'Something special': Stratton pitches in 200th career game

June 5th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Saturday's win belonged to the kids. Jack Suwinski hit a walk-off home run. Roansy Contreras was brilliant. But amid the team’s pyrotechnics, Chris Stratton celebrated a personal milestone.

When Stratton came on in relief in the top of the ninth inning, it marked the 200th career game of his seven-year career in the Major Leagues. The Pirates have celebrated quite a few milestones this season, but they’ve mostly been of the “first” variety -- first games, first hits, first strikeouts, etc. Stratton’s achievement, though, was a celebration of longevity.

“That is definitely something special,” Stratton said. “My career, the way that it’s gone, being a starter, a reliever and all these different ways. I’ve got a lot of innings accumulated as well. That’s a cool thing.”

Since 2020, few relievers have matched Stratton’s workload. During that stretch, he’s tied for the sixth-most games (117) and thrown the second-most innings (130 2/3), all while posting a 3.72 ERA and 3.45 FIP. This season, Stratton’s fourth as a full-time reliever, is quietly shaping up to be his best.

Stratton’s 3.80 ERA is merely solid, but he’s posting a 2.63 FIP and 2.78 xERA, both of which would be the best of his career. On the Baseball Savant front, Stratton is in the 84th percentile of Barrel%, 86th percentile of xSLG and Chase Rate and 87th percentile of xwOBA and xERA. For manager Derek Shelton, Stratton has been a modicum of consistency.

“The thing with Stratton is [he has] the most stability,” said Shelton. “He’s been here all three years that I’ve been here. He’s a stable force. He’s had different roles. He’s excelled in different roles. He’s struggled in different roles. And he’s the same guy all the time. It’s really important when you have a young bullpen group and guys that are finding themselves that they can have somebody they can lean on, and Strat’s that guy.”

Stratton perpetually exudes that sense of serenity now, but when asked about the origins of that personality trait, he recalled one specific instance in which he didn’t maintain his equanimity, one that’s stuck with him.

Following a rough outing at Mississippi State, Stratton vented for about five minutes to his girlfriend -- now wife -- Martha Kate. Once Stratton said his piece, Kate provided a 20-minute window for Stratton to be upset. After that, what was done was done. Stratton didn’t need the full allotted time for the point to register.

“I was like, ‘All right, well, I’m kind of being ridiculous,’” Stratton said. “All that stuff’s out of my control. My wife’s been my rock through it all.”

Stratton’s value to the Pirates extends beyond his numbers. Pittsburgh is a young team, one that’s seemingly getting younger by the day. The rookies have been an injection of energy and talent, but they’re still finding their way, learning the nuances of playing at the Major League level. In that department, Stratton has plenty of game to pass down.

“You can’t understate the importance of that,” said reliever David Bednar, who won National League Reliever of the Month in May. “Coming up with the Padres, I had those guys like Craig Stammen [and] Kirby Yates just to name a few in the bullpen. ... He’s always there to help us out, answer any questions. You can’t say enough to that, just having that kind of guy around.”

Stratton has also been an invaluable resource for a fellow starter-turned-reliever Wil Crowe.

Crowe and Stratton’s career arcs have followed similar trajectories. Both came up as starters. Both struggled in that role. And both are finding consistent success out of the bullpen. The transition isn’t an easy one to make for a litany of reasons, but Stratton's experience and presence have been invaluable, both in and out of the bullpen.

"Strat does so much for us here, but knowing him as a human and as a person, the person he is away from here is more important than anything," Crowe said. "I think that keeps us going and keeps us ready and keeps us in a good balance.

"Strat is so important to this team because of those things, more than on the field, because of how he comes to the field every day, how he sets himself up off the field, how he does things away from here and how [he] shows us how to not only be great professionals at the baseball field but also be great humans."