Coming off of an outstanding 2022 campaign, Spencer Strider followed up by cementing himself as MLB's best strikeout pitcher. In a year where he had to take over as the ace due to injuries and rotation issues, Stider broke multiple franchise records and was second overall in pitcher fWAR.
Over the season, the young righty won the most games, had the best win-loss %, and had the most strikeouts by 44 Ks. Furthermore, he was the fastest pitcher to reach 100 & 200 strikeouts. His powerful fastball mixed with a hard slider made pitches almost unrecognizable for opposing hitters.
The development of his changeup was also paramount in helping him keep batters off the fastball.
While Strider dominated with a larger role, there were some struggles of stringing multiple low-scoring outings. Yet, even when other teams were able to put up runs, Strider found ways to win games. Going 20-5 over the 2023 campaign, Strider was 3 wins better than the second-leading pitcher, Zac Gallen.
Spencer Strider's strikeout masterclass
Strider began April looking even better than his 2022 run. During the month, he posted a 1.80 ERA, striking out seemingly every other batter. He set a franchise record with nine straight games in which he struck out nine or more batters. To break Smoltz's franchise record, he had 13 punchouts against the Marlins, with eight hitless innings. To end the month, Strider allowed just six runs over five starts.
Yet... some inconsistency started to appear. During May, Strider allowed four or more runs in five of his six starts. Luckily, the offense came to support him, going 4-2 in the same span. The only losses came against a surging Blue Jays team and a tough Dodgers squad. The game against the Jays was ironically one of the best starts that month but he faced off with an incredible Chris Bassitt complete game.
June started with a solid performance against the Diamondbacks allowing just two earned runs. His first real struggles came over the next two games, allowing eight runs to the Mets and seven to the Tigers. Even after getting tagged twice, Strider found himself with a 9-2 record over his first three months.
His ERA shot over 4 for the only time in 2023, before evening out the rest of the season. By late June, he started to find his groove, winning seven straight and generally keeping opponents from three or fewer runs a game.
Strider earned himself an All-Star appearance but did not pitch in the game. Nevertheless, the young righty dominated in August. He had back-to-back shutouts and two additional games where he only allowed one run. Furthermore, he became the fastest pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts, with a filthy change-up to Shohei Ohtani. Even as he was pitching well, there were a few starts where he could not keep opposing teams from scoring
Into September, he would go 4-1 while allowing 3 runs or more in four of those starts. further taking a hold on the division which was clinched in the last few weeks. Strider mowed down divisional opponents. He went on the beat the Phillies twice, even while being relentlessly haggled by phanatics. For his last start of the regular season, Strider surpassed John Smoltz's franchise record of 277 strikeouts and added four more.
Eventually, the playoffs came with high expectations for the Braves. Strider had to pitch in two outings, in what is notoriously one of the most difficult parks in baseball. While he did record two losses, he received a total of one run in support. He was able to limit damage even while giving up multiple home runs. Yet the Braves could not find their stride offensively, ending their season prematurely.
Overall, Strider is one of the more contreversial pitchers in the MLB. He dominated in nearly every statistical category, his controversial strikeout numbers were otherworldly, and he won at an unprecedented rate. He came in fourth in the Cy Young vote and realistically had a solid resume to win it.
Yet while he was winning, and breaking records left and right, he struggled to go on long stretches of pure dominance. He had the highest ERA of any pitcher to be in the conversation for the Cy Young. On the other hand, his splits were nearly identical against rights and lefties, while mostly cruising through orders.
In an incredible 2023 season, expect a similar approach to 2024. Strider is still very much a young gun, and his arm should get used to the workload of an entire MLB season. Some regression can be expected as batters continue to see him, but his ERA should also be expected to drop. As he continues to work on becoming an efficient pitcher, the sky is the limit for the young Braves starter.