Some weeks ago, I was tooling around on the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards, and one thing led to another, and I noticed that Marcus Stroman had developed a sinker that looked and worked an awful lot like Roy Halladay’s sinker. It was a pitch that just came to Stroman during the course of the 2014 season, and he debuted it early in the second half, and this is the FanGraphs post that resulted. Blue Jays fans derived a modest thrill from seeing Stroman compared to one of the best franchise pitchers ever.
This week, I’ve run some posts calculating certain pitch comps. I’ve developed a method that’s different from the method I used when I compared Stroman and Halladay, and here, you can see, for example, the best comps for Sonny Gray’s curveball. I thought today I’d put Marcus Stroman under the microscope. Stroman is a genuine six-pitch pitcher, and here’s his second-half breakdown, by usage, according to Brooks Baseball:
- Sinker: 32%
- Four-seam: 23%
- Curve: 16%
- Cutter: 15%
- Slider: 8%
- Changeup: 6%
For each of the six pitches, I calculated the best comps, out of right-handed starting pitchers during the PITCHf/x era, spanning 2008 – 2014. The results are absurd. Marcus Stroman has got some weapons. Consider him excessively armed and absolutely terrifying.
- Top comp: Roy Halladay
- Comp rating: 0.9
Remember that comp rating is just the sum of three different z-scores. Well, the absolute value of three different z-scores. That sounds complicated, but it’s just a measure of separation between Stroman and another pitcher, by average velocity, horizontal movement, and vertical movement. Unsurprisingly, this method also turned up Halladay’s sinker as the best comp for Stroman’s, and, yeah, Halladay was dominant for years, leaning heavily on two seams. We’ve been over this. Stroman’s sinker is awesome.
- Top comp: Johnny Cueto
- Comp rating: 0.5
This comp rating is even closer than the Halladay sinker comp rating. Johnny Cueto is inarguably one of the best starting pitchers in the majors. He could be the best starter available at the deadline this year, depending on what happens with the Reds and depending on what happens with Cole Hamels. Cueto’s four-seamer is also his primary pitch. He throws other pitches often, too, and part of his strategy is mixing things up to remain highly unpredictable, but the four-seamer is a huge part of what makes Cueto an ace. So.
- Top comp: Jose Fernandez
- Comp rating: 0.6
Stroman’s sinker most compares with that of an erstwhile ace. Stroman’s four-seamer most compares with that of a current ace. And Stroman’s curveball most compares with that of another current ace, a current ace whose breaking ball has its own nickname. Fernandez’s breaking ball is considered one of the better pitches in the game, and Stroman just happens to have his own version of it. Making things all the better: here are the pitchers who have the only three breaking balls that rate particularly close to Stroman’s curve:
I’m pretty sure that’s good company, but then I’m just some guys who literally writes about and analyzes baseball for a living.
- Top comp: Josh Beckett
- Comp rating: 1.1
Okay, so that tailed off quickly. It can’t all be Halladays and Cuetos and Fernandezes. But I’d point to a few things here. One, Beckett polished the cutter later in his career, and he relied on it pretty often. Two, the comp rating isn’t as strong as the comp ratings shown above. And three, the second-closest cutter comp: Johnny Cueto again. That’s just about two Cuetos out of four pitches.
This is a pitch that, in the second half, Stroman threw about once per 13 deliveries. So roughly once per inning. Cole’s usage rate has been twice that high. Archer’s has been four times as high. For Archer, this is his No. 1 non-fastball weapon, and when Stroman threw his slider, it counted for a strike 70% of the time. Seldom did Stroman leave his slider up in the zone. This was his fifth pitch.
Let’s just ignore this part. Stroman used his changeup the least. He’s acknowledge that it remains a work in progress. I’m not convinced he even needs it, but as things stand, this is the weak link, and Stroman is aware of it. Neither Drabek nor Billingsley used the changeup much. Nothing else to say in this paragraph. Stroman’s other pitches are great!
So, let’s review. When Stroman figured out his repertoire, he leaned most heavily on his sinker, and that compares best with Roy Halladay’s sinker. His next-most frequent pitch was the four-seamer, and that compares best with Johnny Cueto’s four-seamer. Then a curveball, that most closely compares to breaking balls thrown by Jose Fernandez, Yu Darvish, and Corey Kluber. Stroman also regularly mixed in a cutter that most closely compares to Josh Beckett’s late-career cutter, but right behind Beckett, we find Cueto again. Stroman’s fifth pitch down the stretch was a slider most reminiscent of Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer’s sliders. Finally, Stroman occasionally folded in a changeup we shouldn’t talk about much. Changeups are hard, and for some guys they’re unnecessary.
A close comp rating doesn’t always mean two pitches are close in effectiveness. Pitchers differ in their levels of command, and they differ in their throwing motions and deception. Yet Stroman doesn’t come with a lot of red flags. He’s consistent with his release points. Second-half Stroman had a sub-3 FIP. He had a sub-3 xFIP. He threw better than 65% strikes, and he generated almost 60% grounders. At the heart of all this: an absolutely dream-worthy repertoire. Look at it this way, and you’d think Marcus Stroman is a guy we made up. I can assure you, he’s very much real.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.