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Chris Stratton didn’t break out, but he didn’t break down, either

Stratton showed flashes of brilliance, but the stuff in between was forgettable.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants
He got himself a Buster Nick Hundley hug!
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Stat Line

145 IP, 5.09 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 112 SO, 54 BB, 19 HR, 0.6 fWAR

Before the season began, I was convinced Chris Stratton was poised for a breakout. He had shown some promise in 2017, pitching to a 3.68 ERA in 58 2/3 innings and his curveball was virtually unhittable. Hitters slugged just .125 against his curve in 2017, and the secret, or it was said, was that his bendy boy had one of the highest spin rates in the majors. Stratton’s 2018 Baseball Prospectus Annual entry read:

RPMs aren’t everything, but… the former first-rounder’s most effective offering composed just under one-fifth of an otherwise average mix, and there isn’t an obvious reason for him to be on a 20-80 diet. If an offseason of poring over the data produces the anticipated adjustment, Stratton might be a breakout candidate at the back of the rotation this year.

If Stratton just threw his curve more often, he would take a huge step forward. It worked for Lance McCullers Jr., and throwing his slider more often wound up working for Patrick Corbin. But Stratton threw fewer hooks in 2018, not more. He went from throwing it 19 percent of the time to just 15 percent. And it wasn’t just that he didn’t throw as many, the pitch was less effective for him, too. Hitters slugged .436 against it in 2018.

So yes, RPMs aren’t everything. A high-spin curve is supposed to be good because they’re generally better at inducing ground balls. Stratton’s curve actually allows more fly balls than the average pitcher. Seth Lugo, who likewise throws a high-spin curve gets 57 percent ground balls compared to just 16 percent flies. Throughout his career, Stratton has gotten just 43 percent grounders and 24 percent flies.

Still, his curve remains his best secondary pitch and arguably his best pitch overall. That might not mean that he should go full McCullers and just start throwing nothing but breaking balls.

Role on the 2018 Team

Stratton earned a starting job coming out of Spring Training, but he eventually lost it to Andrew Suárez and Dereck Rodríguez. Fortunately for Stratton, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija couldn’t stay healthy, so it didn’t matter if he was the sixth or seventh best starter on the team. He was going to start anyway.

Stratton, though, showed glimpses of him breaking out. Back in April, he threw seven innings in consecutive games, allowing just one run combined. He threw eight shutout innings against the Diamondbacks at the end of August. He was the only Giants pitcher to throw a complete game shutout.

Role on the 2019 Team

Stratton will be on the major league roster in one form or another assuming Farhan Zaidi’s GM doesn’t trade him for Domingo Santana or something. Stratton will have to fight for a spot in the rotation assuming the Giants add another starter. He’s a fine depth option especially for a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth.

Final Grade: B-

Ending the season with an ERA over 5.00 (even if FIP says he was a little unlucky) should put him in the C/C- range, but the complete shutout bumped him up. Stratton may not have become the pitcher I thought he was going to be back in March, but he was still pretty good. Most of the time.