It’s conventional wisdom that, often, the best way to teach is by modeling. The quickest way to undermine one’s own dispensed wisdom is by saying one thing and doing another.
In Marcus Stroman’s case, he has effectively used his first year with the Cubs to make a positive impression on the younger members of the pitching staff. Not always with what he tells them, but more often because they watch and learn from what he is modeling.
“You don’t even have to ask questions, you just go out there and watch him throw,” Keegan Thompson told CHGO. “Just pay attention to how he goes about his business and you learn a lot about how to set your routine [and] make sure you’re getting all your work in every single day.”
That’s one of the most important parts of what a baseball player does. The performance on the field, the stats, the win-loss record is all a byproduct of the work that gets done in the hours and days before and after each game.
“I’m someone who never gives up regardless of if I’ve had ten bad starts or ten great ones,” Stroman said. “I’m truly adapting and changing and working in between each and every start.”
In the early going this season, Stroman nearly had ten bad starts. He had a 5.32 ERA after giving up nine runs in four innings against the Cardinals on June 3, his ninth start of the year. At that point in the season, the Cubs were 22-30 and 10 games behind first place. Stroman went on the injured list a few days later with right shoulder inflammation.
Stroman returned on July 9, and in his 15 starts since then, he posted a 2.56 ERA. In his last three starts at Wrigley, culminating with six scoreless innings in a 8-1 win over the Reds on Sunday, Stroman had a 0.90 ERA. In roughly the same stretch — since the All-Star break — the Cubs have gone 38-29. They are on a seven-game winning streak going into the final series of the season and have lost just two games in their last four series dating back to September 19. It might be too little, too late in the grand scheme of things, but the Cubs have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the break and even more so in the last month.
Not all of it is Stroman’s doing, of course, but he has helped the starting staff put together a 2.95 ERA since the All-Star break. That’s the third-lowest ERA in the majors in the second half, and a big part of why the Cubs have done so well. In that starting group is Hayden Wesneski, who has slotted into the rotation behind Stroman since making his first big league start on Sept. 17. Wesneski has a 2.33 ERA through five appearances, including his three starts.
“[Stroman is] what you shoot for in the starting-pitcher role,” Wesneski told CHGO. “I watch him go through his routine, he’s always moving and doing stuff. You don’t ever see him just sitting at his locker. He knows what he has to do to get ready for the game, and that’s an art in itself.”
Wesneski watches Stroman’s starts very closely because they have similar repertoires and because he’s been taking the bump the day after. Wesneski said he uses Stroman’s approach to teams to help him build his game plan, sometimes confirming how he would approach certain hitters based on what Stroman does.
After Stroman threw seven one-run innings against the Phillies on Tuesday, Wesneski said he rewatched the whole outing before his start to study how Stroman had attacked Philadelphia. He tossed five one-run innings against the Phillies the next day.
Similarly, Thompson said he has learned from Stroman’s pitch sequencing and approach to hitters. For example, things like holding off on showing a slider or curveball in certain counts early in a start.
“Learning when to stay away from certain pitches and when to use certain pitches and how to go about those type of sequences has been big,” Thompson said.
Those are the granular details that help young pitchers grow. But both Thompson and Wesneski spoke most to the way Stroman’s work ethic has influenced how they prepare themselves for each start.
“When he was on rehab, he was in the weight room all day trying to get back to perform,” Thompson said. “Seeing those kinds of things, I think that’s something all the younger guys can take advantage of and learn from.”
“That rubs off, and it’s a great example,” manager David Ross said of Stroman’s influence. “When you have guys like that, it makes my life and our coaches’ lives so much easier, because you have the guy who’s got the contract, making the money, setting the right example for championship baseball and what you need to do every day.”
Ross said Stroman’s easygoing demeanor can bely his intensity.
“He’s in here working, and he’s very casual and very laid back, and his presence seems very chill,” he said. “[But] there’s not a person that throws a more intense bullpen than Marcus Stroman. There’s not a guy that’s more intentional about his weight room routine than Marcus Stroman.”
There are not many long-tenured Cubs in the locker room these days, and especially not on the pitching staff. With Kyle Hendricks away from the team since early July, the veteran leaders among the pitchers have by default become guys like Stroman.
“It’s awesome that I’ve naturally, organically grown into that role, because I’m someone who works extremely hard,” Stroman said. “I’m not someone who this has ever come easy for.”
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