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Marcus Stroman’s arsenal fits the Yankees mold

Breaking down what the Yankees’ newest starting pitcher brings to the table.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Well folks, whether you like it or not, Marcus Stroman is going to be pitching for the Yankees the next two seasons. And whether you like it or not, that’s probably a good thing.

Even if you were looking at just straight statistics, it would be a good thing. Stroman has a 3.65 ERA over 1,300 career innings. He’s a good starting pitcher, and the Yankees need good starting pitchers. Stroman is a lot of things, and “better than Clayton Beeter and Will Warren” is certainly one of them for a win-now ballclub. The enmity that seemed to have developed between Stroman and Yankees fandom — if not the organization, clearly — is more nuanced and complex than it might seem, but one thing that’s not complex is that he fills a need that absolutely needed to be met if the Yankees want to call themselves contenders entering the season.

Beyond the straight results, though, Stroman is a pretty strong fit for this particular iteration of the Yankees, because he’s a ground ball-machine who won’t be much affected by the dimensional oddities of Yankee Stadium’s outfield. If you take at face value the whispers that the team declined to pursue Shōta Imanaga because his fly ball tendencies might not play well at the Stadium, then the pivot to Stroman makes perfect sense.

As Peter noted last night, Stroman’s ground-ball rate typically lives somewhere between the high forties and low sixties, with his 2023 rate of 57.4% checking in just above his career norm. He’s been well above league average in that regard for the entirety of his career, and with a Gold Glove winner at shortstop and competent or better defense around the remainder of the infield (including himself), enough of those grounders will be turned into outs to keep his ERA relatively pretty.

Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

Of course, that same skill and approach is also the reason that Stroman’s performance has fluctuated wildly in the past. The pitfall of getting all those grounders is that it requires an arsenal that doesn’t necessarily induce a ton of whiffs, reflected in his average-or-worse strikeout rate throughout his career. The result is that when things go wrong, things go really wrong, because everything is being put in play. Case in point, as you’ve probably read by now, is Stroman’s 2.28 ERA through his first 16 starts of 2023, which was followed by a stretch of 30 earned runs in 30 innings pitched. Good defense, however, can minimize the chances of that happening, and the Yankees ought to be able to give that to him.

At the same time, the Yankees’ pitching development staff ought to have a field day with the arsenal that he brings to the table. Stroman pushes for grounders over whiffs because his primary fastball is a sinker that possesses significantly more up-down movement than your typical two-seamer. It’s about four inches steeper and four inches straighter than the average sinker, accentuated by the relatively unique release point given to him by his height.

One thing to note is that he doesn’t just throw one sinker. Stroman is a notorious pitch tinkerer, and a look at his movement charts shows how varied the movement is within each pitch group. Some sinkers dropped 20 inches with five inches of arm-side run, and some sinkers dropped 35 inches with 20 inches of arm-side run. Those differences are intentional, and you can see it throughout his very wide arsenal.

Baseball Savant

Some are tighter than others — he doesn’t seem to manipulate his splitter or slider quite as much as his sinker or what Baseball Savant calls a slurve, for example. Those last two are also most frequently used pitches, which speaks to the game plan you’re going to see from him. Sitting in the low-nineties, he won’t blow any hitters away, but he’ll pull out every trick in the book to make sure they can’t square him up.

With Stroman in a rotation alongside Nestor Cortes, one would have to imagine the Yankees will lead the league in average time to the plate.

Matt Blake likes heavy sinkers, and even if Stroman doesn’t have Clay Holmes or Jonathan Loáisiga-esque velocity, his ability to spin a breaking ball combined with his proclivity for tinkering with the rest of his arsenal ought to find a home in the Yankees system. One only needs to look at Holmes, Loáisiga, and Clarke Schmidt to find other examples of pitchers who possess wicked breaking stuff despite also throwing a heavy sinker, a trait often associated with pronation-biased pitchers who often have trouble spinning an elite breaking ball. Stroman’s arsenal probably won’t quite look the same with the Yankees as it did with the Cubs — it’s just a matter of what they’ll decide to tinker with next.

Again, like it or not, Marcus Stroman is a New York Yankee for the next two seasons, and possibly three. It’s certainly possible that his tenure will be a disaster, but I think it’s more likely that his skillset will translate pretty well to what the Yankees have to offer. Let’s not forget that his 30-runs-in-30-innings stretch precipitated multiple injuries that more or less ended his season. With a full offseason of health and plenty of pitching resources at his disposal, this may wind up being one of the better investments of the offseason.