Marcus Stroman: The Safest Bet on the Market

As The Stro Show hits the open waters, the right-hander speaks to The Apple

Image: Roberto Carlo

It’s late September. The New York Mets have just arrived in Milwaukee to be eliminated from postseason contention. Well, that wasn’t necessarily on the weekend itinerary, but the writing had been on the wall for quite some time.

A miraculous run to first place while eclipsing a franchise record for players used in a single season by the beginning of June led to yet another stinging collapse for the Amazins, who finished the season well beyond the scope of what experts would refer to as contention.

Despite the season’s disappointing culmination, Mets fans, as rabid as ever and always longing for anything to embrace, were afforded brief respites from the perpetual pain that their fandom entails as the year wore on, but only sparingly.

The Stro Show may have been their saving grace in 2021.

After not pitching at all in 2020 following his opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns, Marcus Stroman, the 30-year-old, Long Island, New York product delivered one of the few bright spots in Flushing this season, putting together a sparkling campaign while setting a career-high and leading the majors with 33 games started.

Stroman, seamlessly sliding into the ace role vacated by Jacob deGrom’s injury-shortened season, finished the 2021 season with the ninth-best earned run average in the majors (3.02; 3.49 FIP, 17th), 0.85 home runs per nine innings (also ninth), 2.21 walks per nine (19th), and set career-bests in WHIP (1.15), strikeouts per nine (7.9), and strikeouts-to-walks (3.59).

And his output was truly only half of the story. Throughout a 162-game season that, as expected, saw a multitude of soft-tissue injuries following the league’s abbreviated 60-game campaign in 2020, Stroman exhibited the uncanny ability to remain healthy and, more importantly, effective.

Some, including Mets team president Sandy Alderson who called the feat “remarkable” during his end-of-year press conference, seemed surprised by the Duke University alum’s durability.

According to the player himself, what Alderson referred to as remarkable was simply a sum of the parts as a whole.

“I had no worries, honestly,” Stroman told The Apple. “I knew everyone around me was gonna be skeptical but I know that nobody understands and nobody sees the amount of work that I put in at the field and away from the field. And it’s tedious — it’s like a job in itself — but it always pays in the end. I’m truly just a byproduct of the work I put in.”

“My trainer Nikki Huffman, who I’ve been with since my time at Duke University, I truly think she’s one of the best in the game,” he said. “We’re very in tune with each other. I wake up and pretty much talk to her daily. I’m very open with her about how my body and my mind feel every day. She develops a program daily based on how I feel. So coming into the season, I knew she was going to prepare me and get my body ready.”

Image: Chris Simon

People outside of his immediate circle but entirely familiar with Stroman’s daily routine could have predicted this, as well.

“He’s one of the most prepared guys I’ve ever seen,” Mets reliever Trevor May told The Apple. “Everything he does points him to his start date in order to be as successful as possible.”

For Stroman, this level of permanence and performance is nothing short of what he expects from himself.

“Once I’m out there on the mound, I just compete,” he said. “I don’t think about mechanics. I don’t think about my body. I know that I’ve exhausted every opportunity. I know that I’ve checked every single box.”

“So at the end of the day, when I get done pitching, I’m OK. I’m OK with a great outing, I’m OK with a bad outing. Because I know that I do everything in my power every five days to prepare my body and my mind to be out there.”

Despite that level of preparation and execution (with the accompanying sterling results), a fair amount of criticism came Stroman’s way this season regarding his length going into games (5.42 innings per start).

Motivations for such assessments aside, that seems misdirected, at best.

The nine seven-inning doubleheaders that Stroman started (led MLB; 83.4 pitches, 5.26 IP average per outing; 3.04 ERA), plus a 1/3-inning suspended game (April 11) and the outing he exited after an inning (June 22, hip) undoubtedly skewed his average workload.

His 179 innings logged in 2021 rank 25th in the majors. Not eye-popping but wholly solid coming off a goose egg in 2020. Even more so considering Corbin Burnes — NL ERA leader (2.43) and Cy Young Award contender — averaged 5.96 innings per start (0.54 IP; less than two outs more per start) in five fewer outings.

Conveniently, detractors have harped on this perceived weakness in Stroman’s game. And that’s unfortunate. But this isn’t a new development.

Image: Chris Simon

Since 2016, Stroman’s 870 1/3 innings logged rank 15th in the majors among qualified starters. His 15.4 wins above replacement (FanGraphs) over that span are good for 20th and his 0.89 home runs allowed per nine innings rank ninth.

