Marcus Stroman‘s season ended much better than it began, leaving reason for more optimism entering 2017
Expectations were sky-high for Marcus Stroman entering the 2016 season. With David Price signing a mammoth deal in Boston after his short-but-memorable stint in Toronto, Stroman was looked to by many as the Blue Jays’ ace of tomorrow.
Early on, the dynamic right-hander did not meet those expectations. Coming off a heroic late-season run with the Blue Jays in 2015 after returning from a torn ACL, perhaps the bar was set unreasonably high.
The rotation remained rock solid around Stroman, however, and by the final third of the season he was rounding into the form many had expected. Still just 25 years old, Stroman and Aaron Sanchez remain the present and future of Toronto’s starting five.
Stroman’s full season was stronger than his surface-level numbers might suggest. Despite posting a 4.37 ERA, Stroman did earn a 3.6 WAR from FanGraphs and posted a 3.71 FIP. He did this with an opponent’s BABIP of .308, too, which could regress slightly as his career moves on.
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He remains one of the league’s stronger ground ball pitchers in a starting role, forcing a a 60.1% rate in 2016. With the left side of Toronto’s infield occupied by Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, that’s smart business.
After seeing his ERA tiptoe above and below 5.00 for much of June and July, Stroman really buckled down over his final 11 starts with a 3.28 ERA to help the Jays’ playoff push. His pitch sequencing became more effective later in the year with his slider looking especially strong. This all allowed Stroman to reach 204 innings pitched.
A strong finish doesn’t completely negate a slow start, and Stroman did come up short of expectations in several areas.
Even with the high ground ball percentage, Stroman allowed a spiked rate of hard contact. Opposing hitters made hard contact (per FanGraphs) 31.7% of the time, leading Stroman to an early exit in a handful of starts that could have gone much better. He also allowed 21 home runs — not an unmanageable number by any means, but certainly a number that can be expected to fall in the future.
Stroman did make a very strong start for the Blue Jays in the Wild Card against Baltimore but couldn’t repeat that in the ALCS versus Cleveland. He lasted five and a third with just three hits against, but three walks and two home runs led to four runs being scored before he exited.
MLB Trade Rumors projects that Stroman will earn a raise to $3.5 million in salary arbitration this offseason, which is still a drastic bargain for a pitcher of his talent.
The heavy focus on Sanchez’s workload this year painted him as the true “newcomer” of the group, but entering 2016, Stroman had pitched just under 160 MLB innings. He’ll benefit greatly from a full season of starts, and most importantly of all, he’s proven that he can adjust in-season to overcome adversity.
This shouldn’t be a question with Stroman, of course, given what we know of his young career already. In terms of raw pitching tools and makeup, he remains one of the brightest young arms in the American League. Even if the Blue Jays’ excellent rotation experiences some regressions in 2017, Stroman’s performance should be enough to offset most of it.