Strider's intellect hearkens back to Braves legend

March 1st, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- has a long way to go to be in Greg Maddux’s category. But along with possessing one of the game’s best arsenals, the current Braves pitcher possesses an advanced intellect, much like the one that guided Maddux through his Hall of Fame career.

“They are two completely different guys in how they pitch and with their arsenal,” Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. “But the one thing that [is similar] is the way their brain works and the kinds of questions they ask. The great ones are always looking to get better.”

Kranitz had the pleasure of being Maddux’s pitching coach when the pitcher introduced himself to professional baseball with the Cubs’ Rookie Level team in 1984. Four decades later, he is linked to Strider, whose great physical skills are enhanced by a strong pitching IQ and his desire to constantly improve.

Strider’s journey toward becoming one of baseball’s top starters included his decision to begin throwing a four-seam fastball up in the zone. He honed his slider as he progressed through his first professional season in 2021. The fastball-slider mix was all Strider needed to become baseball's top strikeout artist over the past two seasons with 483 K's.

So, what did Kranitz think when Strider decided to add a curveball to his mix for the upcoming season?

“When he says something to me, we talk about it, and he generally has a really good idea that is well thought out,” Kranitz said.

The early results indicate adding the curveball was a brilliant idea. Strider has struck out nine of the 19 batters he has faced through his first two spring starts. The curve concluded three of his five strikeouts and induced an inning-ending double play in three scoreless innings against the Twins on Thursday.

“[The curveball] is just something I wish I had been throwing,” Strider said. “It just fits my strengths and the way I pitch, not only philosophically, but mechanically. I spent a lot of time working on it in the offseason, and it’s definitely more comfortable than I thought it would be this early.”

Strider’s only regret is that he didn't use the curveball in either of his two previous big league seasons. He threw the pitch during his high school and college days before he underwent Tommy John surgery while at Clemson, but he ditched the pitch after surgery and, before this winter, had only focused on the fastball-slider mix.

“He’s already comfortable with the [curve],” Kranitz said. “He stopped throwing that pitch to learn the slider. It’s an easier transition for him because he’s already been there. It’s not like a brand new pitch for him.”

It’s the third pitch that Strider has been looking to add to his arsenal. The 25-year-old hurler hasn’t completely ditched his changeup. In fact, he threw a few good changeups on Thursday, including one that concluded one the three strikeouts he tallied in a perfect second inning.

But the changeup doesn’t fit Strider’s approach or mechanics as well as the curveball, which provides a potentially valuable vertical element to his game. He’s not throwing a true 12-to-6 curve. But the slight vertical break of this 81-83 mph pitch creates additional deception to hitters who also need to be ready for a 97 mph heater up in the zone or an 86 mph slider that moves horizontally across the zone.

“It’s different because it’s a slower pitch, so it will affect the timing for hitters,” Kranitz said. “When you throw so hard, a lot of hitters will just sit on hard stuff. So, now when you add something else to disrupt timing, that is a good thing.”

It’s a bad thing for hitters, who have watched Strider tally a MLB-high 483 strikeouts he’s produced since the start of 2022. Gerrit Cole ranks second with 479 strikeouts, but he’s thrown 91 1/3 more innings than the Braves hurler in that span.

Strider induced an MLB-high 306 whiffs against sliders (including slurves and sweepers) last year. Dylan Cease ranked second with 269 whiffs, while no other pitcher had more than 204.

Unfortunately for opponents, Strider is likely going to be even more dominant with his new weapon.

“You can’t just rely on the same stuff over and over again,” Kranitz said. “So, he’s making an adjustment with his arsenal. Hopefully, it will continue to progress the way we think it will.”