Marcus Stroman Discovered Roy Halladay’s Sinker

You’ve heard it all before. Regress to the mean. Don’t make too much of a small sample. Don’t believe in the predictive power of second-half statistics, if they look particularly different from the first-half statistics. You know all the ways you are and aren’t supposed to interpret a player’s numbers. But you also know the key to exceptions, which many try to exploit: when a player makes a legitimate change, his prior numbers become less useful. A change, I mean, to his approach, or his mechanics. The White Sox don’t care too much about Zach Duke‘s history, because he recently changed his delivery. The Tigers don’t care too much about J.D. Martinez‘s history, because he recently changed his swing. Marcus Stroman was never bad, but he, too, made a change. It’s real easy to spot on the following image, from Brooks Baseball:

stromanpitches

That’s Stroman’s big-league 2014, broken down by month. There’s no arguing the major trend: over time, Stroman threw more two-seamers, or sinkers, and far fewer four-seamers. It’s a dramatic shift, and it’s a dramatic shift in the middle of a year. Stroman became something he hadn’t been before.

This, naturally, has been written about. Virtually everything’s been written about. When Stroman talked with David Laurila in 2013, he noted that he pitched off his four-seamer, with almost no two-seamers to speak of. When the two spoke in 2014, Stroman discussed his increased two-seamer usage. He’s always been a tinkerer, motivated by his own curiosity, and it turns out Stroman just found a sinker grip he liked in the middle of this past July. From Eric Koreen:

Stroman started to use the sinker more often in his July 19 start against Texas, after finding a grip he was comfortable while fiddling around with a baseball at home.

And from Jamie Ross:

“I have a sinker now, and it’s good,” Stroman said, proudly. “It’s a good pitch, and I get excited when I throw it. I get excited on the mound. It’s a pitch I started throwing like a month ago, and I’m already using it in games and having success with it.”

In the game against the Rangers, where Stroman debuted his new two-seamer, he threw it six times. In his next outing, he threw it 18 times. The outing after that, 31 times. He topped out at 46. It’s evident that Stroman fell in love with his sinker almost immediately, and this visual might indicate why. I don’t know the source, but, via Reddit:

I’ve been making .gifs of pitches for a long, long time. Back when I was first getting started, and more comfortable with the process, I started to pay close attention to the catchers. Something I noticed quickly is that catchers almost always close their eyes as the baseball is arriving. Of course, it’s not conscious — it’s just the automatic, instinctive response to deliberately getting in the way of a projectile flying at 90 miles per hour. Now look at Dioner Navarro. Look at his eyes. He never blinks. Even he can’t take his eyes off of Marcus Stroman’s two-seamer.

It’s one thing for a pitcher to introduce a new pitch. It’s another thing entirely for a new pitch to be introduced and then used so heavily, so rapidly. Stroman’s sinker, in this regard, is exceptional, and I wanted to try to find some comparisons. When I’ve played with this kind of methodology before, I once found that Stroman throws a slider that’s a lot like Corey Kluber‘s slider. This time, I was just focusing on sinkers, and I pulled up the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards.

I decided to look at starting pitchers from 2008 – 2014. I narrowed it down to righties, and then I looked for sinkers within half a mile per hour of Stroman’s, on average. From there, it was just a matter of selection and elimination by movement. I looked for sinkers within half an inch of Stroman’s in terms of horizontal movement, on average. Then I looked for sinkers within half an inch of Stroman’s in terms of vertical movement, on average. This was to be my pool of comparable sinkers. The resulting pool of comparable sinkers:

And that’s it. That’s the whole group. Granted, in 2013, Halladay was bad. In 2012, he was close to average. But from 2008 – 2011, Halladay was perhaps the greatest starting pitcher in baseball, and his sinker was a huge reason why. Over those four years, his sinker was an even better comp for Stroman’s. He used it to generate 62% grounders. Two-thirds of those sinkers went for strikes. Stroman threw 70% of his sinkers for strikes. It just generated 66% grounders.

