Quick, name the top candidates for AL Rookie of the Year. The first two you probably think of are this year’s biggest international imports: Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu. And deservedly so. Tanaka was a legitimate Cy Young candidate before encountering elbow problems last month, while Abreu has been arguably the best first baseman in the league so far this season. After them, you’d probably guess George Springer, who’s hit for a ton of power, but like Tanaka, is currently hurt. Then you’d get to guys like Xander Bogaerts, Yordano Ventura, Dellin Betances and Nick Castellanos. But the guy who isn’t being hyped up enough right now is Blue Jays righthander Marcus Stroman.
Before getting into his pitching, I’ll try to make the argument for why you should love Marcus Stroman the person. First is the reason why some people thought he would have to become strictly a reliever in the big leagues: his size. At 5’9″, Stroman is among the shortest pitchers in the majors. Stroman is not and never will be Pedro Martinez, but he’s in the Martinez mold as a little guy that touches the upper nineties on his fastball. And everyone loves a short guy that throws gas. Second is his habit of chomping on what looks like an entire package of Big League Chew every time he takes the mound.
He looks like a grazing animal up there. It’s great. Oh yeah, and if you don’t like Marcus for some reason, you might want to keep that to yourself, because here’s a picture of him with his father, who is, of course, a police detective in New York:
Look at the size of that guy! I think I would admit to any crime he accused me of. Or I’d just curl into a ball the second he stepped in the room. Probably both. Also, since Marcus was suspended 50 games last year for a banned stimulant, I think certain guesses could be made as to where he received it.
In addition to tiring his jaw, Stroman has been wearing out opposing hitters over the past couple of months. Stroman began the 2014 season in Triple-A before making his debut on May 4th against the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, Stroman was initially asked to be a reliever for the first time in his career, and ran into some struggles. He allowed 9 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings and was promptly sent back down to Buffalo, this time to get reacquainted with starting as the Blue Jays realized that relief wasn’t his best role.
Upon being recalled on May 30th, Stroman has arguably been Toronto’s best pitcher, as he’s thrown 68 stellar innings with a 2.12 ERA and a 63/16 strikeout to walk ratio. To go with his great surface numbers is a 2.79 FIP as a starter, showing that Stroman has not just been a Jeff Locke-like example of short term luck.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Stroman has been his willingness to use all of his pitches at any given time. Check out how Stroman has been using his off-speed stuff more often since his first start of the season.
With the exception of his changeup, which has shown promise regardless, Stroman has increased the usage for all of his secondary pitches as the season has gone on. As previously mentioned, the best of these secondaries has been the breaking ball, which has usually been identified as a slider in the past, but PITCHf/x marks as both a slider and curveball in the chart above. As Stroman’s favorite weapon when ahead in the count, the breaking ball has accounted for over half (33 to be exact) of Stroman’s strikeouts this year. But if the numbers don’t convince you of what a beast this pitch is, you can always ask Eric Hosmer.
The concern about Stroman coming up was that because of his size he would fail to hold up over the long haul. That question, admittedly, is still a valid one. Stroman has pitched a little over 100 innings between Triple-A and Toronto this season, and the 111 2/3 he posted last season in the minors is a career high for the 2012 first-rounder. But the Blue Jays, who let the trade deadline pass on Thursday without making any moving to upgrade their rotation (looking at you, J.A. Happ), will be counting on him to stay strong as they fight for a playoff spot down the stretch. Thus far, Stroman has gotten better with experience, as seen below:
I certainly wouldn’t expect him to keep improving each month since he set the bar so high in July, but remaining an above average pitcher in August and September could mean the difference between another disappointing season and Blue Jays making the playoffs for the first time since Joe Carter was rounding the bases against the Phillies. A few more starts like this one, and people around baseball might start to give Marcus Stroman the kind of attention he deserves.