The Blue Jays entered the offseason with two big holes in the outfield. Given the team’s other needs around the diamond and in the bullpen, it seemed unlikely that they would be able to navigate the winter strictly through free agency. There was a sense that they could add some quality players through trade. The trick, of course, was to protect their prospect capital.
I was among the first to suggest that the Jays should consider trading Marcus Stroman (as in, it was October 24th). The rationale was that the Jays needed outfield help, didn’t want to part with prospects, and had five good starting pitchers. If they were to trade from a position with some depth, then Stroman made the most sense. He was young, affordable, and had upside that would entice a potential trade partner. While Stroman would have been a steep price to pay for an outfielder, it still seemed like a realistic idea.
Of course, Stroman was not traded. Actually, the Jays didn’t conduct a single trade all winter. Some of the players that I listed in October were locked up by their respective teams. Both Ender Inciarte and Odubel Herrera signed new contracts. Others, such as Christian Yelich and Starling Marte, were never really exposed to the trade market. The last two options seemed more possible. The Rockies reportedly spoke to Toronto about trading Charlie Blackmon for Stroman. The problem was that Blackmon only had two years of control, so Toronto turned them down. The most intriguing option was Andrew McCutchen, who the Jays expressed some interest in. By all accounts, the Jays offered prospects for McCutchen, and never mentioned Stroman.
It isn’t a bad thing that Stroman is still a Blue Jay. Far from it. The argument for trading him was never linked to his ability to contribute in Toronto, but rather the value that he presented on the trade market. With that in mind, the Blue Jays can now be the benefactors of that value.
What to Expect In 2017
At first glance, Stroman’s 2016 campaign was not exactly inspiring. While he did reach the 200 innings plateau, he did so with an ERA of 4.37. Famous for his ground ball approach, Stroman’s GB% fell by 4%. At the same time, his HR/FB% jumped by 10% from 2014 (because his numbers from 2015 are too small of a sample to really consider). That jump was reflected in his hard contact rate, which also climbed by more than 8%. All of this to say that Stroman struggled more than anybody really expected.
Stroman’s low point came in June. He posted a 7.76 ERA over five starts. A movement began on Blue Jays Talk. Fans wanted him to be sent to Buffalo to work on his approach. Then the All-Star Break came around, and Stroman’s season changed for the better.
Following the All-Star Break, Stroman’s ERA was 3.68 over 88.0 innings. His walk rate dropped, his strikeout rate rose by 2.05 K/9, and he was much more in tune with his peripherals. What made the difference? It appears to be pitch selection.
Stroman’s sinker had been a real strength in 2014 and 2015. That certainly changed in 2016. Stroman relied on his sinker more than any other pitch, and he paid for it. Through June, Stroman threw his sinker more than 50% of the time. This corresponded with his lowest point in the season. However, following the All-Star Break, he threw his sinker less often, while the use of his slider and four-seamer grew. This was an important change. While teams were hitting his sinker with ease, his slider and four-seamer were causing more problems. This was especially true when it came to power, as opposing batters were not hitting these secondary pitches with as much venom.
One of Stromans’ best assets is his ability to throw five different pitches. Of course, as with any pitcher, not all five of those pitches will be equally effective. In his breakout season, Stroman was able to lean on his sinker, but it caused him problems in 2016. He eventually made adjustments in July, which set his season back on track. This all culminated in his most important start of the season, in which he held the Orioels at bay in the AL Wild Card game.
The Blue Jays’ starting rotation emerged as the team’s real strength in 2016, and that should continue in 2017. While there is reason to expect that J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada may regress this year, the rotation as a whole can still take a step forward.
There is a possibility that Aaron Sanchez – who is still only 24 – will continue to improve. There is also a possibility that Francisco Liriano will present a significant upgrade over a full season of R.A. Dickey. Finally, there’s Stroman. While he got off to a shaky start in 2016, he was able to finish on a high note. If he can continue to move in the same direction during 2017, then there is reason to believe that the Jays’ rotation can be even better this year.