Marcus Stroman, the mythbusting machine

In the 2012 MLB Draft, there were many concerns about Marcus Stroman‘s ability to be a starter and questions about his “max effort” mechanics, leading a lot of analysts and pundits to project him as a future reliever/closer rather than a starter. This is interesting; Stroman is not a obvious college reliever like Jimmie Sherfy (Oregon, now Arizona Diamondbacks) who has plus stuff, spotty command, and questionable health. (For the record, I love Sherfy. But as a reliever.)

At Duke, Stroman showed the ability to take the ball every week and go the distance. In his draft year, Stroman punched out 136 hitters over nearly 98 innings, giving up just 83 hits and 26 walks with a 2.40 ERA. Stroman fell to the Toronto Blue Jays with the 22nd pick of the first round, where they promised to work him as a starter. Yet rumors and unfounded projection from other sources said he might be better off as a reliever.

In my write-up of the 2012 draft class, I rejected this ridiculous notion, saying:

Stroman has great rhythm and an aggressive lower body; there’s a lot to love here. He gets the most out of his “undersized” body while other bigger/taller pitchers get away with being less efficient. Stroman’s fastball has great life in the zone and hard arm-side run and flashes decent sink at times. He has a wipe-out slider but knows how to get lefties out as well.

Stroman has one of the best strikeout rates among draft-eligible college starters, so why are people talking about moving him to relief as a closer? Stroman worked out of the rotation throughout his junior year at Duke and maintained his fastball velocity deep into games, sitting 93-94 and touching 96 at times. It’s a size issue again, as people think Stroman’s height will stop him from being a prototypical starter. This advice makes no sense, and I hope he gets his shot to stay in the rotation as a professional pitcher.

Conclusion: Great value here, as I really like Stroman above [Andrew] Heaney, [Chris] Stratton, and a few of the high school pitchers. Size issues aside (they mean nothing), he should slot well into a pro rotation if he’s given the chance.

I spoke to multiple scouts in the area. All said that he was too small—one called him “badly undersized” at 5-foot-6 (this actually appeared on a scout’s report where he downgraded his Overall Future Potential out of the first round because of this). One scout told me he had two major league plus pitches (his fastball and slider) and two average major league pitches (change-up and curveball), yet he was adamant that he preferred him in a late relief role. What? How many pitchers in the big leagues right now have two plus pitches and two average pitches?

It was not so long ago that a diminutive Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young awards while being the best pitcher in baseball over a three-year span despite questions about his mechanics and size. You’d think scouts and front office executives would have learned by now. (For those who sling insults about how Lincecum is washed up and done, all I know is that if major league teams knew what they were getting into by drafting him, Lincecum would have gone first overall without question.)

Yet here we were in 2012, railing on someone who had excellent collegiate statistics and elite-level stuff (fastball up to 96-97 mph with a wipe-out slider and a change-up that flashes plus movement; Stroman also had very good command of all of his pitches) just because he was short. As another pitching coach I know likes to say: “Aside from beauty pageants, ice skating and pitching mechanics, what other fields value form over function?”

But people are starting to notice after Stroman’s crazy good 2013 (111.2 IP, 129 K, 27 BB, 99 H, 3.30 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire—Major League Equivalency: 112 H, 35 BB, 117 K). They see the stats and they see the stuff:

StromanCB

…and they believe. Well, some of them do, anyway.

Stroman’s mechanics

Marcus Stroman is about as efficient as it gets when it comes to throwing a baseball. He has to be, since he wasn’t born with long levers and a huge margin of error. How does he do it?

stromanside

Let’s break it down, piece by piece.

The shift

Stroman’s “shift” to the plate—his initial linear movement—is top-notch.

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He gets down the hill quickly, having a glute/hip-dominant stride rather than a leg-driven stride. He works from the middle out instead of the foot up, which lends itself to better repeatability, faster linear momentum, and higher efficiency.

