When it’s time for pitcher Marcus Stroman’s turn in the rotation, he runs to the mound to throw his warmup pitches, rap music blasting over the PA system to get him hyped up. He gets himself set, and right as he releases his pitch, you see it: a durag tucked under his cap. A durag, in Major League Baseball. Incredible.
Stroman came up with the Toronto Blue Jays and now pitches for the New York Mets. Though he isn’t the first or only MLB player to wear a durag, he might be the most consistent. He strolled to the mound wearing a durag tucked under his Blue Jays cap on June 1, 2019, and he has worn one for every start since.
After spending weeks marveling at the iconic fashion statement, I wondered about its effect on his game. Did Stroman and his team get different results when he wore a durag? The headwear has been criticized throughout the years; it’s been banned by both the NFL and the NBA. But what if … what if an athlete playing at the height of his sport while rocking a durag actually performed better?
To find out, I analyzed video of Stroman’s starts from the beginning of the 2018 season through July 2021.1 I documented when he started, whether he was wearing a durag and, if so, what color it was. After that, I enlisted the help of baseball analyst Jen Ramos, and they helped me run calculations for all of his starts.
In his first durag start in June 2019, the Blue Jays played the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. He debuted a blue durag similar in color to the blue in his uniform. His line for that game: 7 innings pitched, 7 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, 2.84 ERA. The Jays didn’t get the win, but this is where our durag data journey begins.
Stroman has worn blue and black with both the Jays and Mets, and orange and white exclusively with the Mets. The black durag made its first appearance in July 2019 — his last start before being traded to New York. Stroman briefly returned to blue before wearing black for the rest of the 2019 season.
In his first start of the 2021 season, Stroman sported an orange durag with his Height Doesn’t Measure Heart (HDMH) logo on it in blue lettering — the first and only time he’s worn orange so far. With the exception of black one week, he’s consistently worn a white durag (also with the HDMH logo on it) throughout the rest of the 2021 season.2
In the 72 games in our sample, Stroman’s teams have gone 12-19 when he’s not wearing a durag and 22-19 when he is. And his ERA since 2018 is better with the durag than without. But which is the one durag to rule them all?
The untapped potential of the orange durag
Pitching stats for Marcus Stroman by color of durag worn during start, April 2018 through July 2021
Stroman in his orange durag has an ERA of 1.5 and a 1-0 record — obviously the best, but with just six innings of data, it’s too small of a sample size. The black durag, with 53 innings pitched, has a 2.72 ERA, while the white, at 104.3 innings, has an ERA of 2.85. That leaves the blue durag as the one with the highest ERA (3.82, 68.3 innings pitched). Though the blue durag doesn’t coincide with Stro’s best performances, it is the one with the best win-loss record for his team at 8-4.
In Black communities, the durag has been a popular accessory for many years. It’s both fashion — it can match a hat, clothing, etc. — and function, helping smooth our hair and aiding in the formation of waves. In the aughts, the durag might have even been considered a marker of cool. It was during that time rappers and athletes brought durags into the mainstream. NBA legend Allen Iverson is to the durag what rapper Jay-Z is to the Yankee fitted. Stroman, 30, sporting a neatly tucked durag is a reminder of that cool. It doesn’t hurt that, based on the numbers, it also seems to give him a slight edge in the win column.
OK, maybe there were other factors involved in the raised level of his game. But it’s far more fun to think that there’s a little magic in the cape of his durag.
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