The SF Giants will likely pivot after missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto with Marcus Stroman being a potential starting pitcher target. The veteran pitcher excels in two key areas that the Giants covet in any pitching target - keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark.
2 key areas in which Marcus Stroman appeals to the SF Giants
Not surprisingly, the Giants' pitching staff excelled in those areas as well in 2023. They comfortably led baseball with a 48.7 percent ground ball rate and finished in second with a 1.09 HR/9 rate. Only the Cleveland Guardians (1.08 HR/9) had a better home run rate last year.
These qualities are related. In a way, a low home run rate is generally a symptom of keeping the ball on the ground. It is very hard to hit a home run on a ground ball.
It is also not a flashy way to pitch, and perhaps, there is a market efficiency with that. The Giants posted an 8.53 K/9 in 2023, which was 22nd in baseball. As a whole, the pitching staff does not tally high strikeout totals with Camilo Doval being one of the exceptions.
Teams will generally pay a premium for strikeout pitchers because batted ball avoidance is still the best outcome for pitchers followed by keeping the ball on the ground. The margin for error is high if you can strike out hitters at an elite rate. Pitchers like Carlos Rodón
and Aaron Nola are some recent examples of free agents who scored massive paydays due in part to their ability to miss bats.
Ground ball pitchers are typically looked at differently for one reason or another. This is why Stroman would be such a nice fit for the Giants. The nine-year veteran posted a 3.95 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, and a 2.29 SO/W ratio across 27 appearances for the Chicago Cubs. He had a $21 million player option for 2024 that he rejected in favor of free agency.
Stroman registered a 0.59 HR/9 and a 57.1 percent ground ball rate in 2023, which was second and third, respectively, among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. Only Logan Webb (62.1 percent ground ball rate) and Alex Cobb (57.6 percent ground ball rate) had higher ground ball rates. Stylistically, Stroman is similar to Webb and Cobb in a lot of ways.
And, it just so happens that Webb and Cobb were the Giants' two best starting pitchers last year, so it would behoove them to add more of those traits. Stroman checks those boxes.
For years, teams have been skeptical of how Stroman's 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame would hold up as he ages and one of the reasons why he has not received that massive contract in free agency. The durability has declined in recent seasons, but he has still made at least 25 starts in each of the past two years. That said, 25 starts is pretty much a full workload by today's standards.
The right-handed hurler is not a power pitcher by any means. Earlier in his career, his sinker sat closer to 93-94 MPH, but it averaged 91.4 MPH in 2023 and he relies on that a lot. Is that a red flag?
It is concerning and something to watch. Though, the 32-year-old has performed well in the past without premium velocity. 2023 was no different and while he does not excel at missing bats, he thrives at missing the barrel.
Opposing hitters averaged a 3.0-degree launch angle and a 5.0 percent barrel rate against Stroman in 2023. It is not surprising to see hitters struggle to generate any type of lift given Stroman's high ground ball rate. However, he is elite at missing the barrel with Steven Matz (4.8 percent barrel rate) being the only pitcher in baseball with a lower barrel rate using the same parameters as above.
I should reiterate this. Stroman is not a flashy pitcher. He relies on a sinker-slurve mix that does well to keep the ball out of the air and in the ball park. He has some mileage on his arm and will bet entering his age-33 season in 2024.
The hurler is not going to get a deal in excess of three or four years. Perhaps, it is a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth season. The average annual value should be in the $15-$20 million range, which is affordable for a team like the Giants.
They do not have a lot of long-term deals on the books, so this is something that they could afford. Of course, while Stroman is not a frontline starter at this stage in his career, the Giants would need to pair him with one of the top remaining names on the market to build a strong rotation. From a performance standpoint, this is a player who makes a lot of sense for San Francisco.