After he decided to opt out of the season in 2020 due to health and safety concerns, Marcus Stroman was left with a tough choice in the off-season. The Mets had extended him a qualifying offer and if he rejected it, a draft pick would be attached to him in a free agency that was about as bad for players as one could imagine. Still, Stroman had been a consistently good pitcher for years and his value was worth more than the qualifying offer. Stroman opted for that offer from the Mets and returned to his hometown destination with the mission to prove he was one of the best pitchers in the sport. He’s doing that so far this year but he’s doing it in new ways. Welcome, to the Stro Show.
All statistics referenced in this article reflect the morning of Thursday, June 17th, and will not contain data from any games played on June 17th
In With the New
In the off-season, Stroman exchanged tweets with Pitching Ninja, Rob Friedman, on some new pitches he was learning. Michael Ajeto wrote a season preview on that thread and those pitches that you can read here. Stroman tweeted that he was adding Robert Gsellman’s split change to his arsenal this year. He has thrown a changeup in the past but only threw more than 10% of the time just once in his career and that was in 2015 where he was hurt. As David Adler for mlb.com notes, Stroman is throwing his splitter about 13% of the time which would be a career-high for any off-speed pitch ever. Hitters are hitting .184 against the pitch this year, what’s made it so effective?
Stroman’s splitter moves in above-average ways in both horizontal break and vertical break which is unusual for a splitter similar to his. Stroman also sees a noticeable difference in his observed spin direction of 2:30, which suggests mostly sidespin on the pitch, and a spin-based spin direction of 1:45 which suggests a more even mix between side spin and backspin. In an interview with Rob Friedman, Stroman admitted he doesn’t pronate much on the ball on his off-speed pitches and lets the grip do a lot of the work. It’s a unique way to pitch, fiddle with the grip enough to where you’re comfortable with the movement patterns. Stroman does stay behind the ball better on his splitter than any other pitch as he has an 84% spin efficiency on the pitch, which is in the normal range for changeups/splitters.
According to Baseball Savant, Stroman has thrown the pitch 144 times this year and he’s registered an 18% swinging strike rate on the pitch. While his CSW on the pitch is low at just 23%, Stroman doesn’t use the pitch to get ahead, he uses it to get guys out. He’s thrown it on the first pitch to just 27 of the 312 hitters he’s faced this year. He’s thrown 41 of his splitters, almost a third of his usage, in two-strike counts. 62 of them have been used in even counts and he’s got 11 swings and misses in those counts and 10 outs in those counts as well. He’s either getting ahead with the pitch or getting you out with the pitch and it’s working well so far for him.
Stroman advertised the return of his fastball in the off-season as well and while he’s throwing it more than he did in 2019, it’s still being used under 5% of the time and it doesn’t fit the way Stroman pitches. It also moves in well below-average ways and has a 61% spin efficiency on the pitch. That’s probably because the way Stroman throws his sinker is a reverse slider and relies heavily on the gyro force of the ball and some SSW effects on the ball. It’s extremely difficult to go from that to getting perfectly behind the ball and throwing a fastball that doesn’t drop if you still want your sinker to move as Stroman’s does. And yet, when Stroman has thrown the fastball, it’s been effective for him. He has 10 swings and misses on just 52 pitches this year. Stroman makes his 4-seam fastball look similar to his sinker out of the hand and then when the pitch doesn’t move it fools hitters into thinking it’s one thing when it’s another. As I’ve said before, sometimes the way the pitch plays in the arsenal as a whole, is far more important than the way the pitch moves.
Marcus Stroman has made his name off being an efficient pitch-to-contact type of pitcher. Stroman had back-to-back 200 inning seasons in 2016 and 2017. He also threw 184 innings in his other full season. His ability to generate contact on the ground quickly makes him valuable in today’s game of heavy bullpen usage, Stroman can work deeper into games without worrying about his pitch count. From 2015 to 2018, Stroman never registered a groundball rate below 60%. While his 56.1% ground ball rate would be the second straight season below that number for him, it is above his 2019 rate. Part of that is both his sinker and his splitters have gotten more generated near 60% ground ball rates.
Over 70% of plate appearances against the Mets pitcher ended with a ball in play and his .267 BABIP is the second lowest value of his career if you include his injury-shortened 2017 season. However, his xBABIP is .333. Apart from that difference is because the defense for the Mets has been good for him while he’s pitching with 2 OAA in his favor. Assuming the Mets defense doesn’t collapse at any point, you can expect Stroman to overperform on that end a bit consistently, especially with Francisco Lindor in that infield. Another part is the ability to limit hard contact. It’s something that Stroman doesn’t do well, but because of his ability to get hard-hit balls on the ground, it never comes back to bite him too heavily.
When you are a pitch-to-contact type of pitcher, generating weak contact is beneficial to your success. Stroman’s sinker gives up a lot of hard contacts. 57% of the batted balls against him have been deemed hard-hit. Over half of them have been on the ground but that’s still a lot of room for error and luck to come into play. 60% of his sinkers are thrown in the strike zone which is 7% above the league average clip.
It’s a game that Stroman has to play with his sinker. Be willing to give up some hard contact if you throw it for strikes a lot to limit walks, get some quick outs, and set up your off-speed and breaking pitches. It’s a game of trade-offs.
As I mentioned, Stroman has a lower ground ball rate than his career average so far this season. The trade-off for that is his strikeout rate is the highest it’s ever been at 21.5%. His walk rate is also the lowest it’s ever been since 2014. Stroman is getting more whiffs this year because he’s pitching that way. His overall CSW is up this year, while the hard-hit rate and the barrels are up.
Let’s take a look at his slider. In 2019, it had a zone % of 40 but in 2021 it’s up to 46. However, he is throwing the pitch almost exclusively to one side of the plate and trying to avoid the middle of the zone. Even though the pitch is in the zone more, it’s not leaking out over the middle more.
Looking at the cutter, we can see a similar trend. The pitch was thrown up and in to lefties and away from righties pretty heavily in 2019. In 2021, Stroman has kept the pitch down and in to lefties and away from righties. Almost acting like a tighter, faster slider. His swinging strike has gone up just a tick and so has the overall CSW. He’s giving up slightly more hard contact but given the fact that’s been the pitch with his highest RV/100, I’d say it’s worth the trade-off for him.
Both his fastball and splitter are getting a lot of whiffs as I mentioned but his splitter has been susceptible to some hard contact as well. 40% of batted balls have been hard-hit but 17 of the 27 batted balls have come on the ground so it’s a fair trade for Stroman. Give up a few hard-hit balls to get some more swings and misses especially when people have problems elevating that pitch.
Moving forward, Stroman could use sinker less heavily inside the strike zone and maybe pitch towards the edges more if the hard-hit rate ends up being a problem, which it could. If more people start laying off the sinker or he can’t generate groundballs are the rate he wants because of the change in command, going with more cutters and splitters is an option as well. I would not recommend increasing the fastball usage because I think it is too good of a pairing with his sinker to replace one with the other at a substantial amount.
This is what it means to pitch. Stroman has been making adjustments to his pitches and style for years. It’s one of the best parts about watching Marcus Stroman pitch. Seeing him make adjustments in his game to remain the same good pitcher he has been for his entire career. His positive mindset and competitiveness have fueled one of the smartest pitchers in today’s game. He’s been remarkably consistent this year for fantasy managers and Mets fans alike. It’s a joy to tune into the weekly performance of the Stro Show.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)