And that includes the right-hander’s injury-plagued 2018 (19 starts; shoulder, blister) and 2020 opt-out.

All told, over that span, Stroman’s been one of the most consistently productive starting pitchers in baseball. Still, his achievements are discounted.

“My durability and my ability as a workhorse should never be called into question,” Stroman said. “That only usually comes from reporters who don’t do their research. It’s easy to see a number and assume. But if you do just a little bit of research and you’ll understand that I’m someone who’s gonna go out there and compete.”

“I don’t have to prove myself anymore, my numbers speak for themselves,” he added. “There aren’t too many guys who throw like me and throw as often as me and I’m aware of that.”

The countless hours spent tinkering with his wide arsenal of pitches (sinker, slider, four-seam, cutter, split-change, the occasional curveball) has given Stroman the ability to tailor-make approaches for certain situations, individual hitters, what have you.

His cutter, which Stroman admittedly “can shape however I want”, has observed spin directions of nearly three-quarters of a clock face. That’s baffling to a hitter who has milliseconds to identify a pitch and commit to an offering (image below via Stacast).

His sinker (-5 run value; 21st in MLB among pitchers with over 150 PA) and slider (.244 wOBA and 37% whiff rate rank 11th and 20th, respectively, among the same group) are elite.

One would assume that Stroman is knee-deep in the mountains of analytical data available to major league clubhouses when researching and implementing. In actuality, absorbing and applying that information is only a fraction of what goes into his game preparation.

“A lot goes into it, but I’m honestly someone who puts more emphasis on my body and mind first,” he said. “I truly wouldn’t have any success if I didn’t do everything I can to make sure my body is operating at a high level and my mind is, as well. So that’s where it all starts.”

“As far as looking at the analytics and all the information we have access to, I do. I’ve been trying to talk more to the analytics guys,” he told The Apple. “I’ve been trying to just see how my game can be better. I’m not someone who will be 100 percent relying on analytics. I’m a big feel guy. I’m a big competitor. I love to go off my confidence and what I’m feeling, first and foremost. And I kinda go from there.”

As for the work behind the scenes, Stroman’s got a meticulous support system in place that acts as a foundation for any success he has or may find.

“Full body, man. Just making sure I’m ready to go from the ground up,” he said. “My legs, my core, my stability, my mobility, my fluidity, making sure I’m strong. Nikki makes sure I check every single box. And I have a lot of confidence in myself because of the work that I put in and the team that I have around me. Once I’m out there on the mound, I just compete.”

“I’ve exhausted every opportunity,” he continued. “Whether it be waking up and taking grounders, doing soft tissue, or dry needling before I get to the field. After the field, doing soft tissue when I get home after a long day. Meditating. Just metric after metric. There’s just so much that goes into it that nobody sees.”

That’s normally what separates players who last in this game from the ones who flame out; the effort. Nothing lacking in that department for Stro.

And the usual late-career transformation from thrower to pitcher took place eons ago; a true thinking-man’s hurler if there ever was one.

Never a fireballer with overpowering stuff, he simply created his own opportunities by adjusting to the parameters, refining, and improving his game to the point of, well, the ninth-best ERA in the majors this season and sixth-best since 2019 (3.06).

That arguably makes Marcus Stroman one of the safest bets on the market as he enters his initial foray into free agency after accepting the Mets’ qualifying offer ahead of the 2021 season.

Now, with his personal goals virtually at his fingertips, it appears all the hard work is about to pay off.

'“I’m extremely grateful,” he said. “I’m extremely motivated to give to my family; give back to my family. I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish. I want to give back to my community. Really leave a legacy.”

As for a possible return to Flushing, Stroman wouldn’t rule it out. Though, his eagerness to test the open market waters should come as no surprise, either. He’s earned this opportunity and has a future beyond the game to prepare for.

For the Mets, who assuredly need to address holes in their rotation this winter, Stroman appears to be an ideal candidate to slide in behind All-World right-hander Jacob deGrom with stalwarts Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker penciled in behind him.

We’ll have to wait and see if New York values Stroman’s services to the point of competing with what should be a full docket of interested teams this offseason.

In our humble opinion, that decision should be a no-brainer, essentially putting The StroShow into syndication across the tri-state area for the next half-decade. We shall see.

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