Jays From the Couch tunes in to one of the Toronto Blue Jays best programs: The Stro Show, starring Marcus Stroman
When we hear the name Marcus Stroman many words come to mind such as, determination, perseverance, swagger and dare I say it, Ace. There are many ways to describe the Toronto Blue Jays’ wonder kid and in order to truly understand what makes him one of the most sought after pitchers, we have to take a deeper look into what makes Marcus, Marcus.
The obvious way is to take a look at what he’s accomplished as a Toronto Blue Jay since he was drafted back in 2012. His scouting report at the time laid out his assets, his flaws and his career potential, but what it failed to mention was his resistance to the nay sayers, his determination to prove them all wrong, and his ability to not allow height to measure heart. The scouts described his assets by breaking down his pitches one by one, but they never mentioned his palpable confidence or the ability to withstand criticism at such a young age.
They were quick to point out that standing at 5’ 8” was a flaw for a starting pitcher and that he would have to spend his early career proving that his stamina and ability to avoid serious injuries would be what ensures him for the long haul and avoid the bullpen. The report summed up Stroman’s career potential as “Quality right-hander with some upside.” However, describing Marcus Stroman as just encompassing “some upside” is too simplistic; he’s much more complex than that. In order to really understand Marcus Stroman we have to dissect not only his career stats but all of what makes him, what I believe, a true Ace on any squad in the MLB.
His career stats are impressive, there’s no doubt about that. In 2014 he pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts, with an impressive walk to strikeout ratio of 28 to 111. The following year had other plans for him, as he was plagued with a freak injury to his ACL, an injury that typically requires a season to repair. As a fan of Stroman, I understand that there is nothing typical about him, and this injury wasn’t going to be any different. He was determined to battle back and return to his team on September 19th, a day he circled on his calendar. Once again, he wanted to prove them all wrong; he wanted to show his team and himself that he could in fact beat all the odds, just as he has his entire young career.
He in fact did return that year in dramatic fashion with a win on September 12th against the New York Yankees in New York city, his hometown. He made what would have been a colossal disappointing season into a character-defining mission. He took the time that year to push himself through extensive hours of rehab and even returned to his old stomping grounds at Duke University to complete his degree in Sociology.
His return to the Jays gave them a resurgence to push for the pennant and bring a postseason win to the city of Toronto. Fast-forward to 2016, a season where he had contributed a remarkable 204 innings pitched with a 4.37 ERA, where he kept his opponents honest with only allowing 54 walks to 166 strikeouts. It was clear that Marcus hadn’t skipped a beat. He once again brought his team to the postseason the very next year, with a Wildcard win against the Baltimore Orioles where he pitched an impressive 3.00 ERA, pitching 6 innings and allowing only 2 runs. The postseason high was cut short during the ALCS against Cleveland, where they had succumbed to the Tribe’s outstanding pitching and were only able to muster one win in five games. This loss would have broken a pitcher’s spirit, but not Marcus’, he was more determined than ever to bring a win to Toronto.
When 2017 rolled around, there were high hopes that the Jays, even though they had lost Edwin Encarnacion to Cleveland, would have a very good chance to join the pennant race. Marcus did all that a pitcher is required to do and then some. Not only did he pitch in the World Baseball Classics for team USA and was subsequently named the MVP, but he had pitched another full season of 201 innings, with 33 starts and an ERA of 3.09, which put him in the top five best pitchers in the American League. Unfortunately this past season was a dismal one overall for the Jays, with an April that started off with the team in the basement and had seemed to keep them there for the majority of the 162 games. Many Blue Jays fans would describe their season as disappointing, but not Stroman, he came out of the rubble unscathed and more determined than ever. In fact he was so confident back in July, that he had said “I honestly feel like I’m just getting started, that I’m only going to get better from this point on…I’m truly starting to learn about my craft. I’ll expect a better year out of myself next year.”
Even though this season wasn’t what Jays fans had hoped for, Marcus Stroman was still recognized for his outstanding athleticism with a Gold Glove nomination.
His confidence has become such common place, that at times it goes unnoticed or just expected. He’s never been shy to let you know how he thinks and how he feels about the game. He had been very vocal this past season on the conspiracy surrounding the raised stitching of the baseballs in which he was convinced that the suspected alterations were the cause for pitchers’ relentless blisters. He was quoted saying to the National Post, “I feel like it’s an epidemic that’s happening across the big leagues now, a bunch of pitchers getting blisters, guys who have never had blisters before. So for MLB to turn their back to it, I think that’s kind of crazy.” “I have no theory. But obviously, I mean, it’s not a coincidence that it’s happening to so many guys all of a sudden. It’s not a coincidence.”
He suspected not only that the new balls were a detriment for the pitchers in the League but were also responsible for the noteworthy number of homeruns. Whether or not this made any difference at all in the game, it didn’t matter, he had something to say and the world was going to hear it. He wasn’t done there. He had more to say and he used his popular Twitter account to get his message across. This time his focus was on Sportsnet’s “manalyst”, Gregg Zaun after Zaun had criticized Stroman’s approach to the game and his flash and arrogance that played out on the field.
However, on this one he wasn’t alone. His roasting partner was none other than J.P. Arencibia, who was the Blue Jays’ catcher from 2010-2013, and they didn’t hold back. It started early in the 2017 season when Zaun expressed his disapproval of Marcus expressing his emotions on the mound against the Los Angeles Angels. Marcus fired back on Twitter saying “Don’t waste your energy on non-credible sources.” This was the start of an ongoing dialogue calling for Sportsnet to acquire new analysts, while throwing JP Arencibia’s name into the mix. The banter went on for most of the season.
Perhaps you wouldn’t have seen this with other generations of players, but these kids are different, these kids have a voice and Marcus is adamant about using his. It could be debated that his display of emotions and publicly expressed opinions could be a detriment for him in the League, but this is something that is a part of the game, the new game of baseball. He has cemented his role with the Blue Jays by proving that his fierce competitiveness and unyielding faith in his craft are exactly what an Ace on any club would embody. When he was drafted by the Jays he had his doubts about playing for a city that he admittedly knew nothing about, but he will be the first to tell you now that Toronto is his home, and home is where his heart is. As a Blue Jay fan I couldn’t ask for anything more. No matter what politics follow him or the game, I, along with the tens of thousands of fans that fill the Rogers Centre, will gladly be purchasing a ticket to the one man show: The Stro’ Show.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison – cropped from original under CC BY-SA 2.0
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