Formerly on Fantasy Freestyle, I took a closer look at right-hander Yordano Ventura, whose fantasy stock is a bit inflated after a successful rookie campaign with the Royals. Today we’ll change it up and look at another young American League hurler generating plenty of buzz with the added plot twist that yours truly is even buying the hype.
That young pitcher is Marcus Stroman, who will wear the number six next year. Despite not making his first start until May 31st, Stroman earned $13 in AL-Only leagues this year (according to BP’s valuation Santa Claus Mike Gianella). For comparison, Ventura earned $16 in “only” leagues, but enough about him.
Stroman made six appearances for the Blue Jays as a reliever, but as a starter this year his strikeout rate was 21 percent and his walk rate was 5.5 percent. His walk rate ranked 27th in all of baseball (min. 130 innings) and when he was at his best in September—his best month by FIP (2.16)—he walked only three batters in 31 innings. While his strikeout rate isn’t elite, it’s still plenty good and even more impressive considering he doesn’t walk the ballpark or get hit around (.242 AVG against as a starter).
Though his stuff and SO-to-BB numbers are impressive, especially for a 23-year-old, Stroman could potentially be undervalued by the time we get to draft day 2015 because of a change he made in his repertoire as the season went along. His best month of the season by ERA was July (1.71), but he didn’t even start throwing his sinker until the end of that month. He relied on his sinker much more heavily over the final two months as he used the pitch 31 percent of the time in August and 44 percent of the time in September, according to Brooks Baseball. As his sinker usage soared, his ground ball rate—which was 48 percent in the first half—increased to 58 percent over the final two months. The only starting pitcher with a ground ball rate above 58 percent this season was Dallas Keuchel, who is so fond of grounders he probably sleeps in a dirt patch.
His ability to keep the ball on the ground is crucial considering the division he’s in. The AL East is all hitters’ parks outside of Tampa Bay, but Stroman’s best work came in Toronto anyway as he had a 2.63 ERA at home while allowing just four home runs in 85 2/3 innings. His 0.48 HR/9 for the season ranked 10th in all of baseball. Stroman could be facing some regression here as his home run per fly ball ratio was merely six percent, but it won’t be substantial if he continues to have success keeping the ball on the ground.
I’ve already written about my tendency to fade pitching in fantasy drafts when I can here at Baseball Prospectus—I’ll admit it, I’ll admit it, you’re too worried about the pitchers—but despite the usual caveats that come with young pitchers I have warmed up to Stroman to the point where I’d even consider bidding the extra dollar for him. As far as pitchers go, he seems to be a safe investment given that he doesn’t walk many batters, strikes out his share of batters, and is a ground ball machine.
If he continues to execute his pitching plan from September when he threw his sinker over 40 percent of the time and those ground-ball gains hold, he could make last year look like a warmup. Stroman’s early and unofficial PECOTA projections have him for a 3.35 ERA and 1.19 WHIP next year, but that’s also with a 48 percent ground=ball rate. That projection shows a pretty decent floor even without the upside of his improved ground ball proclivity baked in. Don’t be left out in the cold when Stroman is up for auction, it’s getting hot up in the six.
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