Marcus Stroman, Reliever: Not as Crazy as You Think

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Last night, after yet another ugly loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jays fans finally got something they’ve been waiting for: With Brandon Morrow going to the 60-day DL (he’s hurt? Shocker!), the Blue Jays called up top prospect, Marcus Stroman! Then, just because it’s the Blue Jays and fans apparently aren’t allowed to have nice things, the team immediately announced that he was going to start out in the bullpen. The reaction on Twitter was tremendous:




Yeah…people are kind of outraged about Stroman the reliever.

I’m not one of those people.

Going back to that last tweet (fun simile!), let’s get this out of the way first because it’s important. Marcus Stroman is not a Ferrari. Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey are Ferraris. Those types of guys are such rare talents that you expect they’re going to dominate right from the get go. Stroman isn’t that; there are still plenty of questions as to how he’ll perform in the bigs. It’s not as though the Jays are losing out on a guaranteed ace by starting Stroman in the pen.

Now, would I prefer to have Stroman in the rotation? Sure. I think his performance in AAA shows that he has a chance to be a good starter, and the best way to find out is by using him in the rotation. But am I angry that he’s going to begin in the bullpen? Not at all.

Isn’t this exactly how SABR-God, Earl Weaver suggested breaking pitchers in? And aren’t the “best organization in baseball,” St Louis Cardinals doing the same thing with Trevor Rosenthal? Why is it all of a sudden the worst thing in the world for the Blue Jays?

I assume the answer that just popped into your head is that the Cardinals don’t have J.A. Happ and Dustin McGowan in their front five. Well here’s the thing, those guys are in the Blue Jays rotation. I know most fans like to think of the players as video game characters that you can play wherever and however you want, but the reality is that in the real world, the team has to manage people, not just players. How exactly do you think McGowan would react if he was told he needed a good start to stay in the rotation, delivered, and then still lost the spot? How about Happ? He’s been upset about being in the pen from the beginning. If he’s told he finally will be getting a chance to start and then loses it before throwing another pitch, he’s going to go ballistic. And as much as we wish it wasn’t the case, these things matter.

And what exactly is the harm in letting Stroman pitch out of the pen while we wait for one of those two guys to have a bad start? It’s a no-lose proposition. Either both of those guys shove for the foreseeable future and Stroman becomes a much-needed bullpen weapon or, more likely, Stroman gets his feet wet in the pen for a week and then takes his rightful spot in the rotation.

I suppose there’s the argument that if he’s so good in the pen, he could get stuck there like Joba Chamberlain, Neftali Feliz or Aroldis Chapman, but despite all the things the Jays do wrong, pigeonholing guys as relievers has never been a problem. They’ve already converted McGowan into a starter, and they did the same with Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln and Brandon Morrow before that. The Jays seem to understand that it’s more valuable to get 200 good innings out of a guy than 70 very good ones.

The only other serious argument against this is a service-time based one, that Neil Wagner (who should already be on the roster anyway) should’ve been called up instead if Stroman is just going to pitch out of the pen. But Stroman has already cleared the hurdle for an extra year of team control and would’ve had to wait until at least late June to avoid being eligible for Super 2 arbitration. Based on all the comments coming from the front office about how soon Stroman was coming, even before Morrow got hurt, it’s pretty safe to say that there were absolutely no plans to keep him down for another 6-8 weeks. This way they get to at least extract as much value out of him as they can.

I know it’s hard to be positive right now, but the team is probably better today than it was yesterday. That’s something, at least. So how about we just let ourselves be happy we’re going to see the debut of a good, young pitcher?

Welcome to the big leagues, Marcus Stroman.

  • VisX

    Good point of view.

  • Hultimo

    I think i could see him taking deep breaths on the mound. Your MLB debut has got to be a huge adrenaline rush – there’s almost no way to get around it.

    That kind of big nervous energy can really betray you. Even harder to shake off a triple and then a hit batter? Even moreso. Pitching low leverage out of the pen was perfect for stro, and it’s great to see him get used to the bigs in these kind of spots.

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  • Ken Morrison

    All about getting his feet wet as a reliever. Sure with McGowan only going 5 and Happ likely to do the same or worse we all hope Stroman gets into the rotation and succeeds but this is also about managing innings too

    • Joshua

      That was the reference to Earl Weaver. He was a huge proponent of breaking starters in this way.

  • Oilers21

    Baseball is a business of winning, not protecting players’ feelings. If the team thinks they have a better chance of winning with Marcus Stroman in the bullpen, or it’s a plan to develop him slowly, then that’s great. But who cares what J.A. Happ thinks if he is pulled from the rotation? Happ is paid to pitch wherever the team tells him to pitch and it’s not like he can exactly point to this long-term track record of success as a starter. A playoff team MIGHT have someone like Happ as a 5th starter, and if the Jays think he’s better in the bullpen (see Brett Cecil) than sending him out every fifth day for his usual 5 lacklustre innings, then so be it