Dreamin’ on Stroman

The Blue Jays’ 2014 season is going to be defined by its starting pitching.

Last year’s rotation came off the rails worse than anyone could have imagined. Brandon Morrow got hurt (again), R.A. Dickey laboured through back trouble and got routinely blown up. And everyone else, save for Mark Buerhle, was just kinda useless.

If we want to look more at just how bad the starters were, here’s some unsettling stats:

– Jays starters managed a measly 899.1 innings pitched, putting them at 28th in the league, right behind the Astros.
– As a group, they managed about 6.9 WAR, good for 26th in the league. For reference, middle of the pack was around 12, and Detroit’s group (unsurprisingly) lead the league with 25.3.

It’s not exactly a lack of run support hurting the Blue Jays either. Their offence ranked ninth in the league in runs scored with 712, while the starting rotation was second worst in the league with a 4.81 ERA. That’s a fairly simplistic look at it, but if the Jays are going to have a better year, it stands to reason the pitching will have to pull it’s weight this time around.

So far there hasn’t been much noise from the free agent hot stove, so if the Jays don’t wind up with a Masahiro Tanaka, or a Matt Garza, or one of the other free agent class, then they’ll need to bank on the farm.

This isn’t ideal. Surely a team with deep pockets could make a run at some of the formidable free agents left on the market. But fans shouldn’t dismay too much at the other option, which is that an organizational prospect could come in and save the day.

Enter Marcus Stroman.

The diminutive righty represents one of the Jays’ best chances at having a young guy come in and make an impact. There are some other candidates, but Stroman looks most likely to have an impact in 2014.

So who is Stroman, and what can he bring?

Well, the Duke alumnus started the year finishing off a 50 game suspension for using a stimulant (he claims the positive test came from accidentally taking a supplement he shouldn’t have).

He throws a four-seam (sits around 95mph!), a cutter, a slider (86), and a change-up (85).

Most scouts seem to expect him to end up in the bullpen as a fastball-slider guy, but a lot of this is because people are worried about his height – or lack thereof – and how he’s unable to generate the same downward plane as taller starters.

There’s some merit to this, and generally speaking, shorter guys don’t pan out as starters.

But, the thing about it is he’s been posting most of his numbers as a starter, and looked pretty good doing it.

In 2013, with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Stroman went 9-5 over 20 starts with a 3.30 ERA.

He had some other pretty sexy looking peripheral numbers to go with that too. During that same stretch in double-A he had a K% of 28.1% and a BB% of 5.9%. Granted this is double-A, but those are good looking numbers.

The good news is that all those numbers came as a starter. And as per Harry Pavlidis, maybe that’s the way the Jays see him:

The relief label is probably going to follow the guy for a while though… After all, he was basically lights-out in the Arizona Fall League this year, and those of course were all one or two inning appearances. With the Salt River Rafters in the AFL he posted a fantastic 10.03 K/9 including 5 strikeouts against 6 batters in his second last game. His FIP was also just 1.74.

He only really had one ugly day in the AFL (out of 9 appearances) where he went 1.2 innings and allowed 3 runs. So obviously the future looks pretty bright as a reliever as well. I have confidence in him as a starter though. If you scroll through the game log from his double-A starts, he is posting solid numbers day in and day out. The odd rough outing happens, but on the whole, his solid numbers speak volumes about his potential. Scout-types believe in him as a starter too:

 

I hope this all means the Jays will just let him do his thing as a starter until he can’t anymore. And if that’s the case, the bullpen will be right there for him.

This blog post may not win a Pulitzer, but in a roundabout way I think it kind of says:

The rotation was trash, so adding arms is important. If free agency is a bust, be confident with Stroman as an option… until of course he isn’t, and then becomes a weapon in the bullpen. See you in 2014, Marcus.

*And pray to whatever you believe in that his elbow/shoulder/arm is good and healthy, ‘cause if not then the Jays are up shit creek, sans paddle.

So this is what they’re “Goins” with, eh?

Goins loved life with the Fisher Cats... will the MLB be a different story? (Dave Schofield/NH Fisher Cats)
Goins killed it with the Fisher Cats… will the MLB be a different story? (Dave Schofield/NH Fisher Cats)

Oh the ‘Goins’ puns. So easy, plentiful, and hard to resist.

The fan in me wants Ryan Goins to succeed. Everyone loves the idea of a homegrown player coming working their way up through the system and making it in the bigs.

I was actually even at his major league debut at a road game in Houston. He went 2-4, his family was there, he doubled – it was all gumdrops and rainbows.

So, believe me when I say I really want to like the idea of Ryan Goins. A great, glove-first guy at the two bag, and he’s had some pretty serviceable numbers at stops in the minors.

But if the Toronto Blue Jays are going to start Goins at second base in the 2014 season, then there better be a contingency plan in place, because right now, the signs don’t really point to him being a major league-caliber starter.

I’m pretty patient when it comes to prospects. I am more than happy for the Jays to make a start with Goins, the reality though is that’s a little reckless.

Let’s take a look at some key stats on the kid from Round Rock:

With the Jays – 34G, 121PA, with a .252/.264/.345 line. (AVG/OBP/SLG)

Where things really got fugly though was with the walk and K rate. Walk rate was a horrific 1.7% and K rate and equally frightening 23.1%. I mean, that is approaching Arencibia territory (3.6%/29.8%). *shudders*

The masses have preached “small sample size”, and they are, by all means, correct. The concerning part is that for some numbers he did put up, particularly the K and walk rates, is where Fangraphs claim those start to normalize. But for things like average, and OBP, etc, we’ll really need to see an extended look.

The good stuff:

His numbers from AA were actually not so bad.

136G, 618PA, and a .289/.342/.403 line… Honestly, if Goins can replicate that at the MLB level, I can get down on that. The slugging is a bit shit, but a .342 OBP (or.336 wOBA) is fine by me.

Lump that in with a 7.6% walk rate, and 12.6% K rate when he was with the Fisher Cats? Granted those are basically the best numbers he posted in those fields in his pro career – and it’s double A – but that’s actually pretty alright. Or at least it’s mostly average. But mix in the sexy defense and you’re looking a useful major leaguer.

Speaking of defense:

In his brief look at the MLB level, his UZR was a fantastic 6.2, and UZR/150 was 33.1 – for perspective, the uber-talented Manny Machado had a UZR/150 of 31.2. The best second baseman? Darwin Barney at 15.5. Of course, they played all year, not just as a September call-up like Goins.

My guess is that number would go down, but hey, who knows? I mean Gibby likes what he sees, so why shouldn’t we?

Where can he improve?

Base running. This seems like the best, and most obvious thing Goins can improve on. Brooks Baseball gives a pretty unfavourable take on his track record as a hitter, so when he does get on base, he better be smart about it.

Goins seems like a pretty good athlete, and can obviously run somewhat if you consider his range. (I picture him as the anti-Troy Glaus) So why he hasn’t done better in this regard is beyond me. His BsR (Base Runs Above Average) was -2.1 in his stint with the Jays. Not great. In the minors he had 30 stolen bases, and 29 caught stealing. So… what gives?

My thinking is if he can work on his timing, try and figure out some of the pitchers, and get smarter about base running, then he’ll be able to at least work his way back up to average levels, and improve his overall value.

Long story short. He kinda looks like the second coming of Johnny Mac, just at a less important position, where it will be even harder for his weak bat to play. Maybe that’s nothing you didn’t already know, but now it’s all laid out here.

Maybe Goins is one of those guys who figures out how to hit at the major league level… but if not, I hope Anthopoulous has a plan B.

Good luck, Goins. I’ll be pulling for you.