Strickland schooled by Smoltz on sliders

Seeking to expand his repertoire, righty gets Hall of Famer's advice

February 16th, 2018

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Giants right-hander sought offseason pitching tips, he bypassed peers, turned past teachers, eschewed experts and spurned sages.

Strickland didn't mess around. He went all the way to the master.

Hoping to find an effective complement to his searing fastball, Strickland spent part of a day discussing the slider's intricacies with John Smoltz, the Hall of Fame right-hander and MLB Network analyst, who was only too happy to share his knowledge.

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"For me, throwing the slider has always been something that has come naturally," said Smoltz, who spent all but one season of his 21-year career with the Braves.

The session at an Atlanta training facility was organized by Myles Shoda, Strickland's agent, who also represented Smoltz.

"He has such a gift, with his arm and the way that a ball comes out of his hand," Smoltz recently said of Strickland. "But I think there's always opportunities to upgrade certain components."

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Statcast™ recorded Strickland's average four-seam fastball at 95.6 mph last season. Though that reflected slippage from previous years (97.8 in 2016, 97.7 in 2015 and 98.8 in 2014), Strickland still threw hard enough in 2017 to overpower hitters. He struck out 58 in 61 1/3 innings. But that kind of velocity requires an offspeed delivery to discourage hitters from anticipating a fastball.

For example, opponents batted .231 off Strickland on 0-2 counts. With his stuff, that figure should have been closer to the Major League average of .152 in that situation.

Strickland's basic lefty-righty splits also reflected lapses. He limited right-handed swingers to a .203 batting average, but lefties hit a shockingly high .333 off him.

Strickland believes that a capably thrown slider will help him correct that imbalance.

"Offspeed capabilities against lefties ups the game that much more," he said.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy suggested a remedy for Strickland's flaws.

"Probably as much as anything, you always need something soft to keep [hitters] honest, whether it's a changeup or split, which he can throw, or a breaking ball that can go on both sides of the plate."

Therefore, Strickland will try the slider, a pitch he has rarely thrown. Its diminished velocity and increased movement, compared to a fastball, could be enough to help him improve.

"He talked a little bit about grip, so we tweaked that a little bit," Strickland said Friday, recalling his session with Smoltz.

The man who won 213 games, saved 154, earned the 1996 National League Cy Young Award and made eight All-Star teams urged Strickland to maintain his "conviction" with the slider, to throw it with the same confidence that he'd summon for a fastball.

As a Georgia native, Strickland called the chance to work with Smoltz "an honor." He added that the experience was more than just gratifying.

"When the time comes that you don't think you can get any better, you should be done with the game," Strickland said. "Because the game's not that easy. So I'm trying to improve in all aspects of my game."