When Marquee’s radar gun registered 95 MPH on Marcus Stroman’s fastball in the first inning on Sunday (okay, it was technically 94.6 MPH once I went back and checked the data), you knew it was going to be a good day. And a good day (for Stroman), it was: 5.0 IP, 2H, 1ER, 3BB, 3Ks.
At his best, Stroman’s sinker typically comes in more than a full MPH slower than that, so you could tell there was a little extra oomph behind each pitch. And it sounds like he’s crediting that extra energy to the Wrigley Field faithful:
“The way everyone talked about playing at Wrigley, it’s definitely true and probably even more incredible than you can (imagine),” Stroman said. “To have that behind you, that’s hard to put into words. Because that’s not uniform around the league, to have that home-field advantage from the crowd, to feel that energy each and every time. That’s super rare in baseball. I don’t know if you guys know that or if you guys are spoiled with this crowd. But, yeah, I’m excited for each and every game.”
Later on, he talked about trying to calm his nerves in light of that same crowd/energy — not an uncommon reaction for a new, big-time free agent stepping onto Wrigley Field as a Cub for the first time — but for at least his debut, it was working in his favor: “I’m not your typical baseball player who’s going to be a robot out there,” Stroman said via The Athletic. “I appreciate the people, and I’m going to let them know that I appreciate them. I’ve always been like that. I love to feel that from the crowd. You can feel that buzz, that energy, the second you go out there. I’m someone who pitches off that, so I’m excited to be a Cub, and I can’t wait to have that each and every time out.”
On top of holding the Brewers to just 1 run (a solo homer) over 5.0 innings, Stroman was generating a TON of ground balls on Sunday (76.9 GB%). Of the 13 balls he allowed in play, ten were groundouts, one of which was a double-play. That’s largely how he was able to make it through 5.0 innings with just 79 pitches. Which means, yes, if it wasn’t his first start of the season, following a shortened spring training, he would’ve almost certainly kept going.
As I’m sure you could’ve guessed by the low strikeout total, Stroman wasn’t netting a ton of whiffs on Sunday (just 5 total), but that’s not his game. He pitches to weak contact on the ground, and a lack of gaudy strikeout numbers doesn’t mean he wasn’t nasty:
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) April 10, 2022
The Brewers were also being abnormally passive against Stroman, swinging at almost NOTHING out of the zone, which would be concerning if they weren’t also barely swinging at strikes either. Just looking at Milwaukee’s plate discipline numbers, the strategy may have been built around passivity. Maybe they were hoping to get into that Cubs bullpen as soon as possible. Which, hey, it worked.
As for the pitch-mix, I’m still learning the details (frequency, shape, timing, etc.) of Stroman’s repertoire, but I was especially impressed by the unusual shape of his slider, which is his primary breaking ball. Statcast had it with 4.5 inches of horizontal movement yesterday. That’s a little less than he showed in 2019 (5.5 inches) and 2017 (7.0 inches), when his slider ranked as one of the best in MLB, but its right in line with (or better than) his other seasons. And we’re talking about a cold, opening weekend performance with a new team. That seems like a great place to start.
So all together, it was a really impressive beginning to his Cubs career. Stroman was throwing as hard as ever, his breaking ball was moving as much as you’d expect, he generated a ton of ground balls, he was very efficient, and he got great results. The Cubs may have came up short overall, but Stroman absolutely delivered in his first start for Chicago.