This is the first post by our newest contributor, Jonny. He’ll be writing a post each Saturday morning. Welcome him aboard. He can be found on Twitter at @jonnym02.
Dallas Keuchel’s one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves means that the Yankees’ only avenue to acquiring another starting pitcher now is by trade. Missing out on Keuchel is frustrating, as Bobby pointed out here, but there are still viable alternatives. We’ll get to that in a second.
First, let’s be clear: there is no doubt that the Yankees need another starting pitcher. They are one long-term injury away from facing a pretty significant crisis. With James Paxton’s injury record, Sabathia’s fickle knee, and Tanaka’s potential elbow problem, it seems more likely than not that at least one Yankee starter will face another IL stint, and potentially a considerable one. Plus, there is no guarantee that Severino comes back for the second half of the season, and his post-injury quality is obviously up in the air. He suffered a serious injury and may not return (at least right away) as the ace we know and love.
We’ve already seen the Yankees turn to the opener when faced with injury. While Chad Green has ably filled that role fairly well, he’s much more suitable out of the pen as another option for Aaron Boone.
It only makes sense that the team will turn to the trade market. One potential exciting option is Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays. Stroman has similar strengths to Keuchel, has a reputation for being a competitor, and is three years younger. Let’s take a look to see if he’s a fit on this Yankees team.
To begin with, Stroman appears to want out of Toronto. That, coupled with the Jays’ horrible start to the season, puts them in the perfect situation to be sellers in any trade deal. Jayson Stark of the Athletic reports that they will be aggressive in moving their young stars, and Stroman is one of those. So, he’ll be available. Does he fit?
Stroman is not the league dominating ace that many Yankees fans hope for. But he is very, very good. As far as his contract goes, he’s earning only $7.4 million this season and is controlled through 2020, meaning the Yankees will not lose him after this year. That matters. His low financial cost will be appealing to the Yankees, and the fact that free agency isn’t too far away means he could come at a good price.
He also seems to be a great fit the Yankee stadium. His 2.84 season ERA is due in large part to his extremely low HR/9 of 0.6 (in 2018, Verlander had a 1.2 HR/9). This season isn’t exactly an anomaly for him keeping the ball in the park, as he averages 0.8 HR/9 in 741.0 career innings. That’s impressive when you remember that the majority of those innings were thrown in the AL East. Even last year, when he struggled after returning from an injury, he gave up less than a homer per 9. Stroman keeps the ball in the park. That’s a valuable skill, especially at YSIII.
That’s mostly because he keeps the ball on the ground. Last season he had an impressive 62.1% ground ball rate in 102.1 IP and, in 81 innings in 2019, batters hit the ball on the ground 58.1% of the time, ranking 3rd out of 85 qualified starters so far. (For reference, Tanaka induced ground balls 46.3% of the time last season.) Dallas Keuchel has the highest ground ball rate across two seasons in the last decade at 62.6%, which is right about where Stroman is.
If Stroman can keep the ball on the ground and in the park at similar rates, there is good reason to believe he’d be an excellent fit in the Yankees rotation. Urshela and LeMahieu’s elite defense, paired with the Yanks successful use of the shift, should result in a lot of groundball outs.
It’s a good thing that Stroman keeps the ball on the ground, because he misses less bats than league average. But, if you don’t strike a ton of batters out, the next best thing is a forcing a groundball. In addition, Stroman’s career 2.6 BB/9 is certainly not bad. It is reasonable to assume that if he throws seven innings, he will allow two free passes – not anything to lose any sleep over, but not fantastic, either.
Stroman’s biggest weakness, though, is hard hit balls. This season he has a hard-hit percentage 36.9% That is certainly not great, but it is much higher than his career numbers, so hopefully, it is simply an anomaly – or that the Yanks staff would know how to fix it. Hard hit balls generally lead to more hits, obviously, and this shows to be true for Stroman. His BABIP (.305) is slightly above league average and a bit too high for my tastes. But again, the Yanks strong infield defense could make this number drop.
To round out his profile, although Stroman’s fastball velocity has dropped a bit since 2017, he still throws a mid-90s fastball and the Yankees organization is really good at turning fastballs into strikeouts. In other words, the Yankees analytics department could help Stroman keep bats off the ball, which make his BABIP and hard-hit percentage less significant.
What’s it going to cost?
I’m not a front office guru, so I won’t pretend to come up with a trade proposal for Cashman. But if I were the Jays, I’d start by asking for Clint Frazier. His age and considerable talent make him an attractive piece, and the Yankees are definitely deep in the outfield. Who knows if that price is too high for Cashman and Co. (it just might be) but that’s probably where the discussion starts.
Finally, there is also no reason to believe the Yanks and Jays won’t do business together. Just last year, they completed the Happ deal and have done business together before. There’s inter-divisional wariness here. The Yankees will certainly be scouting the market, and I suspect they’ll like what they see in Marcus Stroman, as his ground ball rates and overall profile make him a good match for the team.