MLB.com Columnist

Mike Petriello

Efficient Stroman on the mark in opening gem

Blue Jays righty sets career high with 75 percent of pitches in strike zone

Efficient Stroman on the mark in opening gem

It's only one start, but Marcus Stroman clearly has a new plan for 2016: Throw strikes.

Of the 98 pitches Stroman threw while working into the ninth inning in Toronto's 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday, 74 were in the strike zone, making for a 75 percent zone rate. Now compare that to what he did in 2014 (averaging 53.1 percent in the zone) and '15 (54.7 percent after returning from knee surgery), and you can see that '16 is off to a markedly different start.

Actually, we can do better than that. This is the 24th game of Stroman's career where he's made at least 50 pitches, and never once before Sunday had he managed to deliver a higher percentage of them in the zone. (In 2014, he threw 75 strikes against Boston, but required 115 pitches to do it.) That's how you get into the ninth on just 98 pitches, you get straight to business.

Of course, that's only a good thing if you're getting the kind of contact you want, and while Stroman did allow four balls hit at over 100 mph, per Statcast™, only Corey Dickerson's ninth-inning homer (102.3 mph) really hurt him. Otherwise, relying largely on his sinker, which we saw 45 times, Stroman kept getting the Rays to hit weak grounder after weak grounder -- 17 of them, in fact, only two of which went for hits.

Stroman Ks from Opening Day

That Stroman struck out only five hitters makes it seem like he wasn't missing very many bats, but that has a lot more to do with the offensive strategy of the Rays. Fifteen of the 27 Tampa Bay hitters he saw went right after the first pitch, partially because they were often in the zone, and partially because we're learning that in the age of flame-throwing dominant bullpens, being aggressive is increasingly a winning strategy.

While the idea is a good one, it only matters if you can execute, and with Stroman continually throwing moving two-seamers at the knees, the Rays couldn't. As we saw last year, Stroman's evolving into a ground-ball pitcher, jumping from a 53.8 percent grounder rate in 2014 to 64.1 percent after his return in '15. On Sunday? 80.9 percent.

So perhaps we're seeing a new Stroman, but perhaps we already saw the beginnings of that late last season. If Sunday was any indication, that Stroman is here to stay. That Stroman is going to throw strikes, get grounders … and generally force offenses to do something about it. On Sunday, Tampa Bay didn't.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.