Spencer Strider should have won Rookie of the Year
Michael Harris II was just named the 2023 NL Rookie of the Year. The 21 year-old Atlanta Braves rookie standout was incredible on both sides of the field, no matter what type of metric, traditional or analytic, you looked at. But it’s his teammate, Spencer Strider, who should have won the NL Rookie of the Year.
This is no knock against Money Mike, either. The race was close, both players had absolutely outstanding rookie campaigns, and Spencer did finish second after all. However, as Michael Harris was having an outstanding season for a rookie, Spencer Strider was having a historically good season for a pitcher.
Why Spencer Strider should’ve won NL Rookie of the Year
Despite blazing through the minors and making a two game cameo with the big league club in 2021, national baseball writers didn’t think much of Strider. He didn’t appear on either Fangraphs or MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list and even Braves beat writer, Mark Bowman, expected him to open the season in the minors.
However, the 23 year-old rookie impressed the Braves enough in Spring Training (despite a 5.40 ERA in 6.2 innings) to be a part of the 28-man roster. The expanded Opening Day rosters helped the flame-thrower make the team, but he turned into an immediate contributor once the season started.
While he was mostly used in low-leverage situations the first month and a half, Strider was excellent in relief. Across 24.1 innings, the righty had a 2.22 ERA, held hitters to a .263 OBP, and, most impressively, struck out 38.9% of the batters he faced.
When he finally made his first start at the end of May, it was at a time the Braves were despite for a dependable fifth starter. They had already given starts to Huascar Ynoa, Bryce Elder, Tucker Davidson, and even fan favorite Jesse Chavez, all struggling.
Michael Harris II came up in late May. He’s deservedly cited as the X-factor who stabilized the Braves’ shakey outfield and helped lead them onto the 14-game win streak that allowed them to come back into the NL East race.
Spencer Strider was the same X-factor for the Braves, but on the mound. After entering the rotation, Strider was one of the best pitchers in baseball. From May 30, his first career start, until the end of the season, our favorite mustached man was the fifth-best pitcher in the major leagues by fWAR, trailing only Aaron Nola, Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodon, and Shohei Ohtani. He was worth 0.1 more fWAR than Cy Young favorite, Sandy Alcantara.
Don’t like fWAR? He also had the 17th-best ERA of all starters with at least 100 innings during that time frame. However, he might have been getting a little unlucky, because by FIP, he was better than everyone. His 1.92 FIP was 0.01 lower than Justin Verlander, and at least 0.20 better than any other big league starter.
Of course, we have to talk about why Strider had such a low FIP in the first place. FIP, short for Fielding Independent Pitching takes fielders out of the equation, only judging what’s in the pitcher’s control (walks, homers, hit batsmen, and strikeouts).
If you were to only look at walks, you wouldn’t find Strider that impressive. In fact, of the 79 starters who pitched 100 innings or more from May 30, Strider was the 18th worst when it came to free passes, with a 7.9% walk rate.
However, Strider was a homer-suppressing machine. Only seven pitchers had better HR/9 rates than Strider (one being his teammate, Max Fried). This meant that even the guys who were getting on (which weren’t very many as he only allowed a .252 opponent’s OBP), weren’t coming in on homers.
But of course, the biggest reason why Strider maintained a low ERA and even lower FIP was the strikeouts. Strider struck out batters at an incredible rate, broke a record set by Randy Johnson, and set a major league first (more on the last two in a second).
Strider’s 38.3% strikeout rate was the third highest by a starter with at least 100 innings in a single season in major league history. Only Gerrit Cole’s 39.9% strikeout rate in 2019 and Chris Sale’s 38.4% rate in 2018 bested Strider. It was almost a full percentage point higher than Pedro Martinez’s 37.5% rate in 1999 and Randy Johnson’s 37.4% rate in 2001. All four of these players placed in the top four in Cy Young and received MVP votes.
In his final start of the season, Strider became the fastest start on an innings basis to get to 200 strikeouts, needing just 130 innings. This broke the record set by Randy Johnson in 2001, when the Big Unit needed an extra 2 outs to set the record at 130 2/3 innings.
But breaking a record isn’t as exciting as setting an entirely new one. By striking out 201 batters and only allowing 86 hits, Strider became the only player in major league history to strike out more than 200 batters and allow fewer than 100 hits.
Of course, we haven’t even mentioned his electric 16-strikeout performance at the beginning of September, which broke the Braves franchise 9-inning record held by John Smoltz. In his start against Colorado, not only did the righty strike out 16 batters, he pitched eight innings, allowed zero free passes, and allowed just two hits.
This was the pinnacle of Spencer Strider’s 2022, but the rest of the season was absurdly good. The only thing that stood in the way of him being a CY Young finalist was his lack of innings (only 131.2). The fact that he was setting records and holding a strikeout rate among some of the greatest pitchers of the last twenty years is the reason I believe Strider should have actually been the NL Rookie of the Year.
Michael Harris II had an excellent season as a rookie. However, a 21-year-old having a 136 wRC+, as infrequent as they are, isn’t unheard of. Neither is solid hitting rookie with a great glove. This year’s AL Rookie of the Year, Julio Rodriguez, was that guy for the Mariners. But Harris wasn’t a rookie breaking records. What Strider did this season as a rookie, much less a guy who didn’t appear on top 100 prospect lists, convinces me the wrong Brave took home the award.
The centerfielder winning the award wasn’t a surprise to me, nor was it a travesty that he did. Harris was one of the better outfielders from the time he joined the big league club. His 4.8 fWAR was only 0.1 lower than Strider’s. This article is, by no means, a diss on Michael Harris II.
However, thanks to him being an everyday player and Strider, unfortunately, missing his final two starts of the year, it became easy to overlook the historic accomplishments of the flamethrowing righty and vote for the other Braves’ rookie standout instead.
As a Braves fan, however, I’m ecstatic that we got to witness both Harris and Strider this season, and I’m very thankful AA has already rewarded both of these guys with long-term contracts.