When Strom coached for the Royals, their general manager, Herk Robinson, introduced him to an old friend named Mike Witte, a cartoonist from New York who spent his spare time poring over videos to learn the secrets of pitching mechanics and injury prevention. Witte was also friends with owners of the St. Louis Cardinals, who hired Luhnow from the business world in 2003 to bring a fresh, analytical perspective to the team’s scouting operations.
One of Luhnow’s first side projects in St. Louis was to study Witte’s findings. He asked Witte if he knew any coaches with a similarly keen understanding of athleticism and movement. Witte recommended Strom, who joined the Cardinals in 2008 as an instructor in the low minors, keeping his distance from the upper-level prospects and major leaguers who had been encouraged to throw sinkers.
“Strommy would say stuff about throwing your high fastball, and that wouldn’t go over too well,” Luhnow said. “Today, that stuff makes a lot more sense because we have the data to back it up.”
The Astros hired Luhnow as general manager before the 2012 season, and two years later hired Strom as pitching coach. The left-hander Dallas Keuchel said Strom brought an “out of the norm” approach to pitch sequencing and used facts to back up his theories.
“Once you show somebody how a certain pitch works and that guys are hitting .150 off of it, that really opens a guy’s eyes,” Keuchel said. “He brought that to us.”
Last year, Strom helped transform Charlie Morton’s approach from sinker-heavy to one that emphasizes fastballs up and curveballs down. Morton had the best season of his career, and then won Game 7 in both the American League Championship Series and the World Series. Now he is 7-0 with a 2.26 E.R.A., enjoying the freedom Strom gives pitchers to explore all parts of the strike zone.
“It’s really, really hard to hit a 3-by-3 or 6-by-6-inch area,” Morton said. “You see the highlights, you see where the catcher’s glove was and the guy misses by a foot — that’s not a bad miss. With Strom and the methodology the Astros have here, you create room for error by using the entire zone, elevating above the zone, expanding east and west. It makes it a lot easier to pitch.”