Marcus Stroman Is on the Verge of a Major Breakout

Over his past three starts, Marcus Stroman has seen a major spike in velocity, and it has already paid dividends. Are these changes sustainable?

If you had brought up Marcus Stroman's fantasy outlook three weeks ago, you likely would have been met with a chorus of vomiting and guttural sobs. That'll happen when you've got a 5.23 ERA and a 16.3% strikeout rate 15 starts into the season.

Something appears to have changed for Stroman since then. Although the results aren't quite showing it yet, he is generating more swings and misses while maintaining his sickly ground-ball rate. This all came to a head Wednesday night when he held the Kansas City Royals to two runs on three hits over eight solid innings.

Simply put: dude be gettin' hot.

But is this the type of success we can buy into, and is it enough to make Stroman a buy-low fantasy asset heading into the All-Star break? Let's check it out.

Shifts in Plate-Discipline Data

Even when Stroman was struggling to start the year, he had a respectable 4.01 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA), indicating that there may have been a bit of bad luck involved with his ghastly traditional stats. He was getting ground balls, and he wasn't walking many batters. Basically, he was a bump in strikeouts away from becoming a quality pitcher again.

The unfortunate thing for him at the time was that there were signs that the low-strikeout ways were there to stay. His swinging-strike rate (the percentage of strikes via swings and misses) was just 8.1%, and it came with an 82.2% contact rate. Those aren't the numbers of a top-of-the-rotation ace, and that seems like what the Toronto Blue Jays were looking for coming into the season.

Stroman's last three starts, though, have been a radically different story. The table below compares his plate-discipline stats in those three starts to the marks he had posted prior to that, and it shows a fairly seismic shift of which we need to be aware. "Chase Rate" refers to the percentage of pitches outside the zone at which hitters swing.

Time FrameContact RateSwinging-Strike RateChase Rate
First 15 Starts82.2%8.1%29.2%
Last 3 Starts75.2%12.5%35.9%

In each of the categories that would stabilize most quickly, Stroman has showed major improvements. He's getting hitters to chase worse pitches, and it's leading to a whole lot more whiffs. This was the one component missing from Stroman's game, and it looks like he may have finally figured it out.

The big caveat here is that this comes from just a three-game sample. If those three games were all against high-strikeout offenses like the Houston Astros or Tampa Bay Rays, then we wouldn't be able to put a ton of stock into it as you'd expect an increase in those stats. That simply hasn't been the case, though. As you can see in the chart below, Stroman's swinging-strike rate in each start has been higher than that specific team's season-long swinging-strike rate.

TeamSeason-LongVersus StromanDifference
Kansas City Royals10.3%15.3%+5.0%
Cleveland Indians9.6%11.5%+1.9%
Chicago White Sox10.7%11.0%+0.3%

Those are listed in the order in which they occurred, with the game against the Royals being the most recent. That means that not only is his swinging-strike rate up, but it has even improved within our mini scope of three games. Getting excited yet?

The next thing we need to answer with Stroman is how this all came about. Did he change his delivery, increase his velocity, or change his pitch selection? The answer is -- quite simply -- yes.

Wholesale Changes

It's a lot easier to buy into a player's turnaround if we have reason to believe that something about that player changed. Stroman didn't change something; he changed everything.

During the second game in our three-game sample, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports, Stroman changed his delivery to eliminate a hand pump in his wind-up to increase his consistency.

This is backed up by video. The first compilation is of Stroman in a start against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 14th. As you'll notice, his glove goes up to the side of his head as he begins his wind-up.

The second comes from the game that Davidi mentioned. This was the second game in our three-game sample (featuring the Blue Jays' sweet Canada Day garb), and that pump with his glove is notably absent.

We can officially check the box next to "change in delivery," and it seems to be paying off for Stroman. Two other things you may have noticed in that second video: Stroman was throwing straight cheese with his fastball, and his slider was simply lethal.

Let's dig into his velocity changes first. When Stroman was dismissing dudes with ease in his 2014 rookie campaign, it was largely thanks to some serious heat on his fastball with an average velocity of 93.5 miles per hour. Early in the season, that same velocity wasn't there, but it has come back with a vengeance his last three outings.

Time FrameFastball VelocitySlider VelocityCurveball Velocity
First 15 Starts92.085.080.5
Last 3 Starts93.287.582.4

Change in velocity? Check. And those aren't small changes, either, on any of the three pitches.

The most noticeable shift there is on the slider. When you're throwing something with movement that's going a full 2.5 miles per hour faster, that's a recipe for nastiness. As a result, Stroman has dramatically changed his usage of the pitch while essentially scrapping his changeup altogether.

Time FrameFastball %Slider %Cutter %Curve %Changeup %
First 15 Starts58.8%10.8%11.6%10.7%8.2%
Last 3 Starts55.9%25.7%8.1%9.6%0.7%

When a pitcher changes his pitch selection this drastically, you expect fluctuations in his performance. When he adds extra velocity on top of it, those fluctuations have the potential to be huge, and that's what we're starting to see with Stroman.

Fantasy Implications

I would tell you to go out and buy Marcus Stroman as soon as you can, but you may not have to. His ownership is down to 84.8% on ESPN and 79% on Yahoo!, so you may be able to simply pick him up. If not, though, the buying window is still open.

Even though we can see all of these changes in Stroman's peripherals, his results aren't going to blow anyone's doors off. He has a 3.20 ERA and 20.0% strikeout rate over those three starts, meaning the owner may know he's improved, but they may not grasp how grotesque those improvements are. His swinging-strike rate indicates his strikeout rate should continue to climb, and when it does, he has the potential to be an absolute animal.

You do still need to be cautious about overpaying, though. Stroman plays in a less-than-ideal park, and his strikeout rate is never going to be among the league's best. You should be fairly aggressive in your offers, but that doesn't mean you should be over-spending just for the sake of getting him on your team.

Overall, though, the takeaway here is that Stroman is trending up in a hurry. Because of the changes we have seen in his delivery, velocity, and pitch selection, those trends appear to be legitimate, and he's a guy who could be due for a major second-half run. And if this new-found nastiness continues, I can guarantee he's a guy you'll want to have on your team for the championship run.