Marcus Stroman isn’t very tall.
That’s a fact.
Marcus Stroman doesn’t let his lack of height impede his competitive desire.
Also a fact.
Marcus Stroman can throw sinkers just as good as any tall guy in the game…
Height doesn’t measure heart, but it can certainly be a factor in measuring the amount of movement on a pitch.
Being tall has its advantages, especially when it comes to pitching. A taller pitcher has a much higher release point, meaning when the ball comes out of his hand, said hand is higher up than the hand of a shorter pitcher. As the ball leaves the hand of the taller pitcher, it must travel further down hill to reach the catcher’s mitt. A shorter pitcher’s same pitch, at the same velocity, will not have the same amount of vertical movement purely because of his lack of height. Therefore, a small pitcher must find other ways to produce a similar amount of movement, usually by altering velocity or finding a way to increase revolutions, IE; a more slowly thrown sinker has more time to bite down than one thrown harder because it has more time to spin before impact.
Throwing slower, of course, means the batter has more time to recognize the pitch and make an adjustment. It’s not velocity or movement alone that make a pitcher good, it’s the combination of the two, working in concert with your other pitches and your frame, within the context of an at bat.
From the hitter’s perspective, the more a ball moves both vertically and horizontally at high velocity, the harder it is to pick up and hit—certainly harder than if the ball moves on a flat plain.
Think of a sinking fastball that is “flat”–>This is a term that pitchers and pitching analysts use when referring to a sinker that has almost all horizontal movement and virtually no vertical movement. That kind of sinker (which isn’t really a sinker) can be easier to hit because it runs with the barrel of the bat.
If, however, a sinker has both downward and horizontal movement, it’s much harder for the hitter to put a bat on. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Randy Johnson’s fastball didn’t have much depth, but its tremendous horizontal movement made it terrifying to face and, combined with the speed at which he threw, nearly unhittable.
Marcus Stroman recently told reporters that he knows he’s small and has to work harder to make sure he’s on top of the ball. “I have to stay on top of the ball,” Stroman said. “I’m the shortest pitcher in the big leagues, and I realize that, so I have to be very conscious about pitching down in the zone.”
When he says “stay on top of the ball,” what he actually means is that he’s getting a good amount of vertical movement (vertical meaning, the up and down axis of the pitching strike zone), aka, getting his stuff to move down and not flat, and land in the bottom of the strike zone.
While a larger pitcher can throw harder and use the plain and angle built into his body to create desirable cross-plain movement, Stroman has to pick one of the ingredients to tweak more judiciously. A harder sinker for Stroman is a flatter sinker. A sinker with more movement can be hit, but if thrown at the right time, will it be hit well, or become a ground out?
And, then there is the issue of learning so many grips and making so many pitches work the way you want them to. Sinkers use a loose wrist. Cutters require a firm one. There can be muscle confusion. Can he command all of these pitches when needed? Or is he simply filling the zone with good but not great variations—as John Gibbons seems to contest with his comments on why Stroman should throw fewer types of pitches?
Here are some interesting screen caps to think about when measuring Stroman’s sinker movement. First, here are this year’s MLB starters, both left and right-handed, sorted by a number of sinkers they’ve thrown this season as sorted by Baseball Prospectus’ PITCHf/x leaderboards:
Stroman is number four on that list. Ironically, (the much taller) Aarron Sanchez is number three on the list. That’s a lot of Blue Jay sinkers.
Now lets look at the amount of Vertical and Horizontal action on Stroman’s sinker and see where it ranks.
Stroman’s sinker movement ranks dead last in H movement.
This year, of all the starters throwing sinkers, Stroman’s sinker has the least vertical movement. Now, that’s not a big thing in and of itself. Chris Sale doesn’t have a lot of sink (v movement) either, according to this rank. But notice that Sale’s Horizontal movement is crazy good at 12.39. If you’re a left-handed hitter and Sale is throwing that long armed, side-winding funk at you, and it’s running back up the barrel of your bat, that’s tough to hit! That’s a tremendous amount of movement at a high velocity.
Stroman’s results this season have not been what Blue Jays fans have been looking for. Frankly, despite his bounce-back yesterday, I’m not sure that his results will ever be what Jays fans are looking for so long as he stays infatuated with the sinker. While that pitch is a tremendous option for him, I don’t think he should live and die on it. His slider, four-seamer, and change are all still excellent pitches with a great deal of utility—plus they get more swings and misses. They are also the pitches that got him to the big leagues, after all.
Since incorporating the sinker, Stroman has seen his strikeout rates go down, and his ground ball rates go up. In theory, this is fine. Fewer pitches + more ground outs = healthier, happier Stroman. But it also means more pitches are getting put into play. And relying on movement and contact while edging away from strikeouts is also a recipe for more walks, which Stroman has also seen this season. This season Stroman has a strikeout to walk ratio of near 2-1. That number is not good. But his declining K-rate should be even more alarming for those who want to see Stroman as an Ace since a real Ace should be able to run the table himself, piling up K’s without need for a strong defense behind him.
However, if Stroman does wish to stick with the sinker, I’d recommend taking a look at his numbers around the sinker he was throwing last season. His 2015 ALDS sinker had more horizontal movement than vertical and was about 1mph slower than his current version. He also threw it less, at about 45% of his pitch selection as opposed to 56% of his pitch this season.
Here is Stroman’s 2015 sinker:
As I said, a sinker isn’t simply about one ingredient; it’s about all of them working together. Stroman may want to stay on top of the baseball, but he may not have to all the time. In 2015 he had a new pitch and was still a relatively unknown quantity. This season hitters know what his MO is and they’re making adjustments.
Stroman will have to adjust, too.
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