Early in the 2015 offseason, Marcus Stroman was a much-hyped breakout candidate before he went down with a knee injury very early in spring training. Although many believed his season would be lost, Stroman managed to come back well ahead of schedule and pitched – and pitched well – before the end of the season. There was little reason to doubt Marcus Stroman as a potential breakout pitcher with top 15-20 upside heading into the 2016 season. His critics cited a league-average strikeout rate, but even they acknowledged the elite groundball skills, good velocity and variety of pitch mix provided a safe floor for Stroman.
However, to most prognosticators’ surprise, Stroman struggled through the first half of 2016. He was not striking batters out (6.44 K/9), his home runs were up (0.85 HR/9) and his strand rate had plummeted (65%). Stroman posted a 4.89 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP and was the worst kind of pitcher to own because he was not even a Robbie Ray type blow-up artist where his 6 or 7 Ks would help mask the negative effects of his 5 ER outings.
In the second half, Stroman was much improved. His K-rate rose (8.49 K/9) and his strand rate returned to a more reasonable level (74% LOB). Although his Home Run rate actually got worse (1.02 HR/9), Stroman was able to generate considerably more infield flies (9.4% compared to 2.7% in the first half). Simply put, through the increase strikeout rate and infield flies, Stroman was able to increase the number of “automatic” outs, rather than subject the out to the performance of his defense.
Recently, according to the Toronto Star, Stroman stated that his surgically repaired left knee was 100%. That statement does imply that Stroman’s knee was not in maximum condition last season, which could offer an explanation for Stroman’s second half gains – as his health improved, his performance improved.
During the second half, Stroman may have been feeling healthier, but he also made a change to his pitch mix. In the first half, Stroman hardly threw his four-seam fastball and was extremely reliant on his sinker. In the second half, he upped his usage from low single-digits to upwards of 15%. This could help explain the rise in infield flies. Stroman also started to shelve the changeup and emphasize his breaking pitches more.
In 2016, Stroman was being drafted as approximately the 25th SP off the board after last year’s down season, Stroman is now being drafted as the 41st SP according to current ADP. Stroman’s strikeout upside remains in question, but if he can keep it between 7.5 and 8, which would be a slight regression from last year’s second half, with a groundball rate at or approaching 60%, Stroman could be a top 20 SP.
As opposed to drafting the player at their upside, fantasy owners are now drafting Stroman with room to profit. If my projection is correct, I will believe those owners will get some value from Stroman.
My projection: 210 IP, 175 Ks, 3.59 ERA, 1.21 WHIP.