The late-translating torso

Stroman keeps his torso stacked behind the midline, allowing it to translate toward the plate only as he nears stride foot contact. This combination of translation and rotation is what you see out of the elite, hard-throwing pitchers—efficiently and maximally using the dual engine of velocity.

image

Efficient arm action

Stroman blends a long arm dropout with a short arm pickup in his full arm action phase, allowing the hand/wrist to dominate the dropout phase of the arm action while picking it up with the elbow. This gives him the best chance to be “on time” as he engages the dual engine of rotation/translation but also ensures a clean arm action that doesn’t have a high rate of shoulder external rotation angular velocity; a red flag that is correlated with arm injuries.

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Though Stroman does drag the arm occasionally, causing a disconnection of the pitching upper arm and the pitching shoulder (increased stress), he rolls the elbow in relatively well, mostly because he raises the pitching arm up while keeping a relatively neutral spine.

Forward and full rotation into deceleration

Stroman’s semi-late rotation allows for greater “extension” toward home plate and increased perceived velocity. It also creates a better line to the plate, which improves command and is a strong signal for arm durability. Note the first two frames, which debunk the idea that we should finish “square to the plate” as so many pitching coaches preach:

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The wrap-up

I assume that Stroman will spend a few months in Triple-A in 2014 with the idea of delaying his service time in addition to getting him some extra work as a starter. Not that he really needs it.

My bet is on him proving that the detractors who talked him down in 2012 were wrong. His stuff and his command were comparable to anyone in the draft—even Kevin Gausman and Michael Wacha (who had seriously diminished stuff and looked nothing like he does now, I might add).

Stroman dropped because of myths he’s about to shatter. The issue, of course, is that Lincecum already did this and we haven’t yet learned our lesson. Fortunately, lessons that go unlearned allow for market inefficiencies to be exploited by teams who are willing to see the truth.

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Comments

  1. rick taylor said...

    Kyle:

    Regarding Marcus Stroman’s mechanics——he finishes his motion with his left foot flat and straightens his his left knee.

    How much does that left foot & left knee action push against his upper body and subsequently place strain on a pitcher’s shoulder???

    Thank you
    Rick Taylor

  2. Kyle Boddy said...

    Rick:

    Good observation!

    Finishing with the left foot flat is nothing notable, lots of pitchers roll from the heel to the toe, strike with the ball of their foot, land flat, or even go toe to heel. In a sense, increased dorsiflexion at landing (toe strike rather than heel strike) allows for greater ankle extension and knee extension so it could theoretically increase fastball velocity… but again, the difference is relatively small.

    Straightening the plant leg knee is positively correlated with increased fastball velocity as many research papers show. Elite pitchers either stabilize the lead leg or extend the lead leg through release to provide an additional bracing / ground reaction force.

    So, you do throw harder as a result, which increases stress on a pitcher’s arm. (No getting around that, physics stops for no man.) Whether or not that is likely to increase injury in Stroman’s case is anyone’s guess, but that alone isn’t something to worry about.

  3. George said...

    Thank you Kyle – great info. As regards size, might I point out that Boston’s #3 hitter is listed at 5’6”, and 165 lb.? They said he was too small, too. Sometimes, you just have to toss the book aside and look at what’s really there.

  4. RJ3 said...

    I hope he does prove people wrong.  Height *can* be a disadvantage but should not be viewed as an immediate dismissal.  A classic version of Roy Oswalt isn’t the shortest but provides a good example—his fastball had such lift on it that hitters routinely thought it was low but it was called a strike.  Plane works both ways.  Also, here are three more pitchers Lincecum’s height that I only need one name to mention to identify them:  Pedro, Whitey, & Fernando.

  5. Shane said...

    Is it just me or does he show a little of the inverted ‘W’ a lot of people are starting to point to as an indicator of a higher likelihood of UCL tears? At the bottom and mid-point of the delivery while he is picking his wrist back up, at best it seems level with his elbow. However the bottom of his delivery especially his wrist looks below the elbow. Thoughts?

  6. Steely Glint said...

    Just as Billy Beane pointed out long ago, scouts love to sell jeans.

    Who cares what size/shape/whatever he is – does he get batters out or not? That’s all that matters.

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