Here's a Thought: The Quad-A Watch--Scott Strickland

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Here's a Thought: The Quad-A Watch--Scott Strickland
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This is my third installment in the "Quad-A Watch" series, following pieces on Cleveland outfielder Jordan Brown and Atlanta infielder Wes Timmons .

Unlike Brown and Timmons, righthanded pitcher Scott Strickland, a member of the Florida Marlins organization, has extensive big-league experience. He has pitched in 236 games in six big league seasons.

So how is he a Quad-A player?

Well, he hasn't thrown a major league pitch in nearly five years after being a bullpen mainstay for much of the early part of the last decade.

Strickland, a short righty, was quite an effective reliever in the majors. He posted a 3.34 ERA (3.86 FIP) in his six-year big league career and struck out over a batter per inning.

However, after five consecutive strong seasons with the Expos and Mets, Strickland went on the DL in May of 2003 with a groin strain, but he developed arm issues during what was supposed to be a quick recovery.

He underwent Tommy John surgery less than a month later, missed all of 2004, got five token appearances with Houston in September of 2005...

And has been confined to Quad-A purgatory since.

He had a phenomenal 2006 with the Pirates' AAA affiliate, with a 2.09 ERA and 2.74 FIP, but the woeful Pirates, for some reason, didn't give him a look.

Strong seasons with the affiliates of the Padres, Yankees, and Dodgers followed, with Strickland striking out well over a batter per inning each year. He even racked up 32 saves in 2009.

You might think that all this journeying (the guy made his MLB debut in 2009, after all) means that Strickland is some sort of greybeard, but he doesn't turn 34 until April, so he's certainly at an age where most good pitchers retain their value. 

What could be keeping Strickland from the majors?

Well, first off, there's his age. If a team needs some bullpen reinforcement, they're pretty likely to turn to a younger, homegrown player with more potential "upside" than a journeyman in his 30s. That helps to explain why a team like Pittsburgh wouldn't promote Strickland even when he was one of the best relievers in Triple-A.

Second, there is the classic "short righty bias." Scouts don't like short righties, and Strickland is generously listed at 5'11". That was okay when he threw a 94-mph fastball, but his post-Tommy John velocity has been around 90, which is nowhere near enough to make up for his lack of height.

That's not to stereotype scouts as people who only look for height and velocity, but let's be honest here: If you went to a Triple-A game and saw a 34-year-old 5'10"ish righty reliever throwing 88-92 with his fastball, would you think anything other than "Yep, that's a Triple-A guy"? I wouldn't.

And yet, here is Strickland, now working on four straight years of Triple-A success. He's also got a pretty nice MLB track record, as I alluded to before. Unlike Jordan Brown or Wes Timmons, there's no question as to whether Scott Strickland's act has a chance of working in the major leagues. It's worked for 240 innings and five seasons.

So what exactly makes him good, you ask? Obviously his heater is nothing special, and it's not like he gets incredible sink or downward plane at his height and arm angle.

However, Strickland throws a nasty slider.

In the 92 games Strickland pitched in the majors since 2002 (the first year play-by-play data shows up in stats, so we have things like batted-ball and pitch type classifications), his slider rated as a plus-plus pitch, coming in at a whopping 1.92 runs above average per 100 pitches.

That means that for every 52 sliders Strickland threw, he saved a run over the average pitcher.

This is even more impressive considering that Strickland threw the pitch about a third of the time. Hitters knew to look for it, and yet the pitch posted extremely impressive results, offsetting a below-average (-.35 runs per 100 pitches) fastball.

Strickland could make an effective seventh-inning slider-oriented reliever who specializes in getting righties out, sort of like a lesser version of the A's Michael Wuertz.

He switches organizations for the sixth straight year this year, going to a Florida team with a reputation for digging out 30-something journeymen from Triple-A and making them into something. It's probably the best chance he'll get.

Beyond that, it's anyone's guess as to whether Strickland will get his long-deserved comeback to the majors this year. Bullpen jobs are so fluid it's hard to predict anything. 

There's nothing between Strickland and some solid 3.50 ERA relief in the majors—except the people deciding whether or not to put him on the MLB roster.

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