When asked how he felt about the World Baseball Classic, Marcus Stroman gave it a ringing endorsement as a way to prepare for the MLB season. It remains to be seen if he’s correct, but so far so good for the 4th year starter.
There are plenty of MLB teams, managers, and players who don’t like the World Baseball Classic, for fear that it’ll impact the upcoming MLB schedule. Marcus Stroman is not one of those people.
The 25 year old pitcher looked great in his start against the Dominican Republic, and pitched relatively well against Puerto Rico on Friday as well, after struggling in the first inning. Although he gave up 6 straight hits and 4 runs to start the game, he turned things around and shut down the powerful squad for the remainder of 4.2 innings.
Prior to his start on Friday, Stroman was asked about how he felt the WBC affects his preparation for the upcoming season, and he gave the tournament a ringing endorsement, via westcoastmlb.com.
"“I think so. These are unbelievable lineups I’m getting to face. The Dominican, and I’ll be facing Puerto Rico on Friday. One through nine, they’re All-Stars.”"
There are plenty of baseball minds that would disagree with him, but it’s hard to argue with his point. There’s little doubting that facing a lineup featuring Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre and many more is a greater challenge that facing AAA level players who are trying to make an MLB roster, especially in as intense of an environment as the WBC offers.
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The question really boils down to, how does this impact his long term outlook? It’s hard to argue against Stroman being more game ready for Opening Day, but how will it influence his September, and hopefully October outings?
In today’s MLB game, pitcher’s are under more evaluation and scrutiny than ever before, and every pitch is accounted for, especially “high pressure” pitches, like those that would be thrown in a tournament as significant as the WBC. It’s not surprising that Stroman feels more prepared to jump into the regular season, as he’s experienced something close to a playoff atmosphere before the season’s first pitch has been thrown.
When Stroman and Team USA teammate, Adam Jones, were asked about the risk of injury playing in the tournament, Jones was quick to shoot that down with a pretty valid point.
"“You can get hurt in your spring training game just as easily as you can get hurt here. So I throw that out the window because you see Ian Desmond, unfortunately, break his hand in spring training. Injuries happen, you can’t avoid them.”"
Stroman is a case in point, who missed almost all of the 2015 season because of an injury in, you guessed it, spring training. For anyone who has forgotten, Stroman’s injury didn’t even happen in a game, but rather, an innocent bunting drill. After that experience, it’s hard to blame the product of Duke University for agreeing with Jones’ statement.
For an argument against his and Jones’ theory, you could simply point to the cast of Cy Young candidates who turned down the opportunity for one reason or another. Stroman is a talented pitcher, but he may not have even been given the opportunity if the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and more, had been options for Team USA. For an arm like Stroman who is projected to be the Blue Jays’ 4th starter (albeit in a talented rotation), he is essentially the ace of the National squad. Whether he wants to admit it or not, there’s a reason the other star pitchers passed on the chance to pitch for their country.
All of that said, it appears the experience has been positive for Stroman in many ways. Even after getting pounced on by Team Puerto Rico in the first inning, he was able to turn the outing around and come away looking relatively strong. Combine that with his excellent performance against the Dominican Republic, and he’s gotta be feeling confident at this stage, especially for March.
It’s a situation that bears monitoring, not for the sake of scrutinizing Stroman if he does end up injured or fades in the regular season, but for future, similar events. To his credit, Stroman made it clear that he prepared his body for the experience, and there’s no reason to doubt him. For anyone who follows him on social media, he’s very committed to his fitness and his career,
However, in his youth, he may not realize the toll everything is taking on his body. He pitched 204 regular season innings last year, and started 2 games in the playoffs for a total of 215.1, easily a career high. Combine that with a shorter offseason, and a longer “season” (if you think of the WBC as the start of the regular season for him), and it’s a bit troubling to think about.
The Blue Jays brass has to be thankful that he’s been healthy through the WBC experience, and has largely thrived, despite very difficult matchups. In Stroman’s case, it appears it’ll be a positive experience for the notebook in Toronto, but the same can’t be said for Dalton Pompey, after he sustained a concussion playing for Team Canada. As Adam Jones noted before, it could have happened in a spring training game as well, but it’s hard not to be upset if you’re the Jays.
For now, all we can do is hope that Stroman can parlay the experience into a great MLB season. If he performs anywhere near how he looked in the WBC, he should do just that.