Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is Marcus Stroman Ready?

  With the struggles of many members of the Blue Jays rotation over the past few weeks, the bullpen has been taxed to the point where one of the team's strengths has become something of a liability.
   Starters have not been pitching deep enough into games, meaning that the power arms in the pen, best suited to not much more than an inning of work, have been overworked and exposed, and have led to meltdowns such as the one in Minnesota last weekend.
   Dustin McGowan, in particular, seems to be on the shortest of leashes in the rotation, so much so that the Jays have rigged Buffalo's rotation (with a little bit of help from Mother Nature) so that Marcus Stroman will now start on the same days as McGowan (beginning with Tuesday's start), presumably so that Stroman can be called up to take his place in the rotation if McGowan continues to have trouble lasting beyond the fifth inning.
   There are plenty of media types who suggest that the Jays view Stroman as major league ready, and that he didn't make the club out of spring training was because the club wanted to delay his arbitration clock, and because the arms ahead of him that were out of options.  Certainly, when the Jays selected the Duke righthander in the first round of the 2012 draft, many observers predicted that he would be the first of his draft class to reach the majors (although most thought it would be as a reliever).  A 50 game PED suspension at the end of that season that carried over into 2013 likely took care of that.  And the data compiled from his time in AAA at Buffalo so far this season would suggest that he doesn't have a whole lot left to prove in the minors:

              Stroman's Heat Map: graphs


Stroman's propensity to the long ball and concerns about his lack of a downhill plane on his fastball from last year at AA don't seem to be an issue.  He's showing good command, and is inducing a lot of groundball outs, which is always good for a Rogers Centre pitcher.  With 26 strikeouts in 20 innings, and a 1.39 WHIP, Stroman has shown a dominance of AAA pitchers.
  So, he's ready, right?

  Not so fast.

   When a club brings a prospect up to the minors, especially one that they've invested a $1.8 million signing bonus in, caution should be the order of the day.  No matter where the club is in the standings, no matter how desperate they are for innings from their starters, a prospect should be brought up and put in a situation where they have a chance of succeeding.  Granted, all successful athletes must learn to overcome adversity, but there's little point in bringing up a prospect if he's going to be in a dismal situation.
   Other considerations should include:
-is he ready physically?
-is he ready mentally and emotionally?
-will the expectations for him be overwhelming and/or unrealistic?

   The answers to the first two would have to be "yes", and "yes" for the last - which is unfortunate.
   Stroman's innings have been closely monitored since he turned pro, and one has to think that while there are no guarantees, he's physically mature, and has the arm strength necessary to pitch about 130 or so total innings this year.  And that's one of the potential problems.  With innings by the starters perhaps the club's biggest need right now, Stroman has pitched as much as 6 innings this year exactly once.  Last year, in AA, he pitched into the 7th inning 4 times, and into the 6th inning 10 times in 20 starts.  This year's cold weather likely hasn't helped Stroman last longer. nor has his habit of nibbling sometimes, driving up his pitch counts.
   With the Blue Jays in need of starters who can consistently pitch into the sixth and seventh innings, Stroman barely fits the bill.  McGowan's comeback has been a great feel-good story, but the long odds he is facing may finally be catching up with him.  We're still hoping that he can overcome them, but it's looking like Stroman's MLB debut is only a matter of time.

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