By: Dan Grant
Marcus Stroman takes the mound this weekend for his first Major League start since September 26th of last year. Much has been made about Stroman being out “for five months” after his incredible comeback from reconstructive ACL surgery, and rightly so. But something often glossed over is that before the injury, Stroman hadn’t pitched in nearly six months. When you combine off-season and injury, it’s been 50 weeks since he last faced hitters in a big league game.
You might think that this leading up to me panning the decision, or at least worrying about it. Not the case. The Jays are right to start Stroman and not because he’s “earned it through hard work” during his rehab or even because of his success last season. He should start because the Blue Jays need the potential lift he represents, and they need it now.
In David Price and a white-hot R.A. Dickey, the Jays have a solid front end of the rotation. Marco Estrada has dazzled with his change-up this season and is a nice piece, but to lean on him too heavily is to be worried. The Drew Hutchison roller coaster continues to whiten fans’ knuckles. And Mark Buehrle–well, we’ll get to Mark Buehrle.
The Jays could use help in the rotation and there’s no time like the present. All in all, there are four major reasons why the decision to start Stroman this weekend is a sound one, despite what yelping Chicken Little-ish fans might keen at you.
Is he even ready? The Blue Jays need to know–NOW.
If he is ready, great. He was the Jays best starting pitcher last season, flashing a dizzying array of effective pitches and giving the Jays 14 quality starts over the final four months of 2014. He pitched to a 3.29 ERA during the same time, with a 1.15 WHIP. A 2.79 FIP/3.16 xFIP combo suggest he was maybe even a bit better than his results.
But this isn’t last year.
If Stroman is going to be a starting pitcher for this team, the Jays need to know now. Because if he’s not, other arrangements will have to be made. Sure, you could have pushed things back, started him in Atlanta and played it safe; but postponing his first game action is just going to set everything back and leave the question hanging out there even longer. The bottom line is that starting Stroman gives the Jays a chance at the best possible outcome: he joins the rotation as an effective piece for the remainder of the season. Even if you think that’s unlikely, it’s better to know now then to keep wondering what might be. That’s because:
There isn’t a whole hell of a lot of time left!
Only 23 games actually! And that’ll be 21 by Saturday. So Stroman could make at most four starts down the stretch for this team and if you pushed him back to the Atlanta series, that’s more likely to be three. Even if he struggles in New York, giving him the most opportunities to get himself right is exactly what Toronto needs to do, particularly given the dumpster fire that has consumed Drew Hutchison.
If Stroman starts on regular rest for the remainder of the season, he’d pitch two road starts and two home starts, and likely, twice against New York. A heavy load to be sure, but there really isn’t anything else left. If Stroman is going to contribute, the time is now. That’s key because:
Mark Buehrle is hurt(ing)
I told you we’d get to him. The rampant (and frankly, stupid) speculation about whether or not the Jays should push Mark Buehrle back to let Stroman start this weekend was quashed when Buehrle returned to Toronto to receive a cortisone shot in his throwing shoulder. This gave the absolute heaping piles of horse plop being shovelled by Toronto sports media personalities a chance to stop steaming. In an interview on the Tim and Sid Show earlier this week, Gregg Zaun claimed it was “disrespectful to Mark Buehrle” to even consider bumping him for Stroman, numbers be damned! “You dance with the one you brought, “Zaun chided, before checking his Enron stocks and slipping his waitress a crisp $2 dollar bill. He then speculated that the veterans in the clubhouse might not take the decision well, and that this should be heavily considered before making any kind of move.
I mean, I know they’re paid to speculate, but what a load. First of all, beyond anything else, Mark Buehrle and Marcus Stroman share a mentor-mentee relationship. Of course Buehrle might be pissed if he were completely healthy and the Jays tried to skip him for anything less than a sure thing. But to say that Buehrle might be so unprofessional as to poison the clubhouse because of a decision made with winning in mind? A decision that benefited both the club and his adopted son? Buehrle has never been anything more than a consummate professional in his entire career, so unless you spoke to the man himself and knew this to be truth, this kind of nonsense isn’t just lazy, it’s irresponsible.
Anyway, Zauny got saved by the medical injection, which sounds like the Nickelodeon prequel to Trainspotting (Saturday on Saved By the Medical Injection, Mr Belding tells Sick Boy about diabetes!) For a 36 year old starting pitcher with zero DL trips to his name in his 16 season big league career, a cortisone shot is a pretty big deal. Hell, it’s tantamount to blowing his arm out! See? I can use hyperbole too. In all seriousness though, Buehrle has hinted at retirement at the end of the season and who knows if he’ll be right again this year?
After a fantastic June and July, Buehrle scuffled in late August and early September, mixing two horrendous starts with a couple that looked better in the box score than they did on the field, where his velocity was down and his location spotty. If starting Stroman in his place lets him heal and regain his mid-season form in time for the playoff push, then it’s worth it for that alone. And if for some reason he’s not going to be right again this year, then he sure as shit wouldn’t have been right pitching in the Bronx on Saturday.
I’m not a big fan of quoting a players career numbers versus a team, especially a player who’s been around as long as Buehrle. Not a single player he faced the first time he pitched against the Yankees is still a member of the team, so pointing out his terrible career stats against the Bronx Bombers feels unfair. One constant, however, is the stadium. And even if we dial it down to just the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009, Buehrle is 0-7 through nine starts, with a 6.22 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP. Rolling the dice with Stroman makes a lot more sense when you consider that alternative, especially since:
Stroman has been much more effective as a starter
It’s a small sample to be sure, but when used out of the bullpen last year Stroman posted a 7.84 ERA with a 1.45 WHIP in 4 games. His 3.45 FIP suggests he was unlucky, but the numbers are still pretty ugly. So if the choice is between using him as a long man out of the bullpen or using him as a starter, even if it’s on an innings limit and/or pitch count, wouldn’t you use him as a starter? If it’s the way to make him most comfortable, why wouldn’t you try it, (with Hutchison or Liam Hendriks acting as a caddy) until he finds his sea legs? Again, this is about trying to achieve the highest possible ceiling and Stroman starting successfully is that. Is the worst case scenario for Saturday’s start worse than what we saw from Buehrle in his last start against Boston, or what we saw from Hutchison on Wednesday? It can’t be, but it sure could be a whole lot better.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, the Blue Jays hand has been forced here, more than fans might realize. While some question Stroman’s long term potential as a starter (mainly due to his size), he was electric for Toronto in the second half last year. Adding him for a playoff run could be the final piece for a club that has the ability to be devastating on any given night. Some might think it’s best to err on the side of caution given the opponent, but what caution is that? Dickey on short rest Saturday and then Hutchison on short rest Sunday? Liam Hendriks? A bullpen-by-committee start?
For better or worse, it’s time for the Stro-Show.