Pirates from A to Z: Chris Stratton embraced the adrenaline rush of the high-leverage role

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During the offseason, the Tribune-Review will offer Pirates from A to Z: a ​​player-by-player alphabetical overview of the 40-player roster, from outfielder Anthony Alford to pitcher Miguel Yajure.

Player: Chris Stratton

Position: Launcher

Throws: Law

Bats: Law

Age: 31

Height: 6 feet 2 inches

Weight: 205 pounds

MLB 2021 statistics: Stratton was 7-1 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.298 WHIP and eight saves in 79 1/3 innings in 68 appearances.

Contract: Stratton earned $ 1.1 million last season and is expected to double his salary in his second year of officiating.

Acquired: In a Los Angeles Angels exchange for cash consideration in May 2019.

Last season: Stratton transformed from starting pitcher to multiple innings reliever when the Pirates asked him to shorten his workload but increase the intensity of his job description.

After starting 36 of 48 games for the San Francisco Giants and five of seven for the Angels, Stratton was thriving as an intermediate reliever. He played 13 multiple innings, including 3 2/3 perfect innings to complete a 9-2 win over the Miami Marlins on June 4 in his first save in nearly four years. Then the Pirates blew up their enclosure at the trade deadline, distributing Clay Holmes to the New York Yankees, Austin Davis to the Boston Red Sox and closer Richard Rodriguez to the Atlanta Braves.

Suddenly Stratton was pushed into a highly leveraged role. He alternated with David Bednar in the closest role, finishing 18 games and getting eight saves.

“It’s a lot more fun,” Stratton said. “The match is in play, the ball is handed to you and you will win the final. It’s a ton of fun. It definitely keeps me young – or makes me age, I don’t know. But it’s a lot of fun.

Stratton’s success can be attributed to the development of his breakout throws and his ability to get ahead of the scoring. The focus was on his curveball during the offseason, as Stratton worked with pitching coach Oscar Marin and reliever coach Justin Meccage to change the grip of his curveball so that it looks less like a two-seam fastball and instead reflects the four-seam he throws on 48.4% of his throws.

With elite spin rates on both his fastball (2610 rpm) and curve (3123), Stratton reduced his slider usage from 26.7% in 2020 to 13.6% a last season and kicked the curve more often. It became a more efficient pitch, as did the slider, which drew a 36.1% puff rate.

“What I think that says about him is that he has the ability to take shots,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton. “Sometimes you talk about a guy that’s a rookie and then you move him to the bullpen and they find their niche. I think he did a good job finding his place there.

Shelton ranked Stratton alongside Gold Glove wide receiver Jacob Stallings as one of the clubhouse’s top leaders. Marin called him the leader of a young pitching team, given how Stratton embraced the move from a multi-innings reliever to a high-leverage role.

“It really makes someone better,” Marin said. “I think with him, you saw later in leverage situations, his speed increased. I think he embraces all situations when it comes to him, and who doesn’t like getting into leverage situations at the end of a game to set it up or shut it down? I think that’s part of his mentality, at the start of his career he was the starter, and now coming into the relief core I don’t think he wants anything other than to finish a game or to finish a game. ‘help someone finish a match.

Where Stratton found comfort in keeping a routine, a change in his new role required a significant adjustment.

“I’m used to going out of the field and in there, instead of staying there,” Stratton said of being a closer. “The first time around, I was like, ‘Oh, I have to shake hands with Stalls and (Michael) Perez at the end of the game.'”

One of Stratton’s best moments came in a 2-1 win over the Marlins on September 17, when he gave up a starting triple to Bryan De La Cruz to start the ninth. Stratton hit Jesus Sanchez on a fastball at 94 mph and swung Lewis Brinson three straight curve balls, then intentionally made Lewin Diaz walk to put the winning run on base.

Stratton recovered from a 2-0 count to eliminate Payton Henry – who doubled in the fifth – on a curved ball into the dirt for the save.

“It’s a testament to who he is, the way he works and the way he runs his business,” said Pirates starter Wil Crowe. “Whatever situation he’s in, he’s a guy for us that he’s dominating, and he knows what he’s trying to do. He’s got his plan in place, and he’s executing with the best of them. What he did, it shows a lot of who he is and what kind of person he is and what kind of characters he has. It was important for Strat there. It was great to see.

Whatever his role, Stratton employs the same strategy: one pitch at a time. Go on the attack.

“To be honest, I love to play baseball. I like being able to make the manager trust me in any situation, sooner or later, ”Stratton said. “I like to throw in the back half. I enjoyed starting. It’s probably off the table now. Every time the ball is given to me, that’s what I try to do: get out and out. That’s it.”

The future: As counterintuitive as Stratton initially appeared, he thrived on the opportunity and thrived in the role. This only made him more valuable to the Pirates, who now have the option of using Stratton as a mid-inning workhorse or as an end-of-inning plug for a transitional reliever pen.

Pirates appreciate versatility and his leadership is a bonus. For Stratton, the new role only added to his adrenaline and strengthened his love for the game.

“The game is on, the ball is handed to you and you are going to win the final,” Stratton said. “It’s a ton of fun. It definitely keeps me young – or makes me age, I don’t know. But it’s a lot of fun.

Kevin Gorman is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .



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