Making Sense of the Decision to Start Marcus Stroman Over Francisco Liriano

It may not have been the popular decision, but the Blue Jays felt it was the right decision to send Marcus Stroman to the hill over Francisco Liriano.

Since the Blue Jays burned through their most coveted starters over the weekend, they were left with only limited options for who would start the Wild Card game: Marcus Stroman on regular rest, Francisco Liriano on extra rest or Marco Estrada on short rest.

If given the choice, Marcus Stroman may not have been my decision, but I can definitely see how the Blue Jays arrived at that decision. While the numbers dictated that the lefty Liriano should start against an Orioles lineup which struggled against left-handers this season, it wasn’t solely a numbers based decision.



It Keeps Liriano in the Bullpen as a Mid-to-late Game Reliever

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays haven’t had a viable left-handed reliever for most of the season. The roller coaster season of Brett Cecil coupled with the lack of a second lefty has often handcuffed the Blue Jays.

As much sense as it makes to start Francisco Liriano out of the gate against the Orioles, it might serve the Blue Jays better to hold him back for those mid-to-late game situations. If things start to go south for Stroman, Liriano could be the “break in case of emergency” reliever.

And with the memory of that go-ahead home run by Hyun Soo Kim fresh in their minds, surely the Blue Jays don’t want to be in a late-game situation where they don’t have a reliable lefty out of the bullpen.

Better to save Francisco Liriano for later to help play match-ups rather than burn him for four or five innings out of the gate and then try to figure out how to weave around the Orioles’ left-handers with only Brett Cecil left in the bullpen.

With Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez, Michael Bourn, Hyun Soo Kim and Ryan Flaherty as left-handed batters for the Orioles, the Blue Jays need a southpaw to neutralize the Orioles’ lefties; preferably one who can throw multiple innings.

That sounds like Francisco Liriano to me.


The Familiarity Factor

This is the most subjective reason of all, but I think there may be a fair of the unknown with starting Francisco Liriano in a winner-take-all game. With Marcus Stroman, at least John Gibbons has seen what Stroman’s capable in an elimination game.


The coaching staff is familiar Marcus Stroman’s warning signs; they may not be privy to knowing when Francisco Liriano is about to go off the rails.

There seems to be a loyalty factor with Marcus Stroman; a pitcher who’s been there and done it last year in the playoffs. But Francisco Liriano just came into the organization at the trade deadline. Even Ross Atkins himself shared this sentiment:

“Marcus has been on this team from day one and Francisco wasn’t. You can imagine what that pressure would be for someone like Francisco where the entire season hangs on one game. Just the fact that Marcus has been s part of this all year seemed to edge him slightly out ahead.”


Stroman Has Gone Deeper Into Games

Although Marcus Stroman has experienced an up-and-down season, on average, he’s pitched deeper into games than Francisco Liriano. Stroman averaged 6.4 innings per start this year compared to Liriano’s 5.9 innings.

Liriano certainly has the upper hand in terms of quality of starts, but Stroman has thrown at least six innings in 11 of his past 13 starts. At most, Liriano has been a six-and-split starting pitcher for the Blue Jays.



Stroman Could Save the Bullpen

This is kind of a continuation of the prior reason, but if ever there was a time for a Blue Jays starting pitcher to pick up their first complete game of the season, today would be it – and Marcus Stroman would be the guy to do it.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen has been heavily taxed as of late, and if given the choice, I’m sure John Gibbons would prefer to skip middle-relief altogether and give the ball to Roberto Osuna to close things out.

If Francisco Liriano were to start the Wild Card game, regardless of how well he throws, it’s highly unlikely he pitches beyond the seventh inning. Marcus Stroman on the other hand, has the shown the ability to throw into the seventh and eighth inning.


Third Time Through the Order

The third time through the order is a razor’s edge, but especially for Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano. Surprisingly, Stroman’s numbers third time through the order are slightly better than Liriano’s.

Stroman 32 249 236 37 67 13 1 14 13 48 3.69 0.284 0.321 0.525 0.847
Liriano 29 193 157 37 51 10 1 11 29 37 1.28 0.325 0.435 0.611 1.047

Neither of these splits are great, but if you had to let one of these guys go into the fifth or sixth inning, I would give the slight edge to Marcus Stroman here. It’s a dangerous game no matter which starter you choose, but Stroman might be the slightly safer bet.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.