Stephen Strasburg, Walking Superlative

Four great men from Philadelphia once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got, til’ it’s gone.” In the case of Stephen Strasburg, at least in my case, I think we didn’t know what he had until he returned. Last night, Strasburg turned in a very pedestrian performance by his standards, striking out only four batters while allowing only two hits and zero walks.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I suggest that should Strasburg stay healthy and avoid the problems that ended his first season, he could be the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and perhaps the best pitcher to ever play the game. He is only 73 innings into his young career, and already we’ve seen more excitement and amazement than many pitchers provide in a career. He already has a 14 strikeout game, a 10 strikeout game, a nine strikeout game, and two eight strikeout games. He’s thrown 100 MPH fastballs and 92 MPH changeups. He’s thrown freezing curveballs and now, Pitch F/X suggests he may have even found a fourth pitch.

Let’s dissect the less-than-humble beginnings of Stasburg’s career. In 73 innings, largely as a 22-year-old, Strasburg now owns a 2.71 ERA. He’s struck out 96 of the 291 batters who have come to the plate against him. He has only walked 17 batters. He has only allowed 58 hits. Whatever the stat du jour is, Strasburg excels. 2.71 ERA; 2.03 FIP; 2.08 xFIP; 1.03 WHIP; 11.8 K/9; 2.42 tERA; 2.1 BB/9; 2.8 WAR.

They’re just numbers, of course, but there’s no easier way to represent Strasburg’s greatness. The true story requires more, and no amount of numbers (or words, as powerful as language can be) can truly capture the spectacle of Strasburg. He is the most interesting pitcher in the game, the most immensely watchable pitcher — player? — of our time. The combination of the sharpness of his pitches, the seeming impossiblity of his fastball and curveball. His utter dominance, on the field and in the statsheets.

After watching Strasburg return last night, it finally hit what we missed over the last five months. Not that there hasn’t been plenty to marvel over — Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay dominating the mound, Jose Bautista continuing to destroy American League pitching, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s unexpected power, Ryan Braun hitting National League pitchers as if he’s hitting off a tee, and that’s just a taste. But as a packed Nationals Park proved last night, there just isn’t anything like watching Stephen Strasburg pitch. And, although the specter of potential injury will continue to loom large, I look forward to doing so for a very long time.




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83 Responses to “Stephen Strasburg, Walking Superlative”

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  1. PIratesBreak500 says:

    Yup. I watched his debut against the Pirates. And while it was painful to watch my team utterly fail, it was still enjoyable to watch Strasburg pitch.

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    • Pat says:

      I agree. I am a hardcore Pirates fan but I’m not ashamed to say I ran out and bought a Strasburg shirt a week into his career. I was very disappointed to find out he was injured and I would miss out on the chance to see him in person, I really hope he pitches a game in PNC next season so I can see him.

      Hopefully the Pirates and Nats will be awesome teams in the near future!

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  2. Telo says:

    Meh, I’d rather have Ackley.

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  3. Basil Ganglia says:

    And before them Joni Mitchell also told us that we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone (after they paved paradise and put up a parking lot).

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  4. Michael says:

    I love Strasburg and as a baseball fan and person am very excited for him to be back on the mound.

    But can we maybe wait for him to you know, complete a whole season before we say this: “He is the most interesting pitcher in the game, the most immensely watchable pitcher — player? — of our time”?

    Besides, Tim Lincecum begs to differ.

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    • Nathan says:

      And how about Halladay? I would say I enjoy watching Verlander, Strasburg, Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Hamels, Kershaw, and Price all about equally… they just all mesmerize the baseball fan in different ways that have their own merits.

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      • Michael says:

        No doubt. I find anyone who plays at a high level fascinating to watch. I do, however, think Lincecum carries an extra “wow” factor given his size and delivery. But maybe that’s the Giants fan in me talking ;)

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      • DCN says:

        With that much power and skill from a guy that size Lincecum is the most-amazing non-Strasburg pitcher in the game. And he’s proven his value much more than Strasburg.

        However, it’s not a stretch to predict Strasburg being even better than Lincecum one he’s a full-time MLB starter. He throws harder, and has even better control.

        He might not make it there; it’s very hard to do. But the excitement is there for Strasburg in that he could set new frontiers. And I do think that’s more true of him than anyone else in baseball.

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      • bender says:

        Rays fan here. Price really isn’t *that* fun to watch, mostly because he has no good off-speed pitches at all. Shields is 10x more fun to watch

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Why does a pitcher have to throw a whole season to be more exciting?

      Wouldn;t that make him less exciting? As in th emore you see something the less impressive it is.

      Exciting, Valuable, Interesting, are all different terms with different meanings.

      I think we cna safely say that none of th epitchers mentioned have Strasburg’s natural talent or stuff.

      To most people a guy throwing 99mph with a great breaking ball and good changeup is more interesting and exciting than a guy throwing low 90s and not walking anyone.

      For all of those that are saying it could be “other pitcher names”, would you really choose them over SS or are you just pointing out that there are other entertaining pitchers?

      In regards to Strasburg being the most interesting and entertaining pitcher ever? Have really forgotten about Dwight Gooden that quickly?

      1984: 11.4 K/9 — 0.3 HR/9 — 17-9 2.60 ERA — 1.69 FIP! — 218 IP
      1985: 8.7 K/9 — 0.4 HR/9 — 24-4 1.53 ERA — 2.13 FIP — 276 IP

      I think that’s Doc K telling those other guys to kiss his interesting and entertaining ass … as a 20yo.

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      • Nathan says:

        I guess I’m just saying what you said… it is subjective. For me, I enjoy it all. No doubt, SS has electric stuff and has done it so quick that he deserves praise. Just saying, I enjoy watching Halladay because he never breaks down. I enjoy watching Lincecum for his crazy delivery and overall personality in a game that often lacks personality. Different players, different specific talents, all interesting to me.

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      • Everett says:

        Also you need to remember there are quite a few 30 somethings or under, who would have been very young or not born at the time.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Point taken, Everett. I keep forgetting that I’m thirty-eig … err, twenty seven.

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    • MikeS says:

      Absolutely.

      Interesting? Sure.
      Exciting? You bet.

      But maybe we can see if he can pitch 200 innings in his career, much less a season, before we call him the best ever.

      Maybe he blows out his elbow again and turns into Mark Fidrych.

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      • Welp says:

        Jesus. READ THE POST.

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      • Minstrel says:

        The writer said it’s no stretch to say Strasburg *could* be the best…not that he already is. And I don’t think any informed fan could deny the possibility that we might be seeing the most talented pitcher in living memory in Strasburg. He has stiff competition: Clemens, Maddux, Martinez, Randy Johnson, Halladay…are/were all utterly amazing pitchers and that’s only going back a few decades.

        But when you combine a top-of-the-line fastball with a top-of-the-line curveball and have precision control, you’re starting off in Koufax territory. Then you add a great change-up that he can throw with a couple of different behaviors and you’re looking at the kind of repertoire you need to maybe be the best ever…barring injury.

        What he already is, in the writer’s view, is the most exciting pitcher/player in the league. “Exciting” obviously being subjective and it’s never too early to decide a player excites you the most.

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    • Jacob says:

      Like others have said, he in no way said he’s the best or near the best. But entertaining? Ooooh yes

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  5. Nathan says:

    Longevity is key. I don’t even so much mean related to the TJ surgery — as we all know, the success rates, especially for athletes in top physical shape with the best doctors and trainers in the world at their disposal, are very high.

    Definitely he is as enjoyable to watch as any player in the game today, but I think it’s a little crazy to put him into “walking superlative” status. Things can change very fast, especially for a 23 year old being thrown into the limelight, with lots of pressure, expectations, and money on his shoulders.

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  6. macseries says:

    calling nats park last night packed is…uh…wrong. the upper deck was empty, and aside from box seats, the bowl was sparse. the weather was terrible, so that obviously discouraged people from coming out. strasburg was phenomenal, though.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      “sparse” is even forgiving. There was a section on the third baseline (109 & 110) had maybe 20 or 30 people in it. Even the behinds the plate seats were 1/2 to 2/3 full.

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      • Derrick says:

        I was at the game and it was definitely not packed. I have seen less people at Nationals games, but I have also seen more on many occasions. Obviously the rain chased some people away.

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  7. JCA says:

    Packed? <30,000 paid, 10 – 15,000 in actual attendance per most reports. Soggy night. It just proves that in DC, even the extremists occasionally show common sense.

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  8. Tim says:

    “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I suggest that should Strasburg stay healthy and avoid the problems that ended his first season, he could be the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and perhaps the best pitcher to ever play the game.”

    followed by “He is only 73 innings into his young career…”

    Love watching him pitch, but to start suggesting he might be the greatest pitcher ever is getting out of hand.

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    • Welp says:

