Strom brings St. Louis pitching model to Houston
Astros pitching coach was successful as instructor in Cardinals' farm system
HOUSTON -- Brent Strom admits it wasn't an easy decision to leave the comfort of the Cardinals, a winning organization for which he had worked for seven years, to return to the Astros, a rebuilding club that is coming off three consecutive 100-plus-loss seasons and has nowhere to go but up.
That challenge of trying to help build the Astros into a consistent winner like the Cardinals, as well as having a talented stable of young pitching in the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues, was what convinced Strom to leave St. Louis and reunite with general manager Jeff Luhnow in Houston as the Astros' pitching coach.
Strom has been on the job only a couple of days, but he was hard at work Wednesday watching the Astros' instructional league team play a Nationals squad in Viera, Fla. He has plenty work ahead, too, in getting up to speed on the organization and staff, and getting to know the pitchers he'll have at his disposal.
"The opportunity to get back to the Major Leagues and see if we can build something here was a little too strong an allure to me," Strom said. "I was perfectly fine doing my work with a great bunch of people. It's a new challenge, so we'll see. I'm already getting to work on a bunch of things."
Strom, 64, served as the Astros' pitching coach in 1996 under manager Terry Collins in an entirely different era of baseball in Houston. The team was still a few years away from a move out of the Astrodome and was on the verge of becoming a perennial contender in the National League.
Strom wouldn't stick around long enough to see the Astros make their first of six playoff trips in a nine-year span beginning in 1997, but he's seen his share of success. He's worked with the Cardinals since 2007 as a Minor League pitching instructor and got a World Series ring in '11.
Prior to that, he was the Royals' pitching coach in 2000-01 before serving as the Minor League pitching coordinator with the Nationals/Expos for five seasons from '02-06.
"I had some wonderful years with the Cardinals that I'll cherish forever," Strom said. "They're great people to work for, work with. This is a new challenge for me, and the big thing is Jeff Luhnow brought me aboard with the Cardinals and really allowed me to work over there and do some things he thought would be beneficial. Hopefully we can do some of that here with the guys that they have in place here, who are excellent. I have some familiar faces."
Familiar faces indeed. Strom is reunited with Minor League pitching coordinator Dyar Miller, who was the Cardinals' bullpen coach in 2012 and their Minor league pitching coordinator from '08-11. Astros roving pitching instructor Craig Bjornson and Strom are close friends, and Bjornson was a Minor League pitching coach in the Montreal/Washington system for four years.
"I'm only here to add to the things, not to dictate," Strom said. "Just to be part of a group of guys who are really outstanding."
Like the Cardinals did when Luhnow was with St. Louis, the Astros rely on a great deal of analytics, something Strom is completely on board with. He's learned from Dave Duncan, regarded as one of baseball's best pitching coaches, and plans to implement some ideas of his own.
"I've kind of brought in a little bit different idea in terms of trying to develop power arms, trying to utilize whatever a pitcher's strength can be and trying to maximize what that strength is," Strom said. "With Jeff Luhnow as the scouting director there, especially in the late rounds, he was able to find some people like [Trevor] Rosenthal and [Kevin] Siegrist, who are in the playoffs right now. We were able to utilize some basic things like momentum, understanding how the body wants to work when it throws the baseball."
Strom has also studied what makes pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee successful, but admits everybody is different.
"There's no one particular delivery that is superior to another, but there are movements that we're trying to identify and still looking at that will possibly enable a guy to be more consistent with his command and his control and perhaps prevent arm injuries and things like that," Strom said. "That's what we're trying to do. We were doing that down in St. Louis and hopefully we can do that down here in Houston."
While he doesn't have pitchers of the caliber of Kershaw and Verlander, Strom sees promise on the horizon. He knows about the young arms which played key roles last season, led by Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock, Josh Zeid and Kevin Chapman. And he knows about the arms on the horizon, led by prospects Mike Foltynewicz and Asher Wojciechowski.
In the coming years, Strom will get to work with 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, while getting promising arms like Alex White, Rudy Owens and John Ely back from injury soon.
"The strength of this organization -- from what I read and what I see -- is young pitchers," he said. "It's more than just the Major Leagues we're concerned about here. It extends all the way down the system. And if this is going to be a consistent, winning ballclub it has to go that way.
"That's what's happened pitching with the Cardinals. I think anybody who's watching the playoffs right now will see the youth that [St. Louis manager] Mike Matheny is not afraid to use in critical situations, and hopefully we can do the same thing. We want to provide the organization -- all the way from the lowest levels to the top -- with some quality people that can make the jumps and be successful big league pitchers."