Jays From the Couch looks into the successful return from the DL for Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman
Blue Jays’ starter, Marcus Stroman, had a rough start to the 2018 season, producing a sky-high 7.71 ERA through his first seven games. He was walking far more than normal—10.2% vs. his 6.6% career mark—the batted balls he was conceding were a lot more likely to be hard-hit than usual—his Hard% was 46.8% vs. his career norm of 30.5%—and his barrel rate more than doubled—from a solid 3.7% over the 2015-17 season up to 8.5%.
This propensity for giving up higher quality contact manifested in an xwOBA that was just as scary as his ERA. On June 22nd, 149 starting pitchers had faced 150+ batters. Stroman’s xwOBA (.405) ranked 143rd, much worse than his 2015-17 mark (.312). In his season debut, he pitched well, producing a .304 xwOBA. However, over his next six starts, he produced xwOBA ranging from a low of .383 to a high of .486. Clearly, something was off.
The underlying reason for this sudden downturn in Stroman’s performance was widely known. His spring training was limited due to right shoulder inflammation, which forced him to miss Opening Day. However, he made a start in game four and remained in the rotation for another six starts. After that seventh start, he was sent to the DL, where he remained until June 22nd.
For the most part, his starts since returning from the DL couldn’t be more different from those beforehand. On June 23rd, against the Angels, Stroman faced 21 batters across five innings. He struck out five, got another 14 batters to generate poor contact (as defined by Statcast) and gave out only one free pass. He was rewarded with zero earned runs. On June 29th, he managed to go seven innings, facing 24 batters along the way. Four of these struck out, while another 13 generated poor contact. Stroman walked none and allowed only one run, earning his first win of the season.
His July 4th start went poorly, but it turned out that he was quite sick—Pat Tabler mentioned it during Tuesday night’s broadcast, though I haven’t found anything online about it. On Tuesday night, Marcus was back to form. He faced 28 batters across seven innings, accumulating five Ks and (a season-best) 16 poorly-hit balls. Limiting Atlanta to two walks and an earned run, Marcus got the win thanks to a Blue Jay run surge in the top of the eighth.
Of his 80 starts during the Statcast era, his three solid post-DL starts all rank in the Top 23. The June 23rd start saw him produce his second-best single-game xwOBA (.136). If we focus only on batted balls (leaving out walks and strikeouts), this start was his best ever by xwOBA (.144). Tuesday night saw him produce his seventh-best start by xwOBA (.211), while he produced his 23rd-best start by xwOBA on June 29th.
Over these four starts, he’s given up one barrel and that was in the July 4th start. He’s forced poor contact out of 55% of the batters he’s faced, much better than his strong career rate of 37.5%. In fact, since June 23rd, he’s generated the third-most poorly-hit balls in the majors (52). His post-return strikeout rate (17%) and walk rate (7.5%) haven’t been too far from his career averages (19.5% and 6.7%) and both have been skewed by the bad start against the Mets—in his three games without illness, he’s struck out 19.2% and walked only 4.1% of the batters he’s faced.
Overall, Stroman’s running a 3.04 ERA, 3.76 FIP and .249 xwOBA in his last four starts, all better-than-average marks. If we do some justifiable (if Tabby’s story is true and not a fevered dream) cherry-picking and exclude the start in which Stro was feeling ill, he’s posting a 0.95 ERA, 2.81 FIP and .207 xwOBA. Marcus Stroman is healthy and good again.
I get that Stroman isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But, what I found very distasteful was the gleefulness that some Jays fans displayed when he was struggling to start the season. That, I don’t understand. You can quibble with his enthusiasm on the diamond, if you want, but all of that comes from the fact that he gives a shit. He cares about his performance. He wants his team to win. He wants Jays fans to have something to cheer about. And, if it’s his social media endeavours that annoy you, don’t follow him.
On the field, he’s done nothing but produce for the Blue Jays. Since he debuted in 2014, he’s produced the 36th most fWAR and the 55th most pitcher wins among all starting pitchers. He’s also posted the 58th best ERA, 40th best FIP, 25th best xFIP and 29th best SIERA among the 193 starting pitchers with 250+ innings pitched. And he’s done so while being the only person standing 5’8″ or less to start a major-league baseball game since 2008.
Regardless what the rest of the season holds for the team or for Stroman, I’ll be looking forward to seeing him on the hill every fifth day, trying his hardest to get the good guys a win.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.