What’s happening in the borough of Queens right now isn’t something that we’ve seen before.
Two young, Black, starting pitchers putting together dominant seasons on the same staff.
Think about it…in the entirety of Major League Baseball history, only 15 Black starters have ever won 20 games in a season. Of those, only seven have walked away with a Cy Young award.
So, when you see Marcus Stroman (4-4, 2.66 ERA) and Tijauan Walker (4-2, 2.17) continuing to carry the battered New York Mets, you’re watching history.
Melanated Mound Marauders
The Mets are still holding on to first place in the National League East, 3.5 games up on the second-place Braves, and the only team in the division with a winning record. They’ve done this despite having more people on the injured list than in the dugout at times, and an offense that sits near the bottom of the NL in home runs, and ranks dead last in runs batted in.
But on the mound, New York has dominated. Their 3.19 staff ERA trails only the San Diego Padres. No one has had a bigger impact on those impressive pitching numbers than Stroman and Walker, two of the three Mets hurlers who have made at least 10 starts this season.
They are tied with Jacob deGrom for the team lead in wins (4), and their names can be found across the pitching leaderboards.
Both rank in the National League’s Top 20 in earned run average and innings pitched. They carry matching 1.06 WHIP ratings and between them, batters are hitting a combined .221.
Another rising Black star, Jack Flaherty, is probably the early front-runner for Cy Young honors, but no pair of pitchers have had to shoulder a bigger burden than Stroman and Walker.
The timing of their mutual ascensions couldn’t be better.
Marcus Stroman Gambles On Himself
Stroman faced doubts after opting out of the 2020 season. During his time away from the daily grind of the season, he made himself a better pitcher, adding a split changeup to his repertoire. Utilizing his splitter in tandem with his sinker, he’s been able to keep batters from squaring up and off the bases, even without the high strikeout numbers that have permeated all of baseball.
Marcus Stroman, Sick 88mph Split Change…and K Strut. ? pic.twitter.com/mtGGXAQ94m
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 2, 2021
Stro has matured as well; something he spoke about before the season began.
“I’m the kind of person who is always working on myself as well,” he told Metsmerized Online. “Whether it be my self-care, whether it be my mind, whether it be my breathing, I’m always trying to improve. Not only in the field, but in life.”
That improved mental toughness showed when deGrom went down with an injury. Stroman picked up the slack and then some. In 11 starts, he’s given up more than three runs only twice.
One of baseball’s smallest pitchers in stature, he’s also been able to eat innings and protect the New York bullpen, going at least six innings nine times.
Tai-Walking On These Haters
Walker has been a much bigger surprise. He’s already won as many games this season as he had in the last three seasons combined. Injuries robbed him of some precious development time just when he appeared to be tapping into his potential.
The curve of his career was bending towards success, with an earned run average that has decreased from 4.56 in 2015 to 2.17 this year.
But, after a 2017 campaign that saw him go 9-9 in 28 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he tore the UCL in his right elbow and, after Tommy John surgery, was only able to make four starts over the next two years.
After starting the year with the Seattle Mariners, Walker rounded into shape during the second half of last season. He was able to give the Toronto Blue Jays some solid outings and finished with a 2-1 record and 1.37 ERA in six appearances.
There wasn’t much of a market for him though, as teams were worried if he could be counted on as a rotation regular.
Before his own trip to the injured list, he was erasing all doubts.
Top-3 lowest wOBAs against a pitcher's 4-seam fastball this season (min. 50 PAs ending with a 4-seamer):
— Mathew Brownstein (@MBrownstein89) May 30, 2021
In his nine prior starts, he allowed more than three runs one time.
Over five starts in May, Walker went 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA. Opposing hitters were left flailing, batting .156 against him. His WHIP was an obscene 0.71.
Walker, like Stroman, doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff. He pitches. He changes locations and speeds and makes quick work of each lineup he faces.
History In The Making
Two unlikely heroes in Gotham have made the Mets exciting again.
If New York can regain its health, and find its offense, a division title could be forthcoming for the first time since 2015, when the Mets advanced to the World Series. Then, whoever the Mets face could have to deal with deGrom, Stroman, and Walker twice in a seven-game series.
Good luck with that. Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker are on the verge of something special, and quite possibly, historic.