More than a quarter of the way through the baseball season, the Blue Zone checks in on some Duke graduates playing professional ball:
Marcus Stroman, P, Chicago Cubs
Following a stint on the COVID injured list, the sole Blue Devil in the majors has come back strong. Stroman has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his three starts since returning to the active roster, including seven shutout innings against the White Sox across town, bringing his ERA to a solid 3.95.
This is an encouraging sight, as batters seemed to have Stroman’s number in April. Opposing hitters have a 48.8% hard hit rate against the 2019 All-Star this year, a significant increase from last year’s 42.0%, a figure that puts him in the league’s bottom 8% according to Baseball Savant. His ground ball rate has also decreased to 43.2%, the lowest of his career. Duke and Cubs fans will hope that he can continue to improve on these numbers to buoy a Chicago team that sits ahead of only the Cincinnati Reds, whose historically horrendous start sank them to the bottom of the National League Central.
Griffin Conine, OF, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Miami Marlins Class-AA affiliate)
To put it lightly, Conine faced some difficulty at the AA and A+ levels managing his strikeout numbers last season. The No. 26 prospect in the Marlins’ organization had the most K’s of any Minor League player at any level in 2021, with an astounding 185 strikeouts in 461 plate appearances. He has improved in that area this season, as his strikeout rate is down from 47.4% last year to 37.1% in his 37 games played so far this year.
In his 159 plate appearances, Conine has also boosted his on-base percentage and has tallied 29 RBIs, more than he did at the AA level last year in fewer chances. Defensively, he holds a perfect fielding percentage in left and right field.
James Marvel, P, Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Philadelphia Phillies Class-AAA affiliate)
Marvel signed as a free agent with the IronPigs in March, departing the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time since he was drafted in 2015. He has struggled mightily so far this year, as his ERA stands at 9.68 after nine starts.
He might be experiencing a particular bout of unfortunate circumstances, however. Marvel’s opponents have a batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .404, meaning a ball launched into the field has resulted in a hit 40.4% of the time. An average BABIP for a professional pitcher is usually around .300. Marvel’s rate is far and away the highest for all pitchers in AAA, with at least 30 innings pitched according to FanGraphs. As the season progresses, batters will probably get less lucky in terms of how many balls they connect with versus how many result in hits. If this holds true, Marvel’s numbers will likely improve in turn as long as his stuff keeps improving.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.