The most surprising player transactions for the Marlins since new ownership took over in the fall of 2017: designating Nick Wittgren for assignment (then trading him for a minimal return); trading Zac Gallen straight up for Jazz Chisholm; and releasing Dan Straily on the eve of the 2019 season opener. The Wittgren move has already blown up in their faces. The Gallen-for-Chisholm swap is too soon to judge—both players remain under club control for at least the next six seasons and have flashed intriguing potential. As for Straily, that one could prove to be a win-win.
In 2018, the veteran right-hander began and finished the campaign on the injured list, and in between, he was less effective than usual (5.11 FIP, 0.0 fWAR in 122.1 IP). Yet he earned a substantial raise as an arbitration-eligible player, from $3.38 million to $5 million. Despite mediocre performance the following spring, Straily made it through fully healthy. The other main rotation candidates were very impressive in terms of both stuff and results. Good problem to have! The expectation was that the Marlins would juggle their staff surplus by optioning one of the younger arms to Triple-A, or in the case of Caleb Smith, easing him back from lat surgery with a precautionary stint on the injured list.
Instead, they opted for a complete youth movement...and cost savings. By cutting Straily prior to Opening Day, Miami owed him only 45 days’ worth of his salary (approx. $1.21 million). Without him, the starting rotation was the most encouraging unit on an otherwise terrible 2019 team. Meanwhile, the stunned 30-year-old latched on with the Orioles and couldn’t keep the ball in the yard (22 home runs allowed to 236 batters faced). His adjusted earned run average for the O’s is one of the worst on record for a major league pitcher this millennium (min. 40 IP). He spent the entire second half of the season at Triple-A and didn’t attract much interest on the MLB free agent market.
Eyeing an opportunity to re-establish himself as a starter, Straily inked a one-year deal in mid-December with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization. He is already becoming one of the main faces—and voices—of the league.
You can see that mechanically, he’s the same pitcher Marlins fans remember from 14 months ago:
But his success through two starts (12.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 15 K) has propelled Lotte to one of the best records in the KBO.
Heading into 2020, Straily told Craig Mish of Swings and Mishes that he was determined to improve upon his “Double-A” curveball. He adjusted his grip in the preseason with the help of a Korean teammate who was throwing that pitch consistently.
Straily has long had confidence in his fastball, slider and changeup, but he was essentially starting from scratch with this new weapon. During parts of eight MLB seasons, he never threw his curve more than 5% of the time.
That usage dropped even lower while Straily was on the Marlins. He recorded 269 regular strikeouts from 2017-2018, zero of them with curveballs!
What do you call the opposite of a putaway pitch?
Here is a rare example of Straily’s pre-KBO hook, from a 2019 spring tune-up against the Astros (his last televised Marlins appearance before being released):
New year, new league, new Straily:
Although the slider continues to be his primary breaking ball, Straily has now recorded a punchout with his curveball in back-to-back outings.
He spoke with Nick Pollack and Alex Fast on Pitcher List’s Talking Pitching podcast series about his thought process on the mound in the situation shown above:
“That was a heat-of-the-moment, ‘you’re not touching me’ type of thing. Like, ‘I don’t care what the catcher calls right here, you’re not touching me.’ You get that attitude on the mound.
“I think it’s why I pitch. It’s the adrenaline rush that you just feel invincible out there. I don’t think it would’ve really mattered what he would’ve put down—I was on a mission to strike that guy out.”
Catcher Bo-geun Jung deserves some credit here for being on the same wavelength as Straily and rapidly earning his trust. Together, they racked up 11 strikeouts on Sunday without issuing any walks. As a major leaguer, Straily has had only two career games like that, and the 26 swinging strikes from this masterpiece set an all-time personal best, he claims.
That being said, Straily has stopped short of fully reinventing himself. The “game plan resource” he used throughout the past several seasons, Codify, provides him the same scouting reports for KBO opponents. His fastball velocity is still below average by MLB standards, but he’s able to get away with more mistakes against admittedly inferior competition.
Thanks to their country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the KBO has an opportunity to play a full regular season this year. By the end of it, we should have mountains of data from Straily, as well as former Marlins pitchers Odrisamer Despaigne (KT Wiz) and Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos), to better gauge what they would be able to contribute in an eventual return to the states.