In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at the stellar rookie season being put together by Marcus Stroman, and the potential for it to become an historic one (in Blue Jays terms, at least) if he’s able to keep up his current pace. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.
Way back in February, I wrote an article for Drunk Jays Fans in which I looked at all of the Blue Jays number one prospects (according to Baseball America) dating back to 1983. Despite suggestions to the contrary in the comments section, it was not an attempt to predict the specific future of Aaron Sanchez, but instead to share as much information as possible from the historical record of this organization’s number one prospects that shows the steep learning curve at baseball’s highest level. The average number one prospect progressed on a slow, linear scale (roughly 1 WAR in year one, 2 WAR in year two, 3 WAR in year three), and given the lack of success developing top prospect pitchers, I wanted to stress patience with Aaron Sanchez, as it would be unfair to expect him to light the world ablaze immediately upon reaching Toronto.
Then Marcus Stroman happened. While not necessarily the Blue Jays unanimous number one prospect (many evaluators and prospectors were split between he and Sanchez), the pair was 1A and 1B in some regard. Everyone knows Stroman is having an excellent rookie season. What many don’t realize is the potentially historic nature of his inaugural year.
Marcus Stroman has made five relief appearances and thirteen starts, earning -0.1 WAR in the former and +2.2 WAR in the latter for a total of +2.1 WAR this season. He’s done this in just 86-and-a-third innings, no less. That production ranks second amongst Blue Jays pitchers behind only Mark Buehrle, who has earned 0.2 more WAR in his 63 additional innings.
As previously mentioned, when inspecting Stroman specifically as a starter, he has produced 2.2 wins in 13 starts – or roughly 0.17 WAR per start. After Wednesday’s game, the Blue Jays will have 40 remaining on their schedule, with Stroman tentatively scheduled to pitch eight of them. The club continues to give no indication that they intend to limit or shut down the right hander over the season’s final months, and should they remain in the thick of the playoff race, I suspect they’ll remain true to their word (or lack thereof). If Stroman continues to produce at a pace of 0.17 WAR per start, he’ll earn another 1.4 wins over the remainder of the season. Those 1.4 wins would raise his season total to 3.5 WAR, and place him in elite company amongst Blue Jays rookies.
Currently, the two best rookie seasons by pitchers belong to Mark Eichhorn and Gustavo Chacin, who produced 5.1 WAR (157 IP) and 3.3 WAR (203 IP) in 1986 and 2005 respectively. Should Stroman continue to play the way he has, he should surpass Chacin despite making significantly fewer starts and having far fewer innings in which to accumulate value. When expanding the criteria to include position players, Eric Hinske slides into the picture thanks to his excellent 4.6 WAR season in 2002. Really consider this for a moment: in the 38 years of Toronto Blue Jays baseball, Marcus Stroman is on pace to have the third best rookie season ever.
As a reminder, to attain this level of value, Stroman will need to continue pitching like one of the better pitchers in baseball while avoiding the dreaded shut down. Stroman has averaged 6.15 innings per start, and should he maintain that rate over his final eight starts, he’d finish the year with 135.2 innings in Toronto and 35.2 innings in Buffalo. That 171.1 inning total would be a significant increase upon his 2013 workload of 123.1 innings [plus however much he worked while suspended for 50 games -- AS], and one that may be too great for the organization to risk. Still, given all we know about Stroman’s ability and attitude, I wouldn’t put it past him.
Would it be enough to win the American League Rookie of the Year? In a word, no. Major League Baseball considers both Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu to be “rookies” despite starring in the Japanese and Cuban professional leagues respectively for years, and the two are/were having exceptional seasons. Tanaka was in the early running for the Cy Young award before succumbing to an elbow injury, while Abreu has produced 4.0 WAR, leads the world in home runs with 31, and likely finds himself in the MVP discussion (or in the discussion for second place behind Mike Trout and his playoff-bound Angels, at least).
That meaningless award should be of no consequence to Blue Jays fans, however. After years of having our dreams fall by the wayside, it appears as though the club has finally developed the home-grown star we’ve always coveted from afar, and have lacked since Roy Halladay. And, most important of all, he’s all ours until through least 2020.