How Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman delivered WBC title for USA

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·MLB Writer
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WBC, MLB, Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman
Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman was an outstanding performer at the World Baseball Classic. (Peter Joneleit/Cal Sport Med/REX/Shutterstock)

When Team USA won its first-ever World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night, that victory belonged to Marcus Stroman more than anyone else. As he took home the WBC’s MVP award, it’s fair to say that nobody on the American squad felt hard done by.

The 25-year-old right-hander was absolutely outstanding against Puerto Rico in the finals. He took a no-hitter into the seventh and ultimately conceded just one hit through six plus innings with no runs allowed on 73 pitches. Although Stroman struck out only three hitters, he overpowered a lineup featuring young stars like Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, and a wily veteran contingent consisting of Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Angel Pagan.

How exactly did Stroman rise to the occasion to spin such a gem on the highest international stage? More than anything else, he kept it simple.

While Stroman is known for a diverse repertoire and a willingness to mix it up, his bread and butter is pounding the bottom third of the zone with his two-seam fastball. On Wednesday, that tactic wasn’t just his bread and butter – it was also his appetizer, entrée and dessert.

Of his 73 offerings, the Blue Jays starter went with 53 two-seamers – a rate of 72.6 percent. In 61 major-league starts (including playoffs), Stroman has never relied on that pitch so often. The results against Puerto Rico speak for themselves as he induced 11 ground ball outs and allowed only one fly ball.

From the first inning on it was clear he was going to ride the low fastball all night. In the opening frame, he threw nine pitches to Pagan, Lindor, and Correa. Every single one was a fastball and their locations looked like this:

Pagan:

Lindor:

Correa:

Stroman unsurprisingly got three ground ball outs and was off to the races. He went with what was working and rode that formula to the win.

That said, he wasn’t entirely a one note. He showed a willingness to surprise hitters with a little high heat – which he used to set down Enrique Hernandez in the fourth.

He also sprinkled in enough breaking balls to keep the Puerto Rican hitters honest, and snapped off a downright dastardly slider to get Javier Baez in the second inning.

Nothing Stroman did Wednesday was novel or out of character, he was simply the best version of himself. When he’s on, he pounds the zone with extraordinary efficiency and collects harmless ground balls with ease in lieu of piling up strikeouts.

That’s exactly what he did against Puerto Rico and now the United States has its first-ever WBC win to show for it.