Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Eagle of Medford: Marcus Stroman and the United States of America

Marcus Stroman lists his height in his twitter bio. Five feet, seven inches. He declares 'breaking stereotypes' there too. He's the most likable pro athlete from Duke University since Grant Hill. Last night, he pitched for the United States in the World Baseball Classic Final. Two years removed from tearing his ACL, Marcus Stroman tossed one of the most brilliant games in recent memory. He did it on a stage that needed a virtuoso, signature performance from an American. He did it against one of the greatest lineups the world could muster.

I'm really not sure which stereotype to address first. They don't necessarily matter, to be honest. In an era where you can count sub-5'10" pitchers on one hand, and show the league percentage of African-American players on two, Stroman is at the center of the Venn Diagram. Throw in the percentage of pitchers who come back from an ACL tear to be somehow better than they were before, and you likely boil down to one guy. While he was rehabbing that injury, Stroman worked on finishing his degree at Duke. In other words, if you were looking for an example of a lazy, entitled millennial, you have arrived at the planet that is farthest from.

Stroman carries six pitches in his repertoire. His bread and butter is the two-seam fastball, which has become his dominant pitch grip since his injury. Marcus also utilizes a four-seam fastball that tops out around 94 miles per hour. His cutter sniffs 90, his slider and changeup come in around 85, and a frustrating curveball drops in around 80. There is nothing exquisite about any of those figures. Stroman is not the kind of strikeout pitcher that is fashionable in the post-steroid era. In fact, Marcus Stroman loves when hitters make contact.

In 2016, nobody was better at inducing ground outs than Stroman.

The Puerto Rican lineup looked like this on Wedensday night:

  • Angel Pagan
  • Francisco Lindor
  • Carlos Correa
  • Carlos Beltran
  • Yadier Molina
  • Javier Baez
  • Eddie Rosario
  • T. J. Rivera
  • Enrique Hernandez
While the bottom is not as strong as the top, goodness gracious. It isn't too tough to figure out why Puerto Rico came into the Final undefeated. 

Stroman recorded eighteen outs. Three were strikeouts. Three were caught in the air. The remaining twelve were on the ground. Nine outs came as a result of ground balls off of a two-seam fastball. 

He placed the two-seamer high and away, down and in. Up at the eyes and down at the ankles. Ninety-three miles per hour, choking the life out of a roster with as much personality as productivity. Last night, the fire that had lifted the Puerto Ricans to the verge of glory was quenched. By the sixth inning, even the unstoppable and incredible Puerto Rican crowd was finding their seats. Every other game seemed closer to a party than a ballgame.

By the time Stroman finally gave up a hit to lead off the seventh inning, the Americans had scored seven times. Marcus's night was over as Manager Jim Leyland pulled the twenty-five year old to a thunderous ovation. He hadn't just defeated the monstrous Puerto Rican lineup, he had obliterated it.

As the game neared a close, I thought about how downright bonkers Stroman's performance was. The first place my mind went was the 1999 Major League All-Star Game. Pedro Martinez faced Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell. He struck them all out. It was the height of the "steroid era," but Pedro was a god among men. It is easily one of the greatest pitching performances in history. Strikeouts are much more individualistic than groundouts, but that in no way slights Stroman.

While much can be made of the tournament being played in March and all of the cold bats that come with it, there was no excuse for Puerto Rico beyond he was just better. Sure, the defense behind him took care of all of those ground balls, but arguing whether a pitcher makes his defense great or vice-versa is a waste of time.

Stoman had an all-star cast behind him and together they created something that the World Baseball Classic needed- a successful American side. It was, as it had been all tournament long, a team effort. With their ace on the mound, on the biggest stage in international baseball, Team USA finally painted their masterpiece.

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