Marcus Stroman didn’t simply add a new pitch: he added, to his already broad repertoire, a pitch that compares well to a primary pitch thrown by a possible or probable Hall-of-Famer. And Stroman must’ve known immediately that he’d added something good. From Brooks, look at his first- and second-half pitch usages, broken down by handedness and circumstance:

  • against lefties
First Half LHB, 4-Seam% LHB, 2-Seam% Second Half LHB, 4-Seam% LHB, 2-Seam%
All Counts 54% 1% All Counts 20% 35%
First Pitch 65% 1% First Pitch 23% 39%
Batter Ahead 59% 1% Batter Ahead 22% 39%
Even 52% 1% Even 19% 36%
Pitcher Ahead 53% 1% Pitcher Ahead 20% 27%
Two Strikes 51% 1% Two Strikes 22% 34%
  • against righties
First Half RHB, 4-Seam% RHB, 2-Seam% Second Half RHB, 4-Seam% RHB, 2-Seam%
All Counts 51% 0% All Counts 25% 30%
First Pitch 54% 0% First Pitch 33% 20%
Batter Ahead 58% 0% Batter Ahead 29% 36%
Even 46% 0% Even 26% 26%
Pitcher Ahead 52% 0% Pitcher Ahead 19% 31%
Two Strikes 47% 0% Two Strikes 19% 27%

Stroman was comfortable using the sinker when behind in the count against all hitters. Same when he was ahead in the count. Same when he was even. Same on the first pitch. Same with two strikes. He’s got other pitches, a lot of other pitches, and he still has his four-seamer, too, when he wants to elevate some heat, but the sinker has given Stroman something he didn’t have: a groundball pitch he can locate and use to get quick outs.

Usually, you don’t see a big change in a pitcher’s groundball rate unless he’s made a big change to his arsenal or approach. In 2013, in Double-A, Stroman posted a league-average groundball rate. In 2014, in the majors, he was just short of two standard deviations above the average, and that includes his first half in which he didn’t throw sinkers. What Stroman will sacrifice are a few strikeouts. He’ll also probably sacrifice a few pop-ups. But now Stroman will be better able to keep the ball in the yard, and he’ll be better able to work deep.

In 2013, in Double-A, Stroman averaged 4.1 pitches per plate appearance. In last year’s first half, that was also 4.1. In last year’s second half, he trimmed that rate to 3.8. Previously, Stroman would’ve averaged about 24 batters per 100 pitches. In the second half, that improved to 26, demonstrating his better efficiency.

So now look what Stroman did down the stretch, after introducing the two-seamer against the Rangers:

  • FIP-: 7th out of 134 starting pitchers
  • xFIP-: 18th
  • GB%: 5th
  • Zone%: 5th

Stroman posted a better second-half adjusted FIP and xFIP than Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann. And Stroman wasn’t even pitching to a particularly good receiver, in Dioner Navarro. For the season ahead, Stroman will get to work with Russell Martin. That would make almost anyone better. As much as people have talked about the Blue Jays maybe needing to add an ace, it would appear they might already have one. Stroman hasn’t yet proven himself over a full year, much less a series of them, but the talent is obvious and the results are encouraging. Stroman was a quality young pitcher before adding Roy Halladay’s sinker. Then, he found it, almost by chance.

About a year ago, the questions concerned whether Stroman would be able to hold up as a starter in the major leagues, given his size. To that question, we don’t yet know the answer, but it’s at least clear the size won’t keep Stroman from pitching like a No. 1. He’s already done that. And it looks like he ought to do it again.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Kyle
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Boyayayayoiiiiing

ZackusMaximus
Guest
ZackusMaximus
1 year 4 months ago

MAPLE BONER IN FULL EFFECT

ABsteve
Guest
ABsteve
1 year 4 months ago

Navarro was a butcher handling pitches in the bottom of the zone, and now he’s pitching to Martin :D

Powder Blues
Guest
Powder Blues
1 year 4 months ago

Those eyes… Cameron’esque.

Erik
Guest
Erik
1 year 4 months ago

So Halladay DID leave it in the locker in the corner of the dressing room.

VGRam
Guest
VGRam
1 year 4 months ago

Sinker?! But I hardly know her!

KyleZ
Guest
KyleZ
1 year 4 months ago

This is the greatest thing i’ve ever read

Greg
Guest
Greg
1 year 4 months ago

I drafted Alex Cobb over this stud in a dynasty league. What was I thinking?!

Kyle Tarder-Stoll
Guest
Kyle Tarder-Stoll
1 year 4 months ago

Okay, okay, well Alex Cobb is pretty great. He might be the best in the AL East. And I’m a Jays fan.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
1 year 4 months ago

I think Navarro drank too much of the “leaded” coffee.

Jim Lahey
Guest
Jim Lahey
1 year 4 months ago

I can’t get that kind of movement on a wiffleball :(

Randy Bobandy
Guest
Randy Bobandy
1 year 4 months ago

The shit jays are circling overhead, Mr. Lahey.

bmiltenberg
Member
bmiltenberg
1 year 4 months ago

Long Island’s finest

DAKINS
Guest
DAKINS
1 year 4 months ago

This is just too much, I can`t handle this much awesomeness. Please, someone pinch me and remind me this is Toronto.

Tim Hudson
Guest
Tim Hudson
1 year 4 months ago

2010 Tim Hudson is a comp. It might show up as a four-seam though.

Brandon Webb
Guest
Brandon Webb
1 year 4 months ago

Prime Brandon Webb, also. Except it isn’t nearly as good. ZING!

0noggin
Guest
0noggin
1 year 4 months ago

Didn’t Hudson throw a splitter? IMO, Pitch F/X often confuses splitters with sinkers with good drop.

Nick
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Nick
1 year 4 months ago

Here’s the source for the Stroman GIF: https://twitter.com/PitcherGifs/status/506201829894795264

Roy
Guest
Roy
1 year 4 months ago

Great, informative article–I have Stroman in a keeper league and drooled all over my keyboard. Where the heck do you get stats on horizontal movement from?

Jeremy Russell
Member
Jeremy Russell
1 year 4 months ago

Looking at the timestamps it was posted at the exact same time as the reddit thread, and the poster of the reddit thread seems to post a lot of pitcher gifs, so it appears the both the reddit thread and Twitter were the source.

Jeremy Russell
Member
Jeremy Russell
1 year 4 months ago

Meant to reply to the one comment one above

George
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Brooks baseball, mostly.

Roy
Guest
Roy
1 year 4 months ago

Never mind my question–I see the link to Baseball Prospectus now.

Blueyays
Member
Blueyays
1 year 4 months ago

You can get them in teh Pitch F/x section of the leaderboard, under the Movement tab!

Blueyays
Member
Blueyays
1 year 4 months ago

H-Movement*, oops

George
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

I knew he was good, but not this good. Props for the great info.

Mike
Member
Mike
1 year 4 months ago

I smiled like a kid on Christmas while reading this article. I cannot wait to see Stroman in action this year

RichW
Member
RichW
1 year 4 months ago

Note 7th inning 0-2 count.

noseeum
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

[Crossing fingers that all of my fantasy baseball competitors are still taking their post football break.]

Fall to page two, damn article. Fall!!! Great work.

Roy Halladay
Guest
Roy Halladay
1 year 4 months ago

So that’s where it went in 2012 and 2013. No wonder I couldn’t find it.

Jose Cuervo
Guest
Jose Cuervo
1 year 4 months ago

Dioner Navarro is a zombie.

Dioner Navarro
Guest
Dioner Navarro
1 year 4 months ago

I remembered playing in dat game. I tried mixing tequila with red bull. I had wings, meng.

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