When the All-Star Game got underway in Miami last Tuesday night, Marcus Stroman was nearly 600 miles away, relaxing on a beach at the Amanyara Resort in Turks & Caicos. That probably shouldn’t have been the case, though, as the right-hander has been one of the few bright spots for a Toronto Blue Jays team ravaged by injuries and hamstrung by a hellacious April.
Stroman entered the all-star break leading American League pitchers in bWAR (4.0) and ranking fifth among all players leaguewide. He was also among the top ten in ERA, BB/9, inning pitched, ERA+, adjusted pitching runs, adjusted pitching wins, and base-out runs saved.
"I think I should have been there 100 percent," Stroman told Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com. "I think I've pitched well enough, and that's all I'm going to say."
Instead of hobnobbing with the game’s elite in South Beach, though, the 26-year old was entertaining his social media followers with updates from his vacation.
Questionable headwear choices notwithstanding, Stroman’s performance warrants a closer look. The trade deadline is barreling towards the baseball world, after all, and his name has already been bandied about. How much has Stroman really improved, and why?
Beyond the stats referenced above, the first thing that jumps out of the data is the consistency of his ground ball rate, which at 60.9 percent trails only Lance McCullers for the MLB lead. Stroman’s striking out and walking batters at roughly the same rates as the rest of his career to this point, and induces soft contact more than 20 percent of the time, fifth-highest among AL starters.
McCullers, of course, has one of the most effective curveballs in the game, which leads to such a high ground ball rate. He sticks to his best pitch, throwing it nearly half the time, and it appears that Stroman is beginning to do the same.
Here’s a look at his pitch mix from his arrival in the big leagues to this season:
Compare that to how he’s attacking hitters in 2017:
Stroman has simplified his mix, throwing his sinker more than half the time this season, nearly eliminating his four-seamer and cutter, and focusing his offspeed offerings much more on the slider. That sinker-slider combination is causing opponents to beat the ball into the ground again and again.
FanGraphs rates Stroman’s sinker the third-most effective fastball in the AL through the All-Star Break, coming in just behind the fastballs of Chris Sale and Michael Fulmer in pitch value (wFB/C). That ranking should be taken with a grain of salt, given the limitations of the pitch value metric, but coupled with the other evidence and actually watching games, it seems to be perfectly reasonable.
As the MLB season approaches the July 31st trade deadline and ambles into the dog days of August, it will be interesting to see if Stroman remains in The Six, and if he continues to keep things simple. His first half results, as well as trends around the league, suggest that going into battle focused on your best pitch is a strategy for success. Should Stroman build off that, he shouldn’t have to worry about booking a vacation when the All-Star Game rolls around in 2018.
All data current through Friday, July 14th..
Ben Martens is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score and Let’s Go Tribe. You can follow him on Twitter at @wbennomartens.