In 2020, the starting rotation was one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses. Jacob deGrom was Jacob deGrom as always and David Peterson had a promising rookie season, but Noah Syndergaard was hurt, free agent signings Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello underperformed, and Marcus Stroman opted out of the season. When the offseason began, the rotation behind deGrom was a series of question marks. But luckily for the Mets, Stroman made the decision to accept the team’s qualifying offer on November 11. There was more work to be done, but at least the Mets had one more proven big league arm behind deGrom in the rotation for 2021.
Now as we head into the last full week of spring training, one can argue that much of the team’s success hinges on Stroman’s performance, especially early in the season. Following the news of Stroman’s return, the Mets traded for Carlos Carrasco and signed free agent starter Taijuan Walker to fill out the rotation. They also built legitimate starting rotation depth, signing Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto and trading Steven Matz for controllable arms with options remaining. With the news that Carlos Carrasco’s Grade 1 hamstring strain will land him on the injured list to start the season, the Mets will be relying heavily on that depth in the first couple of months of the season until Carrasco returns and Syndergaard follows. And they’ll be relying heavily on Marcus Stroman to be a bonafide number two starter.
There is every reason to believe Stroman will step into that role. An All-Star in 2019, Stroman posted a 3.22 ERA and a 77 DRA- over 184 1⁄3 innings between the Blue Jays and the Mets. He holds a 3.76 ERA for his six-year career as a big leaguer so far. Although he has always been a pitcher that has relied on ground balls over strikeouts, he put up the highest strikeout rate of his career (7.76 per nine innings) in 2019, in part thanks to the incorporation of analytics into his game plan. He threw more sliders and generated a 35.2% whiff rate on the pitch, keeping opponents to a batting average under .200 against it. Stroman will still generate plenty of ground balls and it certainly helps that he now has the best defensive shortstop in the game playing behind him.
Stroman has pitched to a 2.70 ERA over 13 1⁄3 innings so far this spring and has looked sharp in his outings. In addition to constantly tinkering with his timing, incorporating pauses in his delivery on the mound, Stroman is featuring a new pitch in camp this season: a split changeup he learned from Robert Gsellman. In his career up until this point, Stroman rarely threw changeups, but if he can continue to have success with this new split change, that is another weapon along with his slider that he can use to play off his patented ground ball-inducing sinker that is his bread and butter.
If there were any concerns that Stroman had some rust to shake off after not pitching in 2020, his Grapefruit League outings should allay those fears. By choosing to accept the Mets’ qualifying offer this offseason, Stroman was betting on himself, hoping that a strong 2021 season will land him a better contract in free agency than he could have gotten on the heels of a lost year. And with the Mets poised to lose both Stroman and Syndergaard to free agency after this season, there is a chance 2021 is an audition for a long-term stint in Queens for the 29-year-old. And why not? Stroman is a consistent top-30 starter in baseball, a native Long Islander with no issues in the New York spotlight, and fun as heck to watch pitch. It’s a bet that he should be making.
The Mets are not only hoping that Stroman will win that bet—they’re counting on it.