By Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network
By now it’s an obvious cliché to point out that Marcus Stroman “wears his emotions on his sleeve.”
Similar euphemisms - the proverbial “chip on the shoulder,” “silencing of the critics,” etc., etc. - are also espoused seemingly every time the Stro Show takes the mound.
At the risk of beating you to death with these all-too-common pro-sport platitudes (believe me, I’m doing this to prove a point), Stroman is definitely not afraid to “be himself” - which while on the field appears to mean screaming his head off at big strikeouts, wearing roughly 40 pounds of jewelry, and just in general doing and saying whatever the heck he wants.
Which, quite frankly, is awesome.
As a proud supporter of Bryce Harper’s “Make Baseball Fun Again” campaign, I see nothing wrong in letting Stroman’s little idiosyncratic side-stories build. Thankfully, much of my generation seems to feel the same way (so long as the player doing the boasting is on their team).
However, this culture shift does not mean those players who decide to break the mold should be immune from criticism. When they do or say something bold, assertive, or downright stupid, they should be ready to answer for it.
Last Saturday, after Stroman had just won his ninth game of the year (a 7-2 victory over the Houston Astros), he was asked if he believed he should have been selected to the All-Star game.
Stroman’s answer was, well, pretty much what you’d expect.
“Absolutely,” Stroman responded. “I think I should have been there 100%. I think I’ve pitched well enough, that’s all I’m going to say. I’m a pretty motivated guy from the beginning, but yeah, that was definitely in the back of my mind when I was out there (on Saturday).”
While some baseball “purists” immediately took to debating whether it was right for Stroman to show a, shall we say, lack of humility in that scenario, I couldn’t have cared less.
What mattered to me after I heard that was:
Does he actually have a case?
Whether the Blue Jays starter was in fact robbed of his first All-Star appearance should effect how his response gets received - if he doesn’t have a legitimate beef it would be hard to view it as anything other than petty.
But you don’t have to look too hard to see why Stroman may have felt like he was getting gypped.
For instance, Chris Archer was representing the American League in Miami this past week yet he has an ERA that is nearly 70 points higher than Stroman’s.
In fact, every AL starter ranked in the top 10 in ERA were All-Stars ... except, of course, for one.
Yes, despite having the seventh best ERA among all AL starters (eighth if you count Keuchel), Stroman was forced to watch the spectacle on TV, just like the rest of us.
(But ah ... if only it were as simple as ERA ...)
All told, 10 AL starting pitchers made the trip to this year’s midsummer classic (including those pitchers who were substitutes for various reasons - ie. injury or lack of appropriate rest to those voted in by the fans).
1. Chris Archer
2. Yu Darvish
3. Michael Fulmer
4. Dallas Keuchel
5. Corey Kluber
6. Lance McCullers Jr
7. Chris Sale
8. Ervin Santana
9. Luis Severino
10. Jason Vargas
So the question we must ask to settle this debate is: Has Marcus Stroman pitched better than any one of those 10 names?
We already know that he thinks so, but even a terse analysis shows it’s not quite as clear as he made it seem.
Below is a table I created that outlines some basic statistics for Stroman and those 10 AL All-Stars.
As you can see, so far in 2017 Stroman has gone 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA over 112 1/3 innings. His ERA is actually lower than Archer’s, Luis Severino’s, and Yu Darvish’s - all three of whom were All-Stars.
His nine wins are also tied for the fifth most in the AL. He has more wins than four of those AL pitchers who went to Miami.
So ... why on earth didn’t he make it? Is this simply the latest incarnation of the “MLB Hates Canada” line that gets defaulted to whenever things don’t go Blue Jays fans’ way?
Or, with many apologies to all you conspiracy theorists, perhaps a more in-depth analysis may start to show why Stroman wasn’t chosen.
(Spoiler: yes it does.)
Take Stro’s win total for example ... Yes, nine wins at the break are impressive, but he has also received an awful lot of run support from his offence, which has undoubtedly been a big factor in his personal success. At 5.56 runs per game, Stroman has received the third highest run support out of all qualified AL starters (only Carlos Carrasco and Michael Pineda have received more).
Stroman’s WHIP is also a mediocre 1.26, which is respectable but hardly All Star worthy. Perhaps not surprisingly, it happens to be higher than any of those 10 All Star starters.
But perhaps the most peculiar thing about Stroman’s success in 2017 has been the fact that he’s given up a ton of hits to opposing batters. He has the 23rd highest opponent’s batting average among the AL’s 36 qualified starters. Even his Blue Jays teammate Marco Estrada has a lower opponent’s average, despite Estrada sporting an astonishingly bad 5.17 ERA.
At the same time, Chris Archer’s WHIP is only 1.25, a mere .01 points lower than Stroman’s (and we’ve already mentioned how much higher Archer’s ERA is). Yet opponents are hitting nearly 21 points lower against Archer (.246) than against Stroman.
The reason Stro has been able to post such a low ERA while still being battered by opposing lineup has to have something to do with his ability to induce ground balls. Stroman actually leads the American League in ground ball outs; his 205 ground balls are 25 more than Michael Fulmer, who has the second most.
However, when it comes to the All Star game selection it doesn’t seem like double plays and ground balls matter that much. Six of the top 10 ground ball pitchers in the AL didn’t make it to Miami.
And further evidence against Stroman’s All Star bid is the fact that he would have the lowest Average Game Score (54.6) among those 10 AL All Star starters.
For those who aren’t familiar, Average Game Score (or AGS) is a Bill James statistic - think “moneyball” - that combines a bunch of basic pitching stats into one, easily comparable number. A Game Score over 50 is above average, and an Average Game Score above 60 puts you up there with the league’s best.
Unfortunately for Stroman, this stat also seems to prove that ERA isn’t everything, as even Archer had a higher AGS at 55.9, despite his much higher ERA and similar WHIP.
Interestingly, the only AL pitcher in the top 10 in Average Game Score that wasn’t at the All-Star game was Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco (58.2). Stroman’s AGS ranks 12th.
So, all things considered, Stroman may feel like he was robbed of his first All Star appearance ... and indeed it may look that way at first glance.
But, at least at this moment, a slightly deeper analysis shows that he may actually be right where he belongs ...
JUST on the outside of All-Stardom looking in.
Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108