One of the unsung heroes of the 2023 season, Matt Strahm did everything the Philadelphia Phillies asked of him. From jumping into the starting rotation in April to saving the NLDS-clinching game, Strahm was invaluable for manager Rob Thomson and the Phillies in his first season in Philadelphia.
Strahm joined MLB Network Radio recently to speak to Steve Phillips and Xavier Scruggs about his first year in Philadelphia, touching on how the coaching staff helped in his success and why he loves playing for Phillies fans.
When Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld signed Strahm to a two-year deal as part of their offseason spending spree last December, the original plan was for the left-hander to help solidify the bullpen. But when the Phillies ran into a shortage of rotation arms at the beginning of the season, Strahm was pressed into service.
Strahm's slider leads to early season success in rotation
He made six consecutive starts from April 4 to May 2 and didn't look out of place. He finished that stretch with a 3.51 ERA, a .191 opponent average, and 36 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings. It was a much better result than his last serious foray into the starting ranks in 2019, when he ended up with a 5.29 ERA over 81 2/3 innings.
What was the difference between 2019 and 2023? Strahm had a new weapon at his disposal — a slider that he credits pitching coaches Caleb Cotham and Brian Kaplan with helping him figure out.
"Once I came to Philly, working with [Caleb] Cotham and [Brian] Kaplan, our two pitching coaches, we just tinkered with the grip of my slider to get a little more depth to, to miss barrels," Strahm said. "That was something that helped me a lot."
The slider was a key ingredient to his success in 2023, and it went into heavy rotation in his arsenal. He used it 25 percent of the time, his second-most used pitch behind his four-seam fastball. That's a lot of faith to put in a pitch he had only thrown twice in game action in 2022.
He had a 60 percent chase and miss rate with the slider, leading to a 33.3 percent strikeout rate with the offering, and helped him to his best season since 2018 when he carried a 2.05 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over 61 1/3 innings for the San Diego Padres.
This season, the former 21st-round pick finished with a 9-5 record, a 3.29 ERA, and a 1.02 WHIP over 87 2/3 innings. Looking below the basic surface stats, 2023 was arguably the best season of Strahm's eight-year career. He had a career-high 30.8 percent strikeout rate, bolstered by a career-best 13.1 percent swinging strike rate. According to Statcast, he had a pitching run value of 22, ranking him in the 95th percentile.
And it sounds like his slider could be even better in 2024.
"I'm really excited going into this year to have it a little more fine-tuned," Strahm said.
Strahm gets the full Philly experience in the postseason
After bailing out the rotation at the beginning of the season, Strahm found himself an integral part of the Phillies' playoff run.
The 32-year-old was stellar in three scoreless NLDS relief appearances against the Atlanta Braves before four scoreless appearances in the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He finished his postseason giving up just three hits, with five strikeouts and two walks in 7 2/3 innings. A solid line for his first non-bubble playoff experience (he pitched in the 2020 postseason for the Padres).
Part of the experience was being at the center of a frenzied Citizens Bank Park when he locked down the save in the series-clinching Game 4 of the NLDS. And what pitch did he use? A wicked 82 mph slider.
When asked about his time pitching in Philadelphia, Strahm told Phillips and Scruggs that the fans are the difference between Philly and other places he has pitched, which includes Kansas City, San Diego, and Boston.
"The thing that separates it for me here in Philly is the fan base," Strahm said. "I know everyone will say that about their fan base. But I think it just fits my personality of you're only as good as your last outing, and that's something the Philly fans will remind you about daily, which I love. It's been a blast. Citizens Bank has definitely been my favorite place to play."
After a successful first season in red pinstripes, Strahm has one more guaranteed year in front of Phillies fans and will look to repeat his success in 2024. His comments during the NLCS about his role this past season suggest that he has the right approach for another successful year, no matter what the Phillies ask of him.
"I'm not a starter, I'm not a back-end guy," Strahm said. "I'm just a pitcher."