The story of how Brent Strom came to be the pitching coach for the Astros begins with a cartoonist for the New Yorker named Mike Witte. Witte had played high school ball with some of the St. Louis Cardinals owners, and as an adult studied the pitching motion until he was qualified to serve as a consultant to Major League teams. During Jeff Luhnow’s first year as farm director in St. Louis, Witte told Luhnow that of all the pitching coaches he had observed, Brent Strom had the best feel for the principles Witte was discovering in his research.
“I asked him to come to St. Louis, the dead of winter, and meet me,” Luhnow recalls. “Poor guy showed up without a coat and took the subway to and from the airport and it’s like 30 degrees out. But we immediately connected. We started talking about pitching and deliveries and all the stuff that he’s an expert in, and I knew I was talking to someone that had probably has much knowledge as anyone in the game, and had a passion for it. And was most importantly open-minded, and willing to learn new things.”
When Luhnow went to Houston, he hired Strom to be the Astros' pitching coach.
- Nov 2, 2021: Brent Strom, the well-respected pitching coach who carved out a reputation for turning careers around and taking established pitchers to the next level during his eight years with the Astros, said he’s not returning as Major League pitching coach.
After the Astros had their season come to an end in a 7-0 loss to the Braves in Game 6 of the World Series, an emotional Strom said it was time to move on. He said he made the decision in the final couple of weeks of the regular season and told general manager James Click over breakfast in Anaheim.
“I’ve been in the game a long time,” he said. “I was out of the game, and [former Astros GM] Jeff Luhnow brought me back. So it’s difficult. We’ll see how I feel in a couple days. There may be another opportunity for me somewhere else. I may look at that. I may just go lie on a beach in Mexico, but I need to enjoy my life a little bit. I haven’t had a summer in a long time. So we’ll see. I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I know I won’t be back as the Major League pitching coach here. Yeah. I know that for a fact.” (B McTaggart - MLB.com - Nov 3, 2021)
|Birth City:||San Diego, CA|
|Draft:||Mets #1 - 1970 - Out of Southern Cal|
|1972||-||1977: 3 teams||100||501||482||278||180||75||16||3||0||22||39||3.95|
Strom's big league career lasted just five seasons. He says he wish he could've done more in The Show.
"My first callup from Tidewater, I was told I was going up by Whitey Herzog (then the Mets' farm director). I loved being around great pitchers like Tom Seaver. Willie Mays played first base in my first game. It was notable."
So were two of Strom's seasons at home in San Diego, where he was building a nice resume until his career was shortened by elbow problems.
Strom was 8-8 for the Padres with a 2.54 ERA in 1975 and then went 12-16 with a 3.29 ERA the next year.
He had 14 complete games and three shutouts over those two years. But his elbow problems mounted, he got released after pitching only eight games in 1977, and he was searching for hope.
In 1978, he had Tommy John surgery. After rehabbing, Strom tried a comeback and pitched three seasons in the minors, making it to Triple-A with both Houston and the Dodgers. But he never returned to the Majors.
"I could see the writing on the wall," he says. "Back in that era, if you were 30 (Strom was 32 in his final season) and in Triple-A, you were done. It's a little different nowadays." (Anthony McCarron - NY Daily News - 5/20/2015)
Strom knows what it's like to be on a team rich in pitching. When he arrived at Shea for his July 31, 1972 debut, his teammates included Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. Strom went 0-3 with a 6.82 ERA. After the season, the Mets dealt Strom and Bob Rauch to Cleveland for reliever Phil Hennigan.
"I have fond memories of my time in New York," Strom says. "Rather short, but enjoyable."
Strom says he has evolved as a coach over the years, changing over stints working in the minors for the Dodgers, Astros, Royals, Cardinals, Padres and Expos/Nationals. He was also the Astros pitching coach in 1996 and the Royals pitching coach in 2000–2001.
"I'm not locked into my past," Strom says. "I think I'm better now than I was before. I use the information, the video, looking at deliveries in different ways."
Folks in Houston kick around the term "The Brent Strom Effect," using it to describe pitchers blooming under Strom. "That's a little overrated, while it is flattering," Strom says. "You try to maximize each individual. One size doesn't fit all."
Before the Astros, Strom was with the Cardinals organization. He was hired by Jeff Luhnow on a cold January day in St. Louis.
“He showed up and he understood all of the principles of Mike Marshall and Tom House, all the different schools of thought out there,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He had taken the best elements of different ones and was reading books, telling me what books to read.
“He’s always been a curious mind. I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I think he truly is always seeking the truth and he doesn’t stop. He knows it.”
Strom sold himself to one of baseball’s fast-rising executives. Then the Cardinals’ director of scouting and player development, Luhnow hired Strom as a minor league instructor. His re-entry to baseball was complete—and his ascension to the sport’s pinnacle had its start. (Chandler Rome - Baseball America - 12/21/2018)
Strom, at age 70 in 2019, is the oldest pitching coach in the Major Leagues. His impeccable ability to blend the lessons of his past with the Astros’ data-driven, analytical operation yields staggering results.
Take, for example, his first season. Luhnow implored him to watch a “kid from Arkansas” on one of the back fields in spring training at Kissimmee, Florida. Dallas Keuchel toiled there, trying to emulate Erik Bedard’s mechanics.
“How about if we start to throw a little bit like (Clayton) Kershaw, where we time our arms and legs a little bit better,” Strom told him. “I think you’re capable of doing it.”
One season later, with a more synced delivery, Keuchel won the AL Cy Young. Strom counts the bearded lefthander along with Shane Reynolds as his two favorite pitchers to ever mentor.
In 2018, under Strom’s tutelage, the Astros possessed the best pitching staff in franchise history. It allowed the fewest runs by any AL team in a non-strike shortened season of the DH era.
Under Strom, 35-year-old Justin Verlander had one of his best seasons, finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. And Charlie Morton struck out 200 batters for the first time in an 11-year career.
Gerrit Cole, once a sinkerball, pitch-to-contact righty who resided down in the strike zone, revamped his arsenal at Strom’s urging.
Elevated four-seam fastballs were in style. Cole eschewed his two-seamer and elevated the 96-98 mph heat he’s always had. Opponents hit .198 against him.
“He has such a passion for helping pitchers be their best and it doesn’t matter if it’s a 16-year-old kid in the Dominican or a 35-year-old veteran pitcher,” Luhnow said. “He derives so much joy out of helping these guys maximize their abilities and I recognized that right away. He’s also one of the most curious minds in baseball and completely open-minded.” (Chandler Rome - Baseball America - 12/21/2018)
Brent says he learned ions of information with every organization he has worked for.
"A great strength the Cardinals have is finding players outside the first few rounds of the draft. They’ve found guys with arm strength and guys who do something unique. Maybe it’s something sabermetric-wise. It could be a guy who is inducing ground balls, or it could be the amount of rotation someone gets on his breaking ball. It could be different things, and that’s regardless of the guy’s record.
“We like to develop some athleticism. We like to understand the value of each pitcher and what they bring to the table. For example, is he going to be a four-seam-fastball type of guy or a sinker type of guy? What type of pitcher is he going to be, and how can we maximize that? Pitching isn’t one-size-fits-all. Whitey Herzog once told me — when I was a minor league pitcher with the Mets — ‘Pitchers need to continue to work on their strengths while hitters must work on their weaknesses.’ I have never forgotten that."
On split-finger fastballs, cutters, and deception: “There are a lot of organizations that don’t like the cutter, but there are a lot that don’t like the split-finger, either. I ask myself, ‘I wonder how many minor leaguers haven’t been as successful as they possibly could because an organization took a particular pitch away from them, one that was possibly a good pitch.
"Obviously, it can be injurious if you throw any pitch wrong for a period of time. But the split-finger essentially saved Shane Reynolds’ career when he was a minor leaguer. He was in Double-A, going nowhere, and he turned that one pitch into a 12-year, major-league career. It made his other stuff better. But again, it all comes back to fastball command.
On Sid Fernandez, Jenny Finch and keeping hitters off balance: “Sid Fernandez, who I had as a Triple-A pitching coach with the Dodgers, sat down as he went into release, throwing the ball from a low angle like a softball pitcher.
"If you took Jenny Finch and ran her out to the mound right now to pitch for the Astros, she’d be pretty tough on these big-league hitters. She’d be coming from a different angle that they were not used to seeing. The brain is an interesting thing. It gets locked into a certain vantage point — a certain look — and you make decisions based on that look. If you get a completely different look.
"I think that is one of the reasons you can use a submariner or a side-arm guy for a short period of time. They’re effective until a team becomes adjusted to them. That goes back to basically finding ways to keep hitters off balance." (David Laurila - FanGraphs - 12/04/2013)
Strom played professionally from 1970 to 1981 before coaching in four organizations, hired and fired often. In 2006, Washington was the last franchise to fire him. He was 58. On age alone, he was approaching archaic in baseball’s ever-changing landscape. With his ideas, Strom was ahead of the progress.
Fired on the final day of Nationals spring training, and faced with few feasible opportunities to revive his coaching career, Brent Strom cleaned the scruffy dogs for his wife to groom inside her shop.
“You’ll laugh,” he says now, “but my job was actually to bathe dogs and clean dingleberries out of their (butts). That’s kind of where I was.
“But I still maintained a love for this—kept studying, kept learning.”
Strom pitched at Triple-A for the Dodgers in 1981. And time spent with Los Angeles as both a player and minor league coach was a “doctoral program” for the young coach.
“We talked back in the time I was with the Dodgers, we talked about the value of the four-seam fastball, utilizing it up in the zone and stuff like that,” Strom said. “Unfortunately, when I started my coaching career, there were some organizations that, when I brought that to the table, kind of dismissed it and didn’t buy in. It made me, perhaps, ahead a little bit of where this realm is now.”
Dog grooming did little to pacify Strom, a man who so admired Sandy Koufax and found nothing more enjoyable than developing talent to come within a fraction of Koufax’s Hall of Fame success. While he was out of the game, Strom worked clinics and absorbed new techniques to mesh with his past success.
Strom parlayed his six seasons in the St. Louis farm system into his big opportunity. In 2014, Luhnow lured Strom to Houston. There, he has established a sterling reputation among the men he coaches and reached heights few could have foreseen. (Editor's note: From 2017 to 2021, the Astros went to the NLCS five seasons in a row.)
Nov 2, 2021: Strom announced his retirement as the Astros pitching coach.
- Nov 12, 2021: - The D-backs agreed to terms with Brent Strom to be their next pitching coach.
Brent Strom was the second person to ever have Tommy John surgery . . . after Tommy John himself.
"This was a novel surgery," Strom says. "They had done Tommy—he was a much more gifted pitcher than me. They've refined it now. People are getting it done left and right."
Still, Strom notes, "It's not like getting a splinter taken out now. I think one of the things people forget is one of the reasons pitchers succeed in comebacks is that they work so hard on the rehab."