A few weeks ago, Marcus Stroman made no secret of his willingness to join the Yankees at the trade deadline. Stroman, in fact, made it rather obvious that he wanted to play for the Yankees. He hinted at his own sentiment saying “I’m built for this, I’m built for the bright lights and the moment. I’m not scared of it. I’ll take that ball each and every time with the pressure on. I love it.” I’m pretty sure those bright lights he’s talking about aren’t the ones at the Rogers Centre.
Fast forward to this past weekend and Stroman stayed quiet on the matter. That could be the product of many things, but the main reasons were probably that, first of all, he might have been told to be a bit quieter on the subject, and second of all, that he started in the rubber game on Sunday. Stroman wasn’t too shabby, either. He threw six innings giving up three earned runs on seven hits while striking out seven. He also did not surrender a home run.
Stroman has quietly had a solid 2019 campaign. He carries a 3.18 ERA, good for 15th best in baseball, and is one of the best ground ball pitchers in the majors. In fact, Stroman is second in the MLB with a 57.5% ground ball rate. He also doesn’t surrender many long balls, as he stands at twelfth best in HR/9 at .86.
Many a fan can look back at 2018 and say that Stroman was horrible. That’s true, he was. He had a 5.54 ERA and a rather inflated 3.17 BB/9. But, he was also one of the unluckiest starting pitchers in the Major Leagues. He had a .326 BABIP, good for the second-worst, or second most unlucky, in all of baseball. That has evened itself out this season, albeit maybe a bit too much.
One thing with Stroman is that his ERA is now down to 3.18, but he is now getting a bit too fortunate in 2019. His BABIP is down to .288. The rest of the way, though, we can expect him to level out and be around a 4.00 ERA pitcher. Considering he does not give up many home runs, he appears to be a good fit for Yankee Stadium.
I did, however, touch on a point in last week’s article. That point was that the Yankees are not a very good defensive team. For a groundball pitcher that can spell disaster.
There’s still some hope, however, in the fact that the Blue Jays are not a very good defensive team themselves. They are 21st in defensive runs saved at -21, 27th in UZR at -18.6, and 25th in defensive WAR at -12.6. The Blue Jays are in the same echelon as the Yankees when it comes to sub-par defensive play, so maybe that can make the Yankees a bit more hopeful that Stroman is still a good fit.
Stroman gets so many groundballs with his Sinker (36.8%), Slider (34%), and Cutter (20%) mix. He also mixes in a changeup 5.4% of the time and a four-seam fastball 3.3% of the time. Compare that to last season, and we see that Stroman has increased his Cutter usage by 5% and decreased his Sinker usage in the process.
Breaking those changes down even further, Stroman still throws his sinker to lefties basically the same percentage of the time as he did in 2018. However, his sinker usage when pitching to righties has plummeted 10%. Instead of throwing his sinker to righties, Stroman is throwing his cutter. His cutter usage to righties has increased by 10%.
Location, Location, Location
It’s interesting to see the change, or improvement, in Stroman’s location. First of all, he’s done a good job of keeping his sinker compact. Just look at his sinker location in 2019 (left) compared to 2018 (right). In 2018 it appears that his sinker was leaking out over the plate a bit too much. In 2019, though, his sinker is diving down and in, and he’s leaving it out of the way of the middle of the plate. His ability to keep it away from the middle of the plate has led Stroman’s Hard Hit % on his sinker to drop from 52% in 2018 to 43% in 2019.
His cutter, the pitch that he has increased usage on, is also tighter in terms of its consistent location. Its location for 2019 is on the left while for 2018 it’s on the right. He’s keeping his cutter up and away to righties and up and in to lefties, which is probably right where you want a cutter to be.
Stroman’s is also seeing more success with his slider. In 2018 the LD% on Stroman’s slider was 27%, in 2019 it has dropped to 20%. Stroman’s 2019 Slider (left) also looks a lot different location wise than in 2018 (right). In 2018 Stroman was coming down and in to lefties. In fact, that heat spot for his sliders in 2018 is treacherous water against lefties.
Slider location for Stroman has gotten better against lefties in 2019 (left), as opposed to 2018 (right). Stroman is throwing his slider out of the zone more against lefties this season, as opposed to leaving it in the happy zone. The way he is using it against righties, though, has not changed much. He still attacks down and away with it, as all right-handed sliders should be going there against right-handed hitters. How do we know that Stroman’s ability to get out of the zone more with his slider is working? Well, his swing and miss % has jumped from 32% in 2018 to 35% in 2019 on the pitch. Furthermore, his in zone % on his slider has decreased from 46% in 2018 to 40% in 2019. It’s not a huge difference, but it shows improvement.
Marcus Stroman is an improved pitcher in 2019, there is not much debate in that. Where there is debate is whether or not he is worth it for the Yankees. After all, he has gotten lucky this season, as is natural with a groundball pitcher some times, and is set to regress at least a little bit the rest of the way. However, I think I’d take an elite ground ball pitcher, especially one that wants to pitch at Yankee Stadium, any day of the week.
In all likelihood, Stroman won’t come cheap. In fact, I think it will take Clint Frazier and some lower level prospects to get him. I think I’d do that in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, though, Yankees fans are attached to a young outfielder with defensive problems and no spot on the Major League roster. Let Clint have a real opportunity in Toronto, the Yankees are trying to win a division, and subsequently, a World Series.