What’s Wrong With Hunter Strickland?


When Hunter Strickland came up for the San Francisco Giants during the September roster expansion, he was lights out. In nine games, he didn’t allow a run or walk while striking out nine in seven innings. Many fans were hailing him as the closer of the future.

But we’re seeing a different pitcher in the postseason. In six games, he’s gone 5.1 innings and given up six runs, including five home runs. So the question at hand is, what is wrong with the 26 year-old?

The answer is simple. Strickland is suffering from the same syndrome that afflicts many young flamethrowers who are getting their first taste of big league action. He wants to blow away hitters with his heat.

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It happens all too often. A young man comes up from the minors with a 99 mile per hour fastball, and that’s all he wants to throw. The problem is, Major League hitters are paid to hit fastballs.

Let’s take a look at Strickland in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals in game two. Strickland was facing Matt Adams, St. Louis’ cleanup hitter, who makes his living by crushing fastballs.

Strickland starts the at-bat by throwing three straight curveballs, getting ahead in the count 1-2. At this point, Adams should not have seen a fastball. If he works a walk, its not the end of the world. But on the very next pitch, Strickland throws a fastball on the inner half of the plate that Adams wasted no time turning on and hitting it into the stands on top of the right field wall.

On Wednesday night in game two of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, Strickland came out of the pen again in a tight situation. Against Salvador Perez, he worked his way ahead in the count by mixing curveballs and fastballs on the outer half of the plate. But on the 1-2 pitch, Strickland again brings the fastball over the middle of the plate, which Perez mashes into center for a two-run double.

The very next batter was Omar Infante. Infante hit just six home runs during the regular season, but when Strickland left a fastball belt-high over the middle of the plate, Infante turned on it, hitting a two-run home run.

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To counteract the bad outings, look at the game one of the World Series. Strickland worked a perfect ninth inning in that game. He struck out Lorenzo Cain, the same one that hit over .500 in the ALCS and worked more than twenty pitches against Madison Bumgarner, on three pitches. What he did was keep the fastball down and away, forcing Cain to start his swing early without having time to adjust to the 98 mph fastball.

Eric Hosmer followed Cain and would prove to be the test for Strickland, as powerful left-handed hitters have been Hunter’s achilles heel this postseason. Strickland got the count to 2-2 with fastballs down and away and curveballs away from the heart of the plate. He then got Hosmer to bounce out weakly to second base with a curveball down in the zone.

His control is fantastic, as he can pinpoint fastballs like darts. But he needs to realize that his fastball is not his only weapon. Fastballs in and over the middle of the plate are the kind of pitches that get smashed. The fastball must be kept down and away, which takes away the ability for the hitter to turn on the heat.

Strickland’s curveball has also proven to be a great weapon, but he has to trust it with two strikes. Fastball hitters will gear up for the heat with two strikes. Strickland has to keep them off-balance with off-speed pitches.

Strickland’s frustrations were shown in game two. They are understandable, as the competitive young man has continued to struggle. The fire is there, but it must be controlled, not thrown at the other team.

The problem with Strickland is easily fixable, and he still has a bright future ahead of him. Time and experience will be great learning tools for him. But the World Series is not the place to be figuring out your stuff.