By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Marcus Stroman, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
2015 season (Majors): 4 G, 4 GS, 27 IP, 1.67 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 4 W, 18 SO, 6 BB
After baseball fans got a glimpse of Marcus Stroman in 2014 (3.65 ERA, 2.84 FIP), they were excited for more in ‘15. Unfortunately, that excitement was cut short quickly thanks to a torn ACL suffered during fielding drills in Spring Training. His season was likely over, and there was no telling how he’d rebound.
Stroman, however, didn’t want to disappoint. He made a surprising early return with a vengeance for the playoff-bound Blue Jays with four September wins in four starts before continuing to thrive in the postseason. Now healthy and ready to roll for Spring Training in ‘16, the 24-year-old Stroman appears poised to become one of baseball’s next true aces.
In 30 big league games, Stroman has posted a 2.96 FIP while inducing a ton of ground balls (55.6 percent) and walking fewer than two batters per nine innings. His control has been incredible, with a 5.3 BB% (walk rate) and a 1.14 WHIP.
The young right-hander has an extensive arsenal, of which he has great control. Stroman features a fastball that clocks in the low 90’s, along with a cutter, slider, curveball and sinker (two-seam). Hitters can’t seem to get a read on Stroman, or make solid contact, as evidenced by the fact that he’s given up just nine homers in 157 2/3 innings.
There’s really just one aspect Stroman needs to improve on, and that’s getting more swings and misses. His career swinging-strike percentage is just 8.4, below the average of 9.5. He’s not really getting hitters to chase too much with a below-average 28.7 O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the zone), so he needs to work on his deception.
Despite the lack of swings and misses, the bottom line is that even though hitters are making contact, they aren’t really squaring up the ball or getting hard hits. According to Fangraphs’ quality of contact stats, which are relatively new and not completely accurate but do give a new perspective on batted balls, hitters manage a hard-hit ball percentage of just 21.8 (30 percent is considered average for hitters). His career line-drive percentage of 18.4 extrapolated over a full season would likely land him in the top 15 among pitchers, and that ground-ball percentage mentioned earlier would have him in the top 10.
Health, as with all players, is key, though it’s relieving to know that Stroman’s issues last year weren’t arm related. He is already keeping hitters from making solid contact — should he manage to get more swings and misses and raise his K-rate, there’s no reason to believe Stroman can’t become one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.