The Cubs finished 20 games below .500 during a 2021 season in which they traded off longtime franchise stalwarts Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. A return to contention in 2022 is unlikely, but the team did pull the trigger on a big signing earlier this month when they inked Marcus Stroman to a three-year, $71 million contract.
Stroman will make $25 million in 2022 and 2023 and can opt out after the latter season, so the deal is, in essence, a two-year, $50 million pact with a $21 million player option for 2024. The total value of the deal was certainly less than Stroman was expected to get, but if the 30-year-old pitches well and stays healthy, he should be able to net another nice contract in a couple offseasons.
Stroman chose to opt out of the 2020 season before accepting the Mets’ one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer last winter. He then turned in arguably his best season in 2021, putting up a 3.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 158/44 K/BB ratio over 179 innings.
A 21.7 percent strikeout rate and 5.9 percent walk rate both represented career bests for Stroman. His groundball rate came in at a career-low 50.8 percent, but that mark still was the eighth-highest in baseball.
Stroman made some pitch mix changes in 2021, essentially swapping the usage of his curveball and slider from 2019, with the slider emerging as his best offering. He also added a splitter and it immediately stood out as one of his better pitches. The splitter no doubt was a big reason for Stroman’s career-best strikeout rate, and it helped to allow him to keep getting a bunch of grounders, as well.
Durability has been one of the hallmarks of Stroman’s career. He’s made at least 32 starts in four of the last five seasons (not including 2020, of course), with the one time he didn’t during that stretch coming back in 2018. That year he dealt with blisters and also a shoulder ailment which didn’t involve structural damage. Stroman did miss most of 2015 with a torn ACL.
Consistency has been a staple for Stroman, as well. While his ERA has fluctuated a couple times, his FIP has remained pretty stable. His best FIP of 2.86 came back in his rookie season in 2014. Other than that, the number has always been in the 3.49-3.91 range. Stroman has also never served up more than 21 home runs in a season.
Because he doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts and racks up a boatload of grounders, Stroman relies on his defense more than a lot of other hurlers. The Cubs graded out as an average defensive team in 2021, although it’s a little difficult to properly judge them because the roster experienced so much turnover. They will certainly miss Javier Baez on that side of the ball. Worth noting, though, is that they’ve been connected to reigning American League Platinum Glove winner Carlos Correa.
An addition of Correa would obviously be a massive boost to an offense which certainly could use it, as the Cubs currently project to roll out a lot of guys without proven track records. There’s plenty of help out there still, so we’ll see what happens.
Wrigley Field can be a fickle environment for a pitcher depending on what the wind is doing that day, but overall Park Factors view it as pretty neutral. The NL Central looks to be a good landing spot for Stroman. The two clubs generally viewed as the best in the division – the Brewers and Cardinals – don’t have great offenses, and while American Family Field and especially Great American Ball Park can be rough for a pitcher, Busch Stadium is an extreme pitcher’s park and PNC Park is neutral.
I am a little worried that the offense and defense backing Stroman won’t be ideal for his potential to get wins. Picking up Ws is something he’s struggled to do even as he’s been consistent and pitches fairly deep into games. Stroman is also likely to hurt more than help in the strikeout department. Still, a 30-year-old with his track record is likely to be a steady fantasy performer in 2022, albeit one with a limited ceiling.
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