Dan Straily is 28 years old. He’s on his sixth team in six years. Yet he has emerged as a workhorse in the Marlins rotation this season.
Prior to this year, Straily was a fringe 40-man guy. He started off his career somewhat strong; his cup of coffee in 2012 wasn’t entirely impressive, but the RA9 metrics did show strength. His 2013 was much more promising. As he posted a 3.98 DRA and a 1.8 pWARP season over the season, the Straily train began to pickup steam. Then, in 2014, the wheels fell off. The walks and home runs spiked heavily. That led to Straily going up and down from the minor leagues. Along with that, he was traded to the Cubs in the Samardzija/Addison Russell deal. His time in Chicago was short when he was flipped to Houston in the Dexter Fowler deal, where he once again floundered and was flipped to the Padres. Finally, he landed in Cincinnati off waivers from the Padres.
Before arriving in Cincinnati, Straily spent time at Driveline Baseball in the greater SeaTac area this offseason. The training program has been used by various pro pitchers, including Indians starter Trevor Bauer and Padres reliever Ryan Buchter. The program aims to improve velocity and provide other ancillary benefits, like improved arm health.
When Straily joined the Reds in Spring Training, the changes were clear. He was a strong performer in the spring and earned himself a spot with the big league club, and didn’t disappoint. By RA9 standards, Straily was a 4.3-win pitcher. Peripheral metrics weren’t as kind, as pWARP and fWAR placed him at 0.7 and 1.2 wins respectively. However, even if you go with the pessimistic measurements, that’s still a massive contribution from a guy who the Reds thought was more emergency pitching depth than anything.
His strong performance led him to be a commodity on the trade market worth looking at, and in January, the Marlins sent hard-throwing prospect Luis Castillo up north in exchange for Straily.
Now, Straily is probably the best starter on the Marlins’ staff. He is currently posting an ERA of 3.31 with a strong 3.23 DRA. This is largely due to major improvements in both strikeout and walk rate. His strikeout rate of 23.5 percent and his walk rate of just 7.0 percent are career bests by a long shot, with the former up by about three points and the latter down by about two points over his prior best marks. Overall, Straily has been somewhat exceptional for the Marlins, and sits 22nd in pWARP among all pitchers.
The key to Straily’s success has been reversing the velocity dip he had been experiencing. Straily had a bit of a mixed bag season in 2015 with regard to velocity. The fastball was up a few tenths of a mile per hour, but everything else went down. (I’m ignoring the two curveballs that he threw and that went a bit faster than usual.) Meanwhile, his velocity has been steadily climbing across the board from 2016 onward.
He experienced big gains on both his slider and changeup to go along with more than half a tick added on his fastball. His sinker velocity has gone down this season, but he’s thrown the pitch just 16 times this season, so it’s pretty easy to ignore. And while his curveball velocity has dropped from its 2014 levels, that may not be entirely bad; curveball velocity isn’t exactly a prime indicator of success, and Straily may actually be better off with it being slower.
The work Straily put in at Driveline in the 2015-16 offseason is really showing to be paying dividends now. He’s steadily progressed on the mound and added velocity to his entire arsenal. Time will tell if this lasts, but thus far Straily has made significant strides, and turned into a real asset for the Marlins.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.