This will probably come to no surprise to anyone on here, but I’m a huge advocate for the Astros pursuing Marcus Stroman this off-season. I have previously written two articles looking at him as a potential trade target, but after the extensive studying of Brent Strom’s go-to experts (will be looking to go through the remainder of the names this off-season), Stroman is a near perfect match. But before we get into that, let’s take a look at Stroman’s performance and arsenal.
The definition of “ace” varies from person to person - ranging from a top 30 pitcher in the league (1 per team), to only a handful in the league, to literally the best pitcher on the team they’re playing for. With that said, Stroman was known as the Blue Jay’s ace as he held down a 3.76 ERA (3.59 xFIP) across his 849 IP to date in his career. Primarily a sinker pitcher, his 7.36 K/9 doesn’t have the same sexiness to it as a traditional ace, but he has been effective in his ability to minimize walks (2.59 BB/9), and a very strong ground ball % (58.6%) allowing him to not only provide above average results - but average more than 6 IP pitch/start across his career. He has provided 3+ WAR in every non-injury related season, but never really taking that step into the caliber of “ace” that people refer to when they’re talking about as the most dominant pitchers in the game. But he could be.
Marcus Stroman, Filthy 86mph Slider/Messing with Timing. pic.twitter.com/1Q983OskXK— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 20, 2019
Stroman effectively throws 6 pitches, albeit with varying levels of success. A few items to note, Stroman’s fastball spin as a whole is in the elite category, with Statcast showing him in the 88th percentile. Which is particularly remarkable because he does not possess elite velocity (there is a direct correlation between speed/spin). Unfortunately, Stroman uses his arsenal in the least effective way possible. In a very similar fashion to Cole prior to his transition to the Astros, Stroman is predominantly utilizing his sinker - which has been his worst pitch. Here’s a quick look at the percentages of use, and the xwOBA
2019 - 36.3% - .334
2018 - 43.1% - .388
2017 - 51.3% - .377
2016 - 44.1% - .345
This is an easy fix, and with his spin rates, he would be a candidate to effectively utilize pitch tunneling by switching to high-spin 4-seamers at the top of the zone.
Additionally, Stroman has the makings of a superb arsenal if he utilized his off-speed pitches properly as well. His best pitch today is his Slider, which has been consistently effective since 2016, never having an xwOBA above .261 with it.
Marcus Stroman, Pretty 74mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/zZODAFDAVy— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 1, 2018
But there’s more, Stroman possesses elite spin rate on his curveball as well. Although the pitch is extremely rare for him to use, he does have the ability to throw one with not only excellent spin rate but speed differential. The below are extremely small sample sizes, but take a look at the results on a percentage of use and xwOBA perspective
2019 - 1% - .038
2018 - .7% - .177
2017 - 3.6% - .207
2016 - 6.3% - .205
Admittedly, he did alter his approach in 2018, going with a larger speed differential on the pitch (dropping from averaging in the low 80s to the mid 70’s with less spin).
Now, I often see people believing that under Strom - this pitcher would turn into an ace. I want to explain WHY I believe so, and if you’re interested on my research, here are some articles that can go into far more depth behind HOW Strom has been so effective:
- Brent Strom Magic Method
- Learnings from interview with Brent Strom
- Research on the list of “Go-To” people Brent Strom named 
- Interview with Strom’s #1 Go-To, Perry Husband the Father of Effective Velocity
When I first started researching what had made Strom’s “turn-around” candidates most successful, I came up with a fairly simple list. Strom had been most effective in eliminating Sinkers, utilizing a high-spin 4-seamer, and combining it with a high-spin breaking pitch (with curveballs being particularly effective).
Stroman possesses a lot of the desired qualities, but there’s actually more than meets the eye here. During my interview with Perry Husband, one of the things I had learned was the benefit of a low release point. This an area which Stroman’s stature actually benefits him, with all of his pitches coming in under 6’ for a release point. Why does this matter? Well, in simplest terms - it gives him a huge advantage in the ability to tunnel his pitches. (For those not familiar with the term, it’s keeping the pitches along the same path for as long as possible, making it harder for the batter to differentiate the pitches). Meaning if Stroman did follow the Strom Magic Method, it would be even more difficult for a batter to figure out if it was a high fastball or low breaking pitch until it’s far too late.
Of course, no pitcher is perfect, and while Stroman possesses a lot of the traits for Strom’s magic, there are some limiting elements. While Stroman’s height will help from a pitch tunneling standpoint, his fastball velocity is basically league average and there are concerns about his durability due to it. With an injury history that includes a left calf tear, knee surgery, etc - there are questions if his body can hold up to the load of a traditional workhorse, and if there are any lingering impacts after sitting out the entire 2020 season.
The largest challenge for the necessary dynamic shift in pitching approach, would of course be Marcus Stroman’s ego. I don’t mean that in the negative way it sounds. If you look through the other interviews, pitcher’s often see themselves in a certain light. Stroman has been effective with a sinker/groundball approach for his entire career, so making a dynamic shift that would result in him drastically altering his pitch usage (increased usage of off-speed, near elimination of the sinker, location of pitches, etc) is a scary proposition. Having Verlander as a spokesman helps sell it, but the pitcher has to buy into the process.
Marcus Stroman, Nasty 88mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/l3YQh5yaB6— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 14, 2019
Going into the off-season of one of the strangest baseball seasons in history with questions still remaining about fans returning next year, it feels near impossible to predict with any real level of accuracy what type of contract Stroman would be in line for. With that said, 29 year old pitchers with mid-3 ERA’s are generally never cheap. A quick look at MLBTradeRumors Free Agency Power Rankings shows Stroman ranked at #7, with a prediction that he will be looking to top Eovaldi/Mikolas 4 year / $ 68 Mil contract, with 5 years not being out of the question.
Given his injury history and performance, I don’t think those numbers seem far off, albeit a little light from where I’d likely predict in a normal year.
Marcus Stroman, Rare 73mph slow Curveball... Vázquez appreciates. pic.twitter.com/WZko7g9fG6— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 23, 2019
Stroman is a pitcher with a track record of success, but truly untapped potential. I am truly hopeful that Stroman signs with the Astros or the Reds, as his arsenal under a pitching coach that has embraced some of these theories would change Stroman from a strong #2 into a true ace.
From a cost perspective, given his lack of pitching in 2020, and previous performance, I believe there’s an opportunity to capitalize on signing him to a contract that after 2021, many would view as one of the best deals in baseball.
Plus his name is STRO-man, how could we not?
Would you want the Astros to pursue Stroman?
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