The Yankees Saw a Different Marcus Stroman by Jeff Sullivan September 24, 2015 Marcus Stroman isn’t David Price. Maybe, if Stroman had been healthy all year, the Jays wouldn’t have gotten Price at the deadline, so Stroman would be their No. 1, but that isn’t how things went, so Price is No. 1, and Stroman’s looking to be No. 2. Stroman himself would happily concede that Price is on another level, but then, just about every World Series-winning team ever has needed more than one starting pitcher, and this is where Stroman becomes important. It’s a minor miracle to just see Stroman already back on the field, but his own focus is on starting and helping. It’s gone beyond just getting healthy. And if Wednesday’s any indication, Stroman’s rounding into top form with the playoffs coming up. Stroman has made three big-league starts since returning, pushing his pitch count close to 100. His first start came in New York, and he managed a half-decent five innings. Wednesday, he faced the Yankees again, only this time in Toronto, and he worked his way through seven, allowing no runs while striking out five. In easily the biggest game of his life, Stroman rose to the occasion, reducing any doubts he might not be ready to help. And it’s interesting to note just how Stroman looked. Two times out of three, Stroman has faced the Yankees. And the second time, owing in part to Stroman’s broad repertoire, the hitters saw a different pitcher. In keeping with habits, we’ll borrow again from Brooks Baseball. Below, every game of Stroman’s big-league career, and his rate of pitches in each game against left-handed batters. Stroman is right-handed! You see Wednesday’s game there at the end. The plot doesn’t make it perfectly clear whether this was Stroman’s highest-ever rate of pitches to lefties, but the point doesn’t have to be that specific. More generally, he just saw a bunch of lefties. Of all the Yankees Stroman pitched against, only Alex Rodriguez was batting righty. Rodriguez batted three times. The other 23 plate appearances gave the hitters the platoon advantage. What we already know is that Stroman was effective anyway. Seven shutout innings and all that. As you see in the plot above, he threw more pitches to lefties than he did in his first turn against New York. But now look at how Stroman pitched to the lefties. Here, again, are all of Stroman’s games. Isolating just at-bats against lefties, you see his game-to-game rates of sliders and changeups: This is where the different-pitcher stuff comes from. Wednesday, Stroman threw more changeups than usual. And he threw way more sliders than usual. Over Stroman’s career, before yesterday, he threw a total of 27 sliders to left-handed hitters. On Wednesday alone, he threw 26. That’s a stark and meaningful change, and while Stroman says he just goes out there and pitches based on feel, this isn’t the sort of thing just any pitcher can do. When your average pitcher isn’t feeling one or two of his pitches, that can be a problem. Stroman has six pitches at his disposal, though, so he can give the same exact team a very different look start to start. Focusing for a minute on the two Yankees starts — in the first one, Stroman leaned heavily on his curveball. It’s a good curveball, and Stroman threw it more than a fifth of the time. Out of the gate, he threw a few changeups, but then he progressively phased the pitch out. The slider seldom showed up. Compare to the second start. Wednesday, Stroman almost never went to his curve. The first time through the order, he threw 39% sliders; the third time through, he threw 35% changeups. This time, the slider was his breaking ball of choice, and he progressively folded in the changeup more. At some point, hitters saw all six pitches, but they arrived in varying amounts. The first start couldn’t have allowed the Yankees to prepare very well for the second. A year ago, Stroman’s curve was responsible for more strikeouts than any of his other pitches. His four-seam fastball was second. Wednesday, Stroman got four of his five strikeouts on the slider, and the other came on a cutter, which sort of overlaps. As you might recall, sliders historically have shown some pretty significant platoon splits, favoring same-sidedness, but Stroman’s slider is a little different — relative to most sliders, it gets more drop. And that makes it harder for lefties to track, especially when they have so many other pitches somewhere in mind. Because we need some fun visuals, here’s an early successful slider: Here’s one from the next inning: You can see the drop — you can see that this isn’t a conventional slider. This is a slider Stroman can use against lefties, and he and Russell Martin clearly figured that out. Those same lefties don’t know when they might see a curve, which Stroman throws with a ton of lateral break. And then there’s the changeup, which Stroman hasn’t always thrown with the same conviction. He came to believe in it Wednesday, and it helped him to get out of a minor jam: Kept low, it can be a groundball pitch. Stroman already has a groundball pitch in his dynamite sinker, but this all allows him to keep feeling fresh as the batting orders turn over. With this many pitches, Stroman shouldn’t ever fall into a pattern. Maybe he still will, since he’s only human, but even on an off day, he might have three of six pitches working well enough. Getting back to Wednesday, it’s not like every pitch was perfect. Here’s the slider that ended the seventh inning: Bad location, good swing, good contact. That was a mistake, and as Stroman neared the end of his outing, he did seem to leave a few more pitches than usual up. It’s the only sign of potential fatigue I could recognize, but then maybe that wouldn’t be a shock, since Stroman is still trying to build up his arm strength. Wednesday might’ve helped Stroman get stretched out. It’s possible he tired in the seventh, but that experience might keep him from tiring in similar situations in the weeks ahead. That much is nit-picking. Stroman, like all good pitchers, got away with a few, but he threw most of his pitches effectively, and he gave the Yankees a whole different look from the previous game. He also gave them a different look each time through the order, so there just haven’t been any patterns. If Stroman does have a pattern, it’s of working quickly, which helps him blend in with a pitching staff that averages baseball’s fastest pace. Price aside, Blue Jays pitchers aren’t much for delays, and Stroman is no exception, throwing a pitch Wednesday about every 18 seconds. Stroman, of course, is beyond excited to be pitching again, and it’s like he can’t wait to see what the next pitch does. In that regard, he’s not alone.