Don’t Sell Marcus Stroman Short

stroman

“His short stature and high-energy delivery will likely confine Stroman to the bullpen throughout his career path, though an open-minded organization such as Toronto might find a more creative way to maximize his skill set.” – Doug Thorburn on Marcus Stroman 

Marcus Stroman has been a popular name in Jays’ news recently. His performance in the AFL was very positive and given the miserable 2013 season, Jays fans are very excited. Since he was drafted in 2012, his height is brought up in any kind of analysis about him. Recently, Kyle Boddy from Driveline Mechanics wrote a fabulous article breaking down Stroman’s drool worthy mechanics. Kyle also touches on what he refers to as a myth when it comes to starting pitchers and height concerns, and how Tim Lincecum already dispelled this myth. Did Lincecum really shatter myths about short starters? Does this give Jays fans hope that Marcus Stroman can reach his ceiling? Isn’t there more to this than just height? This article got me thinking about the success rate of ‘short’ pitchers as starters in the MLB.

First, I will say that Kyle Boddy may become the next Tom House to Major League Baseball. His biomechanical knowledge puts mine to shame. If I was running a ball club he would be one of the first hires for developing young pitchers. He has to deal with constant old school garbage from coaches and scouts and fix the players he works with, so I imagine the size narrative gets under his skin.

I can’t argue that some scouts are quick to write off a pitchers ability to start based on size. There are underlining factors that go into why shorter pitchers usually don’t succeed as starters. There isn’t some predetermined biological condition that curses small players that want to be starters in the big leagues. I’ve spoken to several progressive thinking scouts that also dislike how players are ignored due to size, yet still place the realistic reliever role on Stroman. Why is this a popular opinion? The lack of plane and life on Stroman’s fastball is a legitimate concern, especially given the ballpark he will be playing his home games in. Why does he lack plane? He’s 5’8.
My podcast partner Ewan Ross did some digging for me to find the success rate of starting pitchers 6 feet or shorter since 1995.

Here’s the list sorted in descending order ranked by fWAR, and I went through the top 250 of qualified pitchers
Greg Maddux – 6’
Pedro Martinez – 5’11
Roy Oswalt – 6’
Johan Santana – 6’ (Lefty)
Tom Glavine – 6’ (Lefty)
Jamie Moyer – 6’ (Lefty)
Mike Hampton – 5’10 (Lefty)
Tim Lincecum – 5’11
Ted Lilly – 6’ (Lefty)
Randy Wolf – 6’ (Lefty)
Tom Gordon – 5’10
Anibal Sanchez – 6’
Joel Pineiro – 6’ (Sinker)
Scott Kazmir – 6’ (Lefty)
Woody Williams – 6’
Vicente Padilla – 6’
Cory Lidle – 5’11
Wandy Rodriguez – 5’10 (Lefty)
Jeremy Bonderman – 6’
Kevin Tapani – 6’
Odalis Perez – 6’ (Lefty)
Russ Ortiz – 6’
Johnny Cueto – 5’11
Shaun Marcum – 6’
Jose Rosado – 6’ (Lefty)
Steve Sparks – 6’ (Knuckler)
Juan Guzman – 5’11
Francisco Cordova – 5’11
Ian Kennedy – 6’
Daisuke Matsuzaka – 6’
Sterling Hitchcock – 6’
Brian Lawrence – 6’
Elmer Dessens – 5’11
Jason Vargas – 6’
Pete Harnisch – 6’

What do these 35 players have in common? None of them are 5’8, though all but four throw a splitter or sinker to counter act their lack of fastball plane. Again, this does not mean Stroman should be brushed off and tossed into the bullpen without getting his shot at starting. Up until this point in his development, Stroman has done a magnificent job tweaking his mechanics to create height. When he first came out of college he was a drop-and-drive pitcher which I tend not to like (Darvish is a huge exception)

StromanPreDraftPitching

He has moved away from the drop-and-drive it this season, as shown here at the AFL.

StromanSLIDAH

Stroman has crazy amounts of torque for such a small body and has a perfect flow towards the plate. One of his tricks to battling his lack of plane issue is his deep release. Stroman has 70 grade posture that helps create a taller release point. The difference may be small, but when you’re 5’8 every little bit helps. Despite the lack of life and plane, Stroman can blow hitters away with his plus fastball in short bursts. His slider has plus plus potential and it looks like it’s very close to reaching that potential. His changeup has improved over the season and should be an average pitch in the bigs. The Jays have recently added a cutter to Stromans repertoire. The problem with adding a cutter is that it will likely find barrels because it’s so similar to his slider. Instead they could have taken a page from the list of pitchers above and tried to develop a splitter or sinker.

As for the Lincecum comparison, I think it’s unfair to compare Lincecum and Stroman based on height alone. Yes scouts are quick to write them both off because of their height but I don’t think Lincecum’s success means there is any kind of busted myth. Lincecum throws a 4 seamer with life, a sinker, a splitter, and a devastating 12-6 curve. Combine all that with deceptive mechanics and there is your height issue solved. I believe these factors have to be taken into consideration before we start claiming he shattered a myth of any kind.

Now I’m not suggesting that Stroman can’t work around the lack of life and plane as a starter. If those do become an issue he’s probably a back end of the rotation pitcher. With a 98MPH fastball in short bursts and a wipe out slider, he could also be a dominant late inning reliever for years.

Was Tim Lincecum a saviour for short pitchers? I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean teams should ignore unbelievable talent just because a pitcher is short. I believe Stroman can be a special pitcher as a starter for the Blue Jays. There is too much talent in him to write him off as a reliever already. Jason Parks from Baseball Prospectus already has Stroman ranked ahead of another top tier talent, Aaron Sanchez. This will only add to the hype. There is so much to love about this kid. He handled a joke of a ‘PED’ suspension extremely well. He paid off his mother’s mortgage and posted the tear jerking reaction video online. His slider is a gift from the baseball gods. Do I think its likely Stroman ends up in the pen? It’s certainly realistic, but the Jays would be incredibly foolish not to exhaust all attempts at starting him, as they currently seem to be doing. Success may not be immediate, but with #want like Stroman’s an optimal outcome is extremely possible.

Photo via Marcus’ instagram.

About Chris Sherwin

Chris lives in Windsor, Ontario and is also the co-host for the BlueJaysPlus podcast. He has played baseball since he was four years old, and started coaching in his teens. Chris has a passion for the game of baseball, and is particularly focused on pitching mechanics, catchers and scouting. He will give insight into bio mechanical research, injuries, fundamentals and strategical analysis. He can be found on Twitter @CWSherwin

  • drivelinekyle

    Thanks for the shoutout!