Marcus Stroman’s Struggles to Adjust During Game Seem to Contradict Initial Pitch Clock Strategy

Marcus Stroman said during spring training that he had plans to use the pitch clock to his advantage, though he remained understandably mum about exactly what he had up his sleeve. Maybe it was like how Willson Contreras did all kinds of preparation and just never told the club about it, a practice that appears to be continuing in St. Louis. Or perhaps it’s a matter of reality not quite following the blueprint.

“Yeah I got some things coming,” Stroman told reporters back in February. “I’m not gonna show any of them. But yeah, I’m definitely gonna manipulate it and use it to my favor for sure. There’s some things we were talking about right when I came out of the game today.

“If they’re gonna make us rush, I’m gonna find a way to kinda be me out there, no matter what. Something that I truly don’t even worry about. I feel like you just have to go out there and attack and the whole pitching clock thing is kind of in the back of your head.”

Everything was working well through his first four starts, then the righty was touched up by the Dodgers for five runs on three homers. Three strong outings followed before Sunday’s stinker in Minneapolis that saw Stroman fail to complete three innings as the Twins lambasted his offerings for six runs on seven hits.

He admitted after the game that it was a matter of not being able to get to where he wanted to be mechanically, an issue that was exacerbated by the very clock he planned to leverage.

“It’s got to be more in between innings now,” Stroman explained. “You can’t really make many adjustments out there between because, like you said, the pitch clock. So, just got to be dialed in mechanically, to be honest with you. Can’t really step off and readjust in-game. You kind of have to focus on in between starts and dialing in then.”

For the time being, I’m going to chalk this up to a hiccup that will be alleviated in time for his next appearance against the Phillies. He just needs to hold his breath and remain totally motionless for 30 seconds. Or drink a glass of water. Or experience a jump-scare. Or stare at a fixed spot with full concentration for a period of time. But unlike any of those remedies, this may not be a simple fix.

While I agree that the pitch clock places even more emphasis on planning and execution between starts and innings, the trouble there is that you can’t necessarily replicate in-game mechanical issues. Say everything is perfect for four days and then something crops up in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Regardless of increased diligence in prep work, adjustments are still going to need to be made on the fly.

Stroman’s a cerebral pitcher and the Cubs have an excellent coaching staff around him, so I have no doubt they’re already hard at work on a plan. That said, I wonder if keeping things super basic and implementing a little mantra or some other mental cue might help. Many things that manifest physically as mechanical issues are actually mental in nature, and it’s easier to correct a thought pattern on the fly.

Actually thinking about the problem(s) is rarely the best way to find a fix because it keeps an athlete from being what performance coach Jason Goldsmith calls their “most playful, athletic self.” The key is to remain in the doing brain as much as possible, which is undoubtedly more difficult with the pitch clock ticking because there’s less time to toggle between thought and action.

Though it’s far from perfect to comp a youth pitcher’s bullpen to what Stroman explained above, I do see parallels that could be worthwhile. My son hadn’t thrown from a mound in roughly a month due to a shoulder impingement, and his first round of 15 fastballs was very rough as a result. Not only was his velocity down, but he was all over the place location-wise and threw just four strikes. When asked about it, he said he kept trying to make adjustments and couldn’t get the right feel.

After taking a short break to recalibrate, we focused on just getting down the mound and throwing hard. The result was 14 of 18 pitches for strikes while throwing with several different grips, which came from one simple line of instruction that had nothing to do with any specific fixes. The body knows where it wants to be, especially when said body is as finely tuned as Stroman’s, so it’s just a matter of helping it to get there.

I’m not naive enough to posit that it’s a matter of Stroman repeating a few words to himself before each pitch, but I don’t think that’s a bad idea. The point is to keep him from actually thinking about whatever the fix might be, if that makes sense. Think between starts and in the dugout, then let the doing brain take over between pitches.

Whether Stroman incorporates something similar is certainly up to him, but I’d recommend these cues to anyone working with youth pitchers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids back way off when they throw breaking or offspeed stuff because their thinking brain — which we call Self 1 around here — tells them the pitch is supposed to be slower or because they think they have to aim it. So they end up telegraphing their pitches and/or pulling them out of the zone.

If they just tell themselves to get down the mound and go hard, a lot of their issues will iron themselves out in the process. I guarantee this will work or your money back. I believe Stroman will get settled as well, I just don’t have enough money to make any promises on that front.

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