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What to expect from Hunter Strickland

RHP Strickland brings newly improved command and sequencing to accompany a still above-average fastball.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers acquired RHP Hunter Strickland from the Los Angeles Angels for cash on Sunday and activated him before Monday night’s contest against the Reds.

Strickland put up a solid inning of relief in the Crew’s 10-2 loss. He allowed only one hit and was the only Brewer pitcher of the evening to not surrender a run. Strickland’s performance has been wildly variable across small sample sizes this season, though, so let’s take a broader view of what to expect from the hurler.

If what comes to mind when you think of Hunter Strickland is a power closer with a volatile temper, adjust your expectations. Strickland has since done some personal work and cooled his temper. His once dominant fastball has since cooled, too, dropping by an average of nearly 3 mph since his first season in the league. He still tops out at 97.7 and averages over 95 mph, but so do a lot of MLB pitchers. Strickland’s fastball velocity has gone from 97th percentile to 71st percentile between his rookie year and the present day.

A lot of flamethrowers drop in velocity and adapt, but Strickland has struggled to do that. He really only has a slider to sequence with the still above average (but marginally so) fastball, and he has struggled to do that sequencing effectively. He has also struggled to develop the command required to get outs in the absence of the upper range of gas. His metrics back this up: Strickland’s xERA (5.61), WHIP (1.54), FIP (4.95), strikeout rate (19.1), and whiff rate (21.8) have accompanied the decline in his fastball.

All that said, in 2021, Strickland showed improvements for the first time in years with Tampa Bay. Across this small sample size, Strickland has considerably improved the movement on his slider and dialed in his command in general. This means he has enough in his toolbox to appropriately sequence his pitches so he doesn’t have to go to a 96 mph fastball in a 3-2 count at a time when hitters are waiting on, and able to catch up to, three digit 4-seamers.

Across 13 games and 16 innings with the Rays in the beginning of the season, Strickland struck out more batters than he had in all of 2020 (no big deal, right?) and in all of 2019 (more indicative of an improvement). He had a 1.69 ERA, a 3.09 FIP, and a 1.25 WHIP through those appearances.

After the Rays flipped Strickland to the Angels, he pitched 6.1 innings that he would rather forget, which led to him getting dealt to the Crew for cash considerations. Strickland flashed enough redemptive potential at the beginning of the season with the Rays to be worth the risk that his LAA stint hints at, and he could really come in handy for the Crew’s already shorthanded bullpen.

He hasn’t eaten innings in middle relief for the Angels or the Rays, but Strickland will probably put in some time in a lower-leverage middle relief role while the Crew tests which version of the later-career reliever materializes in Milwaukee. If he flashes the improvement he saw in Tampa Bay, he’ll provide a valuable arm for high-leverage situations and bring postseason experience down the stretch. If he resembles his appearance with the Halos, he’ll hopefully buy some time for a prospect like Aaron Ashby to move up without too much damage to the Crew’s record.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Statcast, and FanGraphs