Yankees Spring Training Preview: Getting to know new starter Marcus Stroman

Yes, the man David Price nicknamed ‘Tylenol’!
Houston Rockets v New York Knicks
Houston Rockets v New York Knicks / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Most fans are likely aware that new Yankees starter Marcus Stroman is from Medford, NY on Long Island and grew up going to games in the Bronx. The graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School was just five years old when the "Core Four" helped the Yanks bring back a World Series Championship in 1996, and then bore witness to the next three championships before he turned 10.

“I grew up going to Yankee games, so to be able to put on the pinstripes, that’s something we all dream about as a kid. I’m excited to feel the energy and the buzz from Yankee fans,” Stro said after signing a two-year, $37 million free agent contract with a vesting player option if he reaches 140 innings in 2025. Surely those heady days of his childhood made a strong impression on the now 32-year-old.

The two-time All-Star went on to say, “Sometimes when you have those moments in [New York City] with that buzz, energy, and pressure, it brings out a different animal, so I’m excited about that possibility. My start days are something that I’m getting chills thinking about looking forward to.”

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa Bay in less than one week on Feb. 15, let’s get to know the man David Price once called "Tylenol" because of the "pills" he was dealing from the mound.

Stroman was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Duke University with the 22nd overall pick in 2012, and signed for a $1.8 million bonus. After going 9-5 with a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts at Double-A New Hampshire in 2013, Baseball America ranked him as the 55th-best prospect in baseball ahead of the 2014 season. He made his MLB debut on May 4, 2014 with two-thirds of an inning in relief against the Pirates. He would go on to finish with an 11-6 record, 3.65 ERA and 2.84 FIP in 26 games, including 20 starts, with 111 strikeouts against only 28 walks in 130 2/3 innings.

With a solid rookie debut under his belt, it was the 2015 season that truly established the Stro-Show. After suffering a freak accident in spring training that resulted in a torn ACL, Stro would rehab at Duke and make a miraculous recovery, returning in September to go 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA over four starts and 27 innings down the stretch to help Toronto win their first AL East title in 22 years.

He then helped the Blue Jays to a 6-3 victory in the series-clinching Game 5 of the ALDS, and won Game 3 of the 2015 ALCS over Kansas City. Stroman had moxy and he thrived on a winning team.

He’d been expected to miss the entire 2015 season given the recovery from that kind of injury usually takes at least six months. His surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, was “stunned” at his ability to get back on the field. Five months to the day of the injury, Andrews cleared him to begin a rehab assignment. The man was a warrior, and Stro gained serious cred, with Stroman jerseys everywhere in Toronto.

Yankees spring training preview on Marcus Stroman

Now entering his 10th MLB season (he opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020), Stroman has accumulated an fWAR of 23.8 as a starter since his debut, which ranks 20th in baseball over that stretch. He ranks seventh among starters with a 56.7% ground ball percentage, and 14th on home runs allowed per nine innings at 0.83. When healthy, he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter and Gold Glover.

According to Statcast, he’s elite on that ground ball rate (57.4% last year versus an MLB average of 44.6%) and barrel rate (5% in 2023 against an MLB average of 6.9%). He generates that weak contact with a 91-92 MPH sinker (46% of his pitches last year) and 84-85 MPH slurve (23%). His fastball is in the 92-93 MPH range, and he’ll mix in a 90 MPH cutter, 86 MPH slider, and 87 MPH split finger as well.

Steamer projects a 2024 record of 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA and 4.18 FIP over 29 starts and 167 innings, with an fWAR of 2.1. Baseball Reference projects a 3.89 ERA over 141 innings. However, over 231 games and 1303 2/3 career innings, Stroman has a 3.65 ERA (116 ERA+) and 3.63 FIP, so those numbers look high. It's worth nothing that he also put up a 3.76 ERA (114 ERA+) and 3.60 FIP over 789 2/3 innings in the AL East with Toronto from 2014-2019.

That 140-inning vesting option number is based off the fact that he only pitched 138 2/3 innings in 2022 and 136 2/3 innings in 2023. He’s pitched as many as 204 innings a season (on the Blue Jays team that ran it back to the ALCS in 2016), but has been snakebitten with injuries ever since.

As per John Flanagan of SNY, “Stroman is coming off a season in which he made his second All-Star appearance after putting together a career-best first half with a 2.96 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 112 innings of work. The 32-year-old battled injuries after that and he made just six more starts the rest of the season.”

Aaron Boone said the following in a recent interview with YES Network: “I love the consistency of his career. He's been a performer. He's been a really reliable starter in this league now, for a long time. And totally confident in his health and where he is… He's one of those guys that commits a lot to his craft and his body and taking care of himself, so I do think he'll be a guy that remains in top form for a number of years. And then on top of it, I really think he wants to be here with us — with the Yankees — and that counts for something, and that matters to me, and I think he's cut out for this.’

After his last start in Toronto before Stro was traded to the Mets at the 2019 July deadline, his manager Charlie Montoyo said, “This guy's a good pitcher. Like I always say, every time he takes the mound we have a chance to win the game. And he did the same today. One run, that was it, he gave us a chance."

As Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic (subscription required) wrote after this final start in Toronto, “Stroman has emerged as a favorite — although there is no denying he could divide opinions with his bravado on and off the mound… As Stroman walked off the mound [in his final home start], he acknowledged the standing ovation from the crowd at the Rogers Centre and declared, 'This is my fucking house,' before disappearing into the dugout… He was passionate, and unapologetic about it.”

Stroman’s Baseball Reference Bullpen page tells us he “has patented his own designer logo: HDMH, which stands for "Height Doesn't Measure Heart," a bit of a mantra for an athlete who was too often told he was too small [at 5’7”] to succeed. He is also very active on social media, with [over] a half-million followers on his X [@STRO] and Instagram [@stroman] accounts.”

His HDMH charitable foundation “seeks to inspire children and young people, especially those from inner cities and in-need areas, to rise above their circumstances and pursue their dreams.”

And back to that "Tylenol" nickname coined by David Price ahead of the the 2015 postseason: as per Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star, “Price, the Blue Jays’ ace lefty [that fall], is riffing on an old baseball metaphor — 'he’s throwing pills' — as in, that’s how the ball looks to the batter, who has about as much a chance of hitting one.”

That love came after Stroman threw seven shutout innings — in his third start after returning from that freaky ACL tear — to lead the Jays to a key 4-0 victory against the Yankees that put them up 3.5 games in the AL East with 10 games left in September 2015. As Kennedy wrote, “Stroman lives for the big moments, to pitch in the limelight, and [that win] was the latest one for him and the Jays.”

Or as his manager that year — and new Mets bench coach — John Gibbons, said, “It was really the perfect game for him to be pitching. It was a big game, a big game, and he came through.”

Let’s hope Stro gets those opportunities again to take the ball for the Yankees in meaningful baseball games this October.