Chicago Cubs 2023 Season Preview: Starting pitcher Marcus Stroman
Welcome back to more season previews as we venture into an outlook for Cubs frontline starter Marcus Stroman. In 2022, it was a season of mostly ups, with sporadic extreme downs mixed in when he didn't have it. Overall, Stroman had a solid debut season in a Cubs uniform. For what it's worth, he is on a potential contract year in '23, given his player option for the following year.
Not that you "try harder" than you otherwise would, but let's try to keep in mind that Stroman, with any solid season this coming year, will be looking to secure an extravagant payday next winter while he is still in his prime. Let's dive in and take a look at what's expected for this coming season, followed by a review of 2022 and how he can find more success than what the projections show for 2023:
2023 Fangraphs ZiPS projections: 3.58 ERA, 9-8 record, 150 IP, 2.3 WAR
Baseball Reference 2023 projections: 3.43 ERA, 7-9 record, 147 IP
These are pretty fair projections. Given the 3.50 ERA we saw in 138.2 frames in 2022, it's essential to understand why the numbers were what they were. His 2022 campaign was better than it appeared on paper.
For those who remember, Stroman had one outing on June 3rd, giving up nine earned runs over 4.0 IP. This stint led to an IL trip, which he returned on July 9th. If you want to speak in "could haves," Stroman's season ERA was drastically inflated because of this one outing. Where he gave up 54 earned runs on the season, let's do some quick sample math here. Removing the game where Stroman got hurt, meaning the 4.0 IP and nine earned from his season, adjusts his ERA to a career-best 3.01.
Upon returning from the IL, once he got back into his groove over two starts, Stroman recorded three straight quality starts. He also finished the year exceptionally strong, notching five QSs in his last six starts and a 2.61 ERA and 31.0 IP in September to close the season.
From a what worked and what didn't perspective, let's take a look at Stroman's pitch arsenal from 2022:
Sinker: 40.17 %, .226/.321/.355
Slider: 26.27%, .210/.228/.331
Cutter: 12.10%, .254/.262/.476
Splitter: 11.92%, .290/.286/.403
Four-seamer: 9.40%, .220/.273/.415
Curveball: 0.14%, 1.000/1.000/2.000
Overall, not a whole lot to complain about. Notably, Stroman lowered his splitter by 5% from 2021. His line on Splitters in '21 was much more successful at .209/.231/.330, as he threw the pitch 443 times compared to 260 in '22. Elsewhere, his four-seam fastball utilization spiked nearly 7% in 2022, and he found much more success this past season than in '21 when he allowed a line of .286/.375/.357.
Chicago Cubs: What can Stroman do to continue finding success?
Mixing up the percentages for which you utilize your pitches will always be a great way to keep hitters guessing. Stroman regaining a feel for his splitter in 2023 is one way he can further dominate at the top of the Cubs' pitching staff. He won't blow you away with a heater that averaged just 92.4 mph this past season, but it's the perfect pitch to steal a strike when batters are never expecting it.
Saying Stroman's injury game caused his spike in ERA is more just an observation and not a foretelling of what he would have been otherwise. However, given his 2.71 ERA in the second half last season, it's easy to believe that his numbers would have been much lower. The key now is to keep the ball on the ground, which he did at a 51.7% clip, according to Fangraphs in 2022.
Of course, the biggest key to success will be staying healthy. His 138.2 innings in '22 lead the Cubs, even with needing a month off for an IL stint. In the past, Stroman notched 204.0 IP in 2016, 201.0 in 2017, 184.1 in 2019, and 179.0 in 2021. The workhorse mentality is there if he stays healthy, and it has been those types of longevity seasons in which he has seen his best years. Finding himself with an ERA in the lower 3.00s, as he has multiple times in the past, is critical for the Cubs' success in 2023.