After being designated for assignment by the Angels last May, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Chris Stratton who’s been a nice diamond in the rough find for the team.
Up until that point, Stratton hadn’t done anything of significance. In the three seasons prior, Stratton served as a swing man for the San Francisco Giants. Through 213.2 innings, Stratton only had a 4.63 ERA, 4.36 FIP and 1.45 WHIP. The ERA predictors only painted a worse picture with a 4.49 xFIP and 4.76 SIERA.
Stratton struggled with control as he walked 9.4% of the batters he faced and put up a sub-par strikeout rate of 18.3%. The Angles had acquired Stratton in March of 2019, and the results were not there. He only pitched 29.1 innings with the Halos, and gave up 28 earned runs on six home runs, 18 walks and 43 hits. That led up to his DFA in early May.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, who at the time had lost both Keone Kela, and staff ace Jameson Taillon to injury, decided to claim the right handed pitcher. Though Stratton did not start any games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the results were better than before, albeit not great. Stratton mainly worked as a long relief man pitching 46.2 innings in 28 games. Overall, he had a solid 3.66 ERA, 4.11 FIP and 1.38 WHIP. However, his strikeout rate jumped to 23.5%, and had a walk rate of 7.5%. Though his home runs were still a bit worrisome with 1.4 HR/9, which overall was still league average. In terms of ERA estimators, he wasn’t doing anything special with a 4.21 xFIP, 4.04 SIERA and 4.55 DRA.
But the Pirates had claimed him for a reason. Stratton’s curveball had a lot of spin, and I mean a lot. Only two other players, that being Lucas Sims and Ryan Presley, had a higher spin rate on their curve. Overall it had over 3000 RPM at 3107. With 16.9 inches of horizontal movement on the pitch and slightly below league average drop to it, Stratton’s curveball could be a real weapon.
His slider also had a lot of spin to it as well. He could put 2922 RPM on the pitch. Stratton’s slider had 40.1 inches of vertical and 6.4 inches of horizontal movement making it one of the top sliders in baseball in 2019.
Finally, there was his four seam fastball. It ranked in the top 93rd percentile of spin rate with an outstanding 2498 RPM. It was really comparable to Sonny Gray’s fastball. Though Gray threw it slightly harder, Stratton had more movement and spin. His fastball also had more spin than Walker Buehler’s, Trevor Bauer’s, and Lance Lynn.
Stratton obviously possessed a good arsenal. Plus, when you look at his opponent batting average on balls in play, it was a bit of an unlucky mark at .349. The league average mark was just .296. Stratton was overall average in terms of hard contact and soft contact, so it wasn’t like he was constantly giving up loud hits.
He also had an overall 88.4 MPH exit velocity, very close to the league average mark of 88.2. But with the spin rates on his pitches, and the movement he can put on them as well, Stratton had the making to be more than just an average long relief guy and swingman.
So far this year, Stratton has been outstanding. Entering play on Saturday he had pitched 6.1 innings, posting a 2.84 ERA, 2.24 FIP and 0.79 WHIP. It is a small sample size, but he has been showing obvious improvements and while is getting more strikeouts with a 30.4% K rate. But it’s his batted ball results that have been really impressive.
Stratton has induced soft contact 23.1% of the time, with an identical hard hit rate. Stratton has seen his opponent exit velocity drop by over 4 MPH to 84.1 MPH. His curveball still sits in the 3000+ RPM range, but it’s his fastball that has seen a lot of improvement. Stratton is throwing it a little harder. Last year, it had an average velocity of 92.2 MPH, and that now sits at 93 MPH. But his spin rate went from 2498 RPM in 2019 to 2599 RPM.
All of his stats are trending in the right direction. Baseball Savant has him with a .178 xBA, which is nearly 100 points lower than what it was in 2019. His xSLG currently sits at .290 and his wOBA is at .166. All of them are in the top 8% of the league or better.
Luckily for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stratton is under contract for the next three seasons through arbitration. Seeing as the team could be ready to compete again in 2023, Chris Stratton might play a role in the formation of the Shark Tank 2.0.