When Marcus Stroman drove the USA to its first ever World Baseball Classic win in March, the tournament MVP used a simple but elegant plan of attack.
Basically his idea was throw mainly sinkers, mix in a few sinkers after that, and when you’re concerned that you may have thrown one too many sinkers see if you can fit another sinker in there. During the WBC final, Stroman used the pitch at a higher rate than he’d ever done before and the results were spectacular.
On Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays starter applied that formula to his season debut and had similar success throwing 6.1 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and two walks. Stroman went with his sinker 70.8 percent of the time during the outing – the third highest rate of his career. On a game-by-game basis his use of the pitch looks like this:
As a result, the year-by-year graph looks fairly dramatic:
In two of his last three trips to the mound (unfortunately his start in Montreal was not tracked by PitchF/x), he’s posted two of his three highest sinker rates ever. While it’s wise to be cautious about drawing too strong a conclusion from two outings, it does look at the very least like Stroman is tinkering with a different approach.
The execution of that approach was especially impressive on Thursday. If you focus on one pitch, and allow hitters to anticipate what’s coming, you need to execute. And that’s what Stroman did.
He kept the pitch down-and-away to the Tampa Bay Rays’ left handers, staying away from their power and keeping the ball on the ground:
Against right-handers, he moved it around the plate more, and used its nasty arm-side run to tie them up on the outside corner like he did to strike out Tim Beckham on perhaps his prettiest pitch of the night.
By the end of his outing, Stroman induced nine groundouts with a single flyout against in the boxscore. That’s exactly what the Blue Jays see from the right-hander when he’s at his best.
Part of what makes Stroman so exciting as a pitcher is that he possesses a diverse portfolio of off-speed pitches and can be unpredictable to the viewer at home and the batter at the plate. On Thursday, he eschewed diversity and the element of surprise for rock-solid execution and there’s no disputing the results.