Fan Projections: Strasburg

Given the media circus around the event, you surely already know the specs behind Stephen Strasburg’s Spring Training debut with the Washington Nationals yesterday: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 27 pitches. If you spend any time on Twitter, you caught wind that he touched 98 mph (thankfully we have Twitter, because the radar gun didn’t kick into the TV broadcast until inning three) and threw all four of his pitches for strikes. And after the game, you probably heard that Jim Riggleman sounded a little less confident the Nationals wouldn’t start him him in the minors: “We’ll make that call as an organization. But as far as he knows, he’s like everybody else trying to make the club.”

My feelings about starting a top prospect in the Major Leagues on Opening Day have already been voiced, so we won’t re-hash that today. Instead, since Strasburg wasn’t available during the Fan Projections on this site, I want to open up a dialogue about the expectations that we have for his first season in the Majors. I want to approach this using the components that make up FIP: home runs, unintentional walks, hit by pitches and strikeouts. I’m eliminating innings pitched from the discussion — we’re going to use 150.

Why? Because it’s nice and round and possible. It accounts for either a May call-up, an early shutdown in September, or a slight injury. And I want the focus to be on the component stats. Let’s talk about each:

Home Runs: I point you to Jeff Sackmann’s study on The Hardball Times about the average college pitcher’s development, and his interesting findings that players give up more home runs as they progress through college. Strasburg was no exception: even though his sinker got better in college, and his GO/AO ratio was 1.41 as a junior, his four home runs allowed were more than expected. Now a 0.33 HR/9 isn’t bad, but the Aztec had given up just one over 134 innings in his first two seasons. Then, in the Arizona Fall League, Strasburg gave up three big flies over just 19 innings.

This is going up quickly, and I can tell you Major League players will be no easier. I’m going to go with 18 home runs allowed.

Unintentional Walks: This is, of course, one of Strasburg’s hallmarks — he walked just 50 batters in a college career almost reaching 250 innings. He did walk seven in the Arizona Fall League, so I think we can probably toss a walk rate below 2.0/9 out the window. Still, you will never find a scout that won’t rave about his fastball command. And yesterday, with his last strikeout a perfectly controlled full-count breaking ball, you saw the touch he has with all his weapons. I’m going to go with 45 walks, representing a 2.7 BB/9.

Hit By Pitches: There’s an old story about Wes Roemer, who was famous in college because he never walked anybody. His walk-less streak kept a dialogue about him going, and scouts were quick to give him a 80 on the 20-80 scale for command. However, another scout noticed that Roemer wasn’t walking people because if he got to a three ball count, he would just peg the player. I don’t think is an uncommon story in college baseball, and I tell it because it’s interesting, not that it applies to Strasburg. In fact, he hit just 7 batters in his final two seasons, and avoided them completely in the Arizona Fall League. Conservatively, let’s say 5 HBP, and move on.

Strikeouts: This is where the intrigue lies. I’m guessing it’s been a long time since Strasburg didn’t strike out a batter an inning — all three years of college, every summer baseball stop, and last fall in the Arizona Fall League. He showed yesterday that he won’t be intimidated by stars like Miguel Cabrera, who he sent to the bench with a nasty high fastball. However, he was also very sinker-heavy against the Tigers, and I wonder if the two-seam fastball won’t be his bread and butter early in the count. I also wonder if hitters won’t take the Chipper Jones approach and swing early to not fall behind. All in all, I’m projecting 135 strikeouts.

I want to hear your predictions in the comments, but those are mine — a conservative first year equaling out to a 3.95 FIP. And if you think I’m setting the under/over there, you’re wrong, because I’ll take the under.

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17 Responses to “Fan Projections: Strasburg”

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  1. OremLK says:

    If the Nats are smart, they’ll keep him closer to 125 IP in his rookie season. His mechanical concerns are significant enough that I wouldn’t dare let him pitch more than that in a first pro season at his age.

    I also think they would be stupid to put him the rotation opening day, for financial reasons. Two weeks isn’t going to hurt, especially with a starting pitcher who is going to get shut down later in the season anyway.

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    • Tobias F. says:

      I agree, there’s really no point of rushing him or overworking him when you’re going to finish in last place anyway.

      Best case scenario is he dominates and you still finish last, worst case scenario is the inning jump leads to an injury and you still finish last. Really the only benefit is that it would lead to putting more butts in the seats every 5th day.

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  2. Fett42 says:

    I can’t see him not getting a K per inning, especially in the NL.

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    • Jimbo says:

      I agree based on his stuff.

      Only way I could see <1/ip is if they coach him similar to Porcello '09. If he tries to pitch deeper into games by pitching more to contact, could have a rookie-season anomaly in 2010 certain to be his career low.

      I know Cabrera wasn't in midseason form or anything, but he still got abused in that at bat. Stras 'pitching to contact' might even get a k per inning.

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  3. at 150 IP I’d say
    16 HRA
    51 Non Intentional Walks
    3 HBP
    163 K’s

    Gives a FIP of 3.49

    If I was a betting man I’d take the over on this.

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  4. Joe says:

    Wow, I think sometimes people are a little too analytic with this stuff instead of trusting your eyes. Keith Law, a very stat heavy scout for ESPN, basically started with just saying wow. This guy is special, think Prior and pray for an injury free career. I’d take something much closer to a 3.00 era and north of a 9 K/9. His stuff is better than all but a few pitchers in the league.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      I hardly think this is analytical.

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      • Joe says:

        Maybe not, but even pretending to have any idea of how he is going to do in the majors based off of college and some AZL stats is kind of ridiculous. There’s just not a lot to go on, and sometimes you have to trust your eyes.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Also, on a podcast last week, I called Stras the #1 prospect in baseball. At least I think I did. I certainly am not bearish on his career.

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      • I think its entertaining and interesting, which is why I visit the cite.

        Another question I’d like to see someone tackle is this: who will have a lower ERA in 2010, Roy Halladay or an Average Pitcher who got to face only the Mariners offense?

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  5. RMR says:

    Would it be possible to do this for Aroldis Chapman as well. All indications are that he will be a Red at some point this season, possibly sooner rather than later.

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  6. Snakes says:

    I’ve seen him pitch several times and what’s scary is he had only average stuff and poor command yesterday. For him anyway.

    Hard to believe he can beat Lincecum’s 07 Fresno numbers (will anyone ever?) but I’d say their MLB rookie years will be similar. Tim went 146 innings and struck out 150.

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  7. aaron says:

    i predict 161 GS 161 CG 161 SHO 1449 IP 4347 K.

    he can rest the last day.

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  8. Why are you picking a home runs allowed number out of a hat? Why not project a HR/FB ratio and take into account an expected opposition flyball percentage and his strikeout rate to calculate a forecasted estimate? 18 home runs allowed in just 150 innings, given his strikeout rate projection and ground ball ability would lead to a ridiculously inflated HR/FB ratio.

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  9. Fresh Hops says:

    K: 133 (8k/9)
    BB: 55 (3.3 /9)
    HR: I’m too lazy to do all the math–it works out to “MLB average per (BF – K -BB -HBP)” I’m just assuming an average FB% and an average HR/FB.
    HBP: 5

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  10. Not too sure how I found this blog but glad I did find it. Think I was looking for something else on google. Don’t know I agree 100% with what you say, but have bookmaked and will come back to read to see if you add any more posts. Good blog

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