When the Mets acquired Marcus Stroman last year near the trade deadline, they thought they were getting a guy uniquely suited to pitch in the HR-heavy environment of 2019. Instead, Stroman allowed 8 HR in 59.2 IP for a 1.21 HR/9. Among players on the Mets to log at least 50 IP, that ranked as the fourth-highest HR/9 on the team. Given that he had a 0.72 HR/9 rate in the DH league before the trade, his results with the Mets were a shock.
In his last five starts in Toronto before the trade, Stroman allowed 1 HR in 30 IP. In his first five starts with New York, he served up 5 HR in 25.2 IP. And he proceeded to give up gopher balls in his next two starts, too.
But in his last four starts of the season, we started to see the guy that earned an All-Star berth in Toronto earlier in the year. In that span he allowed just 1 HR in 24 IP. And when the balls stopped flying over the fence, Stroman’s ERA dropped considerably. After allowing a .918 OPS and posting a 5.77 ERA in his first seven games with the Mets, Stroman finished the year with a .540 OPS and a 1.88 ERA
It’s not a huge surprise that when you give up fewer homers, that you see better OPS and ERA marks. But given how well he pitched in the first half of the year, and how strong his final four games were, one has to wonder what the heck happened in the seven games in the middle?
With Toronto, Stroman had a 13.6 HR/FB rate but countered that with a 3.11 GB/FB ratio. If he had kept up that GB/FB pace, he would have easily led the majors in the category. Dakota Hudson ended up taking that title, with a 2.67 mark. In his first seven games with the Mets, Stroman posted a 1.72 GB/FB ratio. So, he was giving up more fly balls – roughly 180% compared to earlier in the year – and those fly balls were leaving the park at 24.1 HR/FB mark.
So, why the massive change in the numbers?
In his last five games with the Blue Jays, Stroman threw his fastball the following percent of the time: 24.0, 27.3, 19.6, 28.7 and 25.0. Now compare that with his first seven games with the Mets: 53.9, 45.4, 44.8, 48.4, 45.8, 37.8 and 44.7. In his closing stretch with Toronto, Stroman never threw his fastball more than 29% of the time. In his beginning stretch with New York, he never threw it fewer than 37% of the time and threw it over half the time in one outing.
For what it’s worth, his catcher in the first six of his starts with the Mets was Wilson Ramos. Tomas Nido ended up catching Stroman three times and in those 16.1 IP, he gave up 1 HR. With 43.1 IP with Ramos as his catcher, Stroman allowed 7 HR. Was Ramos calling more fastballs? Or does the blame lay with the manager and coaches?
In three of his final four starts of the season, Stroman’s FB% was in the 30s. That’s still higher than it was in his closing kick with Toronto, but significantly lower than when he first arrived in Queens. Instead, Stroman threw more cutters at the end of the season. In three of his final four games, his percentage of cutters was 39.2% or higher. The outlier among those final four games was when he threw his cutter just 14% of the time. That’s the same game where he posted a 48.8 FB%. And it’s also the only game of his last four where he allowed a homer.
To be fair, the Mets jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning in that game where Stroman allowed his final homer of the season. It’s possible that the pitching game plan changed once he had the big early lead.
It’s odd that with a short righty on the mound who doesn’t throw smoke that the Mets opted to go so heavy with his fastball usage. And they can’t blame Dave Eiland for that one, as he was long gone by the time Stroman came aboard. Additionally, the Mets significantly cut back on Stroman’s curveball usage. He was throwing the pitch 40% of the time in his closing stretch with the Blue Jays and he never once reached that mark with the Mets. In his 9/17 start, he threw his curve just 4.2% of the time.
So, what’s the ideal mix for Stroman? That’s impossible to answer. Some days you’re going to have a better feel for one pitch over the other and you go with what’s working. But on a year-long basis, it’s hard to imagine that the key for Stroman is to throw his fastball 45% of the time or more.
In 2019, combining his starts for the Mets and Blue Jays, Stroman threw his fastball 39.4%, his cutter 24% and his curve 29.7%. Given his results with the Mets and the fastball, my preference would be to see fewer fastballs in 2020.