Marcus Stroman Has Arrived

Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman has arrived. OK, that’s not entirely factual. Stroman arrived as a starter in late-May, and has turned in an incredibly strong rookie season. But after Monday’s complete game shutout, Stroman has been hard to brush aside. Over 114.2 innings, the 23-year-old Stroman has a 3.53 ERA and a 2.87 FIP. Those are numbers we expect to see from a long-time veteran, not a rookie. While he still has a few more starts left, it’s worth it to look at how well Stroman compares to some of his more recent colleagues.

For the purposes of this exercise, I looked at pitchers with similar strikeout and walk rates at age-23. I did this because I don’t necessarily care about ERA, FIP or WAR for this exercise. I wanted to look at which pitchers displayed similar skills at the same age. All of those stats are available in the chart, so if you want to see how Stroman’s FIP measures up to semi-recent players, you can do that.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the pitchers who displayed similar skills to Stroman at age-23.

Bert Blyleven 37 281 21.700% 6.700% N/A N/A 2.66 2.37 8.7
Felix Hernandez 34 238.2 22.200% 7.300% 53.400% 10.600% 2.49 3.09 6.3
Jeremy Bonderman 34 214 22.400% 7.100% 48.200% 11.700% 4.08 3.29 5.9
Frank Tanana 31 241.1 21.100% 6.300% N/A N/A 2.54 2.97 5.6
John Danks 33 195 19.800% 7.100% 42.800% 11.00% 3.32 3.44 5
Javier Vazquez 33 217.2 20.700% 6.500% N/A N/A 4.05 3.68 5
Tommy Hanson 34 202.2 20.500% 6.600% 41.800% 8.400% 3.33 3.31 4.2
Eric Milton 34 206.1 19.00% 7.300% N/A N/A 4.49 4.28 4
Patrick Corbin 32 208.1 20.700% 6.300% 46.700% 10.700% 3.41 3.43 3.6
Kevin Millwood 29 171.2 22.00% 7.500% N/A N/A 4.14 3.63 3.2
Marcus Stroman 18 108.1 21.400% 5.800% 54.800% 8.00% 2.99 2.75 3
Julio Teheran 30 201 20.800% 5.800% 35.200% 10.800% 3 3.5 2.9
Jered Weaver 19 123 21.400% 6.700% 30.0% 9.00% 2.56 3.9 2.8
Drew Hutchison 28 163 21.500% 7.600% 36.500% 10.100% 4.47 3.83 2.5
Vance Worley 21 125 21.200% 7.800% 39.100% 5.400% 3.02 3.24 2.3
Travis Wood 17 102.2 20.500% 6.200% 30.500% 7.600% 3.51 3.42 2.2
Gerrit Cole 18 111 22.300% 7.900% 49.500% 9.400% 3.89 3.5 1.3

Upon first glance, you’ll likely notice that there are some really great pitchers on that list. Upon second glance you might notice there are two areas where Stroman excels a bit more than some of these players. He doesn’t walk many batters. In fact, he and Julio Teheran are tied with the best walk rate among this group of pitchers. Showing exceptional control/command at age-23 isn’t very common, even among pitchers who turn out to be elite.

Perhaps more interesting is Stroman’s 54.8% ground ball rate. It’s actually the highest on the list. The player who comes the closest to matching Stroman is this area is Felix Hernandez. Now, suggesting any pitcher will grow up to be Hernandez would be ludicrous, so let’s end that talk here. What we do have with Stroman is a pitcher who can strike out hitters at a high rate, keep his walks down and induce grounders at a high rate. If we’re looking at just skills, that’s basically the ideal pitcher.

Of course, we can’t just look at skills. With Stroman, there’s always going to be talk about his height, and whether he can hold up under a starter’s workload. Stroman is listed a 5-9, 185. By comparison, Hernandez is 6-3, 225 and Teheran is 6-2, 200. Those are just the two guys I mentioned above, but it goes to show that most “workhorse” pitchers are bigger than Stroman.

If fatigue has set in this season, it’s gone unnoticed. Stroman has already tossed 150.1 between the majors and minors combined this season, and just threw his best start. A big reason for his dominance during the game was his two-seam fastball. Eric Koreen of the National Post detailed Stroman’s success with the offering lately. Since July 19, the sinker has been Stroman’s go-to pitch. He’s throwing it 28.4% of the time, which is more than he’s thrown any other pitch during that span. Stroman provided a great quote following Monday’s start, describing how the pitch has impacted his play. “I used to be a high-pitch guy: five innings, six innings, a ton of pitches and high punch-outs,” Stroman said. “Now I feel like I’m really learning how to pitch.”

This is encouraging for a few reasons. As Stroman showed Monday, the change to the sinker doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a low-strikeout pitcher. And since we know he has the ability to get the strikeout when he needs it, Stroman’s altered repertoire shouldn’t bother us. On top of that, it’s going to help him get deeper into games. As Stroman explained in the above quote, he’s trying to be more effective with his pitches. If the sinker continues to work, he might be able to escape though high-pitch, high-effort games he refers to in his statement. There are some analysts who will argue a stressful inning is more damaging to a pitcher’s arm than throwing a lot of pitches over a relatively easy start. If you buy into that line of thinking, this could potentially be a huge addition for Stroman.

Stroman is pretty good, basically. He’s shown a ton of encouraging skills analysts typically look for in pitchers, and he hasn’t succumbed to fatigue just yet. While the Blue Jays August swoon may have pushed the team out of the minds of even the most avid baseball consumers, Stroman’s starts ought to be considered must-see TV at this point.

Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Thanks for this. Quick question. Any concern over Stroman’s relatively low swinging strike percentage? Wouldn’t we like to see it over at least 9/9.5%? Or does he not need it to be that high to be a 3.50ish ERA pitcher? Thanks.

Roll Tide
Roll Tide

I’m not sure how to prove this, but from watching his highlights it looks like he has a fairly high called strike %. Given his repertoire, particularly that two seamer, you might actually expect a higher called strike %. Maybe once people adapt to that, it might turn a pitch like a four seamer outside to righties into a swinging strike.

Spa City
Spa City

Roll Tide!!!

Corey Kluber
Corey Kluber

He also throws a cutter, which can be tough to pick up to differentiate from a two-seamer. I would say that could be a very good pathway to success given his sharp command.