On Sunday, the Mets made a trade with the Blue Jays that sent 28-year-old starting pitcher Marcus Stroman to Flushing in exchange for two of their best pitching prospects, left-handed starter Anthony Kay and right-handed starter Simeon Woods-Richardson. Stroman is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career, having posted a 2.96 ERA and 3.52 FIP in 124.2 innings pitched thus far this season. He’s already accumulated 2.9 fWAR so far with about two months left to play in the season.
While he hasn’t struck out a ton of batters this season—his 7.15 strikeouts per nine innings is well below the 8.83 that the league is averaging in 2019—he has kept walks to a minimum, averaging just 2.53 per nine innings. And he excels at keeping the ball both in the ballpark and on the ground. Stroman’s 56.3% ground ball percentage, while below his 59.4% career average, is still ranked second in the big leagues this season, and his 0.72 home runs per nine innings rate is the fourth-best in the league in a season in which home run rates have skyrocketed league wide. By acquiring Stroman, the Mets hope to have added a starting pitcher that is a clear upgrade over both the recently departed Jason Vargas for the remainder of the 2019 season and any internal options for the starting rotation in 2020.
Stroman was born in Medford, New York and grew up an occasional teammate and more frequent rival of Steven Matz on the Long Island travel baseball circuit. Matz credits Stroman with hitting the “first home run [he] had ever given up” when they were just eight years old. The two grew into rival aces for their respective Long Island high schools as they got older, Matz for Ward Melville High School in East Setauket and Stroman for Patchogue-Medford High School in nearby Medford. The two faced off against each other in April of their senior year in front of a small army of professional scouts and dueled admirably, with both pitchers dominating their opponent’s lineup. Stroman pitched wonderfully, striking out 14 and allowing just three hits, but in the process, he allowed the game’s only run and lost to Matz and the Ward-Melville Patriots 1-0.
Stroman was drafted following his senior year in the 18th round of baseball’s amateur draft in 2009, the same draft in which the Mets chose Steven Matz with their second-round selection, but chose to play college ball instead for the Duke Blue Devils. During his three years at Duke, he blossomed into one of the best pitchers in program history, posting a 2.80 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 64.0 innings as a sophomore and a 2.39 ERA with 136 strikeouts in 98.0 innings as a junior. After his junior year, Stroman became the first Duke Blue Devil ever to be drafted in the first round when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him with the 22nd overall selection in the 2012 draft.
Seen as a polished college pitcher that could move quickly through their minor league system at that time, the Blue Jays assigned Stroman to the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League to begin his career and promoted him directly to Double-A after throwing just 11.1 innings for the Blue Jays’ Class-A short season affiliate. Shortly after the promotion, Stroman was suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy, having tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, a stimulant that “can be found in popular training supplements sold at nutritional and drug stores.” Stroman returned from the suspension and spent all of the 2013 season with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League, posting a 3.30 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 27 walks in 111.2 innings pitched.
He was promoted to Triple-A to start the 2014 season but was called up to the big leagues in early May to fill in for Brandon Morrow, who had just been placed on the disabled list. It took some time for Stroman to adjust, but he ended up having an excellent rookie season in 2014, posting 3.4 fWAR with a 3.65 ERA and 2.84 FIP in 130.2 innings across 26 games.
Stroman entered 2015 poised to take over as the Blue Jays’ best pitcher, but he ended up tearing the ACL in his left knee during spring training and was expected to miss the entire 2015 season. Against all odds, he embarked on a rigorous rehabilitation program and managed to work his way back to game action in time to pitch for Toronto in the 2015 playoffs. Stroman made three starts for the Blue Jays in 2015, including the fifth and deciding game of the ALDS in which he held the Texas Rangers to just two runs on six hits in six innings. Stroman made one more postseason start in 2015 and got the win in game three of the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, allowing four runs on eleven hits and one walk in 6.1 innings.
Stroman followed his successful postseason debut with a generally successful 2016 season, during which he again posted 3.4 fWAR, this time with a 4.37 ERA and 3.71 FIP in 204.0 innings. While he allowed more home runs per nine innings and walks per nine innings, and struck out fewer batters per nine innings than he did in his rookie season, his ground ball percentage rose from 53.8% in 2014 to a major league best 60.1% in 2016. The Blue Jays won the first wild card spot in 2016, and Stroman held the Orioles to just two runs and struck out six in six innings in his team’s Wild Card Game victory. He started game three of the subsequent ALDS series against the Cleveland Indians, allowing four runs on three hits in 5.1 innings pitch in the deciding game of the series.
Stroman threw more than 200 innings for the second consecutive season in 2017, posting 3.2 fWAR with a 3.09 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 201.0 innings. Stroman kept the ball on the ground on 62.1% of his ball in play in 2017, which for the second straight season was the highest ground ball percentage in the league. Stroman’s 2018 season was largely derailed by injuries, which held him to just 102.1 innings across 19 starts. His ERA ballooned to 5.54, but he did post a 3.91 FIP, which was almost identical to his mark from the previous season.
Stroman put his injuries issues from the previous season behind him in 2019 and has had the best season of his career so far. He’s already more than doubled his fWAR from last season before throwing a pitch in August, making his first All-Star Game in the process. His 2.96 ERA currently ranks tenth in Major League Baseball, and his 3.52 FIP is currently ranked 21st. While his 7.15 strikeouts per nine innings rate is well below the league average, Stroman has again excelled at keeping the ball on the ground this season. His 56.3% ground ball percentage is the best mark in the American League and is second in Major League Baseball behind just Dakota Hudson of the Cardinals.
Stroman’s ability to keep the ball on the ground has also helped him excel at keeping the ball in the ballpark. In a season in which home runs are being hit at an unprecedented rate, Stroman has held opponents to just 0.72 home runs per nine innings, which is a little over half of the 1.39 league average. Stroman is able to keep the ball on the ground by pounding the bottom half of the zone with a heavy sinker that has averaged 93.04 MPH this season, an elite slider that averages 85.7 MPH and also serves as his primary strikeout pitch, and a harder 91.6 MPH cutter that he uses to keep hitters off of his two primary offerings. Over the last three years, Stroman has steadily focused on throwing his best pitches more often, and he’s currently throwing his slider at a higher rate than he ever has before. It all adds up to an above-average major league starter with a repertoire built to make it difficult for hitters to lift the ball.
In Stroman, the Mets have added a pitcher with a long track record of consistently above average performance for the remainder of the 2019 season and all of the 2020 season. While making the playoffs seems like a long shot at best for the 2019 season, Stroman should bolster a rotation that will in all likelihood be without Zack Wheeler in 2020. In an era in which home run rates are skyrocketing, Stroman’s ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark should help stabilize a Mets rotation that has far too often been unstable this season.