax and others. We started talking around the locke room where I’m sitting around doing graduate work as a AAA pitching coach with the likes of Sandy Koufax, the late Larry Sherry , when Don Drysdale was alive, and then the catchers like Roseboro and those people, and we started to talk a little bit about the elevated fastball, and the four seam fastball up in the zone.
I remember watching the 65 World Series between the Dodgers and the Twins. Koufax pitching on two days rest threw I think 90% fastballs, and I betcha 80% of them were in the upper part of the zone. And so, we started looking at that. You know the game used to be induce contact, work horizontally, so we basically started to look at perhaps there was some way to flip the strike zone into a vertical type strike zone instead of horizontal.
Then when I went to St. Louis kinda brought that mind set there to an organization with Jeff Luhnow, who brought me aboard, that [philosophy] was really more of a induce ground balls, strike outs are not important, keep the ball on the ground approach, which was fine because they had a group of pitchers who could do that and they had a catcher that believed in it in Yadier Molina.
But eventually as we started to draft some power arms like Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller, people like that, we gradually started to see the advantage of the elevated fastball. The analytics confirmed that. We had a lot of brilliant people over there lead by Luhnow… we had a group that really studied pitch swings and pitch shapes, we started to shift, we started to look at edgertronic, and Trackman came aboard. It was exciting time to look at what I had been doing, realizing the mistakes that I made in the past. When I would make a suggestion to somebody it was very helpful to be able to verify from an objective standpoint the work that you subjectively saw. I think the old timers [pitching coaches] they subjectively and felt things that they did, and they were correct. They just didn’t have the technology to show [the pitchers] that, and now we do.”
NOTE: Later in the interview Strom mentioned a very interesting stat. The Diamondbacks ranked 30th in elevated fastballs, but ranked 2nd in fastballs down in the zone. He said that’s unsustainable.
Q: When you joined the Astros in 2014 they were in a similar position to where the D-backs are now. Were the similarities a reason why you wanted to come to the Diamondbacks to help them turn things around?
Strom: “I wouldn’t say that the struggles the D-backs had last year enticed me to see what I could do over here. Actually they were the only team that came calling, outside of consulting type work, which I had considered.
“This retirement thing, I talked to a number of people about retirement. 50% said it’s great and 50% said it sucks.
Q: Addressing a question oft debated at AZSnakepit, I asked him how big an impact he thinks coaches really have over a players performance:
Strom: “Bill Parcells once made a statement, he said “Writers write, coaches coach, and players play:” It’s still a players’ game, you have to have talent. I think MLB players, even the Verlanders, the Coles, the Keuchels, the Mortons, McHughs, all the different pitchers that I had in Houston, they still have issues at times… even though they are great, elite, they still have times where they just need somebody to talk to, somebody to show them something different. It could be as innocuous as a grip change, or a change to the post foot on the rubber so they don’t rush . I think one of the things that we do need to be a little afraid of is the needle has nudged a little bit too far to the analytics side. I think we’ve become so technologically advanced that we forget the human element in this thing. So I think it’s fine blend of how do you feel, how does the ball feel coming out of your hand, this is what the numbers show, etc. Don’t rely on either one too much. Blend it together and hopefully the information that you glean is transferable to the player.
A lot of smart people in the front office made it simple for me, When I didn’t understand something they were very cognizant of the fact that I needed to understand it if I was going to get it to the pitchers, and to the catchers. Whether it be sequencing or mechanical movements , or stride lengths, stride direction, things like that. My job was to try and find a way to have them find it themselves. Rather than verbally telling them what to do, offer a suggestion, maybe do a drill that will get them to FEEL the movement pattern.”
There is plenty more here , but at over 1,000 words, I’m going to leave it to you the reader to explore your curiosity and tune into the audio link.