Throughout his short professional career, Toronto Blue Jays prospect has had to deal with the debate surrounding top prospect Marcus Stroman‘s potential role in the Major Leagues. Scouts and pundits alike have opined at length over whether his size would allow him to grow into the starter his repertoire deserves or whether he was better suited as a a late-inning reliever.
Based on early returns, it might be safe to say that Stroman has proven he belongs in the rotation.
The Blue Jays have had the luxury of seeing both ends of the spectrum during Stroman’s first taste of the big leagues, and the results have been drastically different. During his initial call-up, Toronto thrust Stroman into a bullpen role, one in which he had little preparation for after spending the his last two seasons starting in the minors.
Maybe it was an inability to loosen up in short bursts, but the results showed that the bullpen role was not well thought out. Now, this is an obviously small sample size, given that Stroman made just 5 appearances and pitched just 6.1 innings. However, his stuff proved flat and Stroman was knocked around pretty good in his short stint as a reliever.
Needless to say, when opposing hitters are rocking you to the tune of .419/.441/.710, you go back to the drawing board and find something else that works. That’s exactly what the Blue Jays did, optioning Stroman back to Buffalo so that he could stretch himself back out and return to the team at a later date as a starter. 17 days later, Stroman received the call back and took the ball for his first start on May 31st.
In six starts since his recall, Stroman has been electric, posting five quality starts while going 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA. In fact, all of his peripheral stats seem to complement that Stroman’s permanent spot is in the rotation.
As you can see, Stroman showed drastic improvements across the board, as hitters have been unable to square him up as thoroughly as the did when he was a reliever, as evidenced by his drastic drops in opponents slash-lines and his rise in K/9 ratio.
So what has caused the magical change, outside of his move back to the rotation?
According to his velocity charts (courtesy of Brooks Basebal) Stroman has been able to find his groove as a starter without having to sacrifice much in terms of the velocity of his fastball, seeing it dip only an average of 1-2 MPH per start as to his relief work. However, there are two significant areas of improvement
Stroman has added a few MPH to his curve ball, perhaps noting that the pitch was telegraphed too much at such a drastic drop in speed. He has also shown more difference between his fastball and his change-up, a pitch that he basically ignored as a reliever, preferring to go with this fastball, cutter, and slider instead. By adding it back in, he’s showing a solid change of speed, as well as helping to disguise the curve a bit better.
Marcus Stroman velocity charts, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
Another important factor of the change-up is its location. Changing the hitters perspective on pitch location, specifically when you have a fastball that tends to flatten out at the top of the zone, is crucial for Marcus Stroman. By mixing in the change-up that stays at the bottom of the zone, he is creating weaker contact on the fastball up in the zone. In fact, as shown in the Brooks chart below, Stroman has done a solid job of keeping his off-speed stuff down in the zone since moving into the rotation.
Marcus Stroman Vertical Location chart
All and all, the changes seen in just a short period of time have helped to strengthen the Blue Jays feelings that Stroman is a long-term solution for the team’s rotation. His ability to adjust and grow, even at such a young age bodes well for a strong future, something the Blue Jays are banking on as they make the transition from the win-now mode to the next generation of players.
And Marcus Stroman is going to be a good part of that next generation.