Despite the aqcuistions of Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls and others, hiring Brent Strom on Oct. 7 might be the most beneficial move the Astros made this offseason. Strom has made an immediate impact by teaching many members of the pitching staff — including Jarred Cosart and Mike Foltynewicz — his “spike curve.”
Cosart, who posted a 1.95 ERA in 60.0 innings pitched last season, dominated hitters despite only throwing one real knock-out pitch. His 93-96 MPH fastball showed cutting action reminiscent of Mariano Rivera, and while the pitch got him outs, Cosart only struck out 33 major league batters in 2013.
Looking at that, you can see why Cosart was so successful in keeping hits to a minimum — as evidenced by his 54.5% ground ball rate according to FanGraphs. However, no matter how good that pitch was, Cosart lacked a pitch that could get hitters to swing and miss on a consistent basis.
Last year, Cosart threw this curveball 22% of the time, but only got 16 swing-and-misses out of the 226 times he threw the pitch according to Baseball Savant. The lack of whiffs was a huge factor in Cosart’s inability to put opposing hitters away.
With the arrival of Strom, Cosart has a brand new weapon that he unveiled this Spring Training. Feast your eyes, Astros fans.
Look at that thing. That is a gigantic improvement in just one offseason. Notice too that the new curveball is the exact same speed (77 MPH) as the old curve. Everything is the same except about the two pitches except this one has an foot of movement.
The pitch has had immediate impact for Cosart. In just 12 innings this spring, Cosart punched out 16 hitters. His 12 K/9 rate is more than double his 2013 rate of 5 K/9. Obviously sample size is an issue, but even if that strikeout rate comes back down a tad, Cosart finally looks like he has a pitch with swing-and-miss potential.
Foltynewicz, the Astros first round pick in 2010, already has a strikeout pitch in his triple digit fastball. Sitting in the mid-to upper 90s, Folty fanned 124 batters in 129.1 minor league innings in 2013.
The knock from scouts on him is that he does not have an above-average breaking ball capable of making major league bats miss. Even worse, according to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, Folty stopped throwing his slider last season due to elbow soreness. With no real breaking ball, Folty quickly latched onto Strom’s spike curve.
From this gif alone, it appears Folty doesn’t quite have the hang of the pitch just yet — but it’s not fair to judge off just one look. The important thing to note is that he is already throwing the new breaking ball in games, merely months after having learned it.
In the game that the gif is from, Foltynewicz struck out four of the six Nationals that he faced in the seventh and eights innings. In 10.1 Spring Training innings, he punched out seven batters and allowed just two earned runs — all this coming from a 22-year old with no experience above the AA level.
In Thursday’s broadcast of the Astros game against the Phillies, Brent Strom mentioned that he had taught his spike curve to Cosart and Foltynewicz, as well as other Astros pitchers.
"“One of the things I brought to this organization is the ability to teach the breaking ball,” Strom said."
It is often hard to quantify what coaches bring to an organization, but if the new curveballs of Cosart and Foltynewicz are any indication, Strom has already proven his worth.
(Note: All of the gifs in this article were provided by Pitchergifs.com. You can check out other gifs of Astros pitchers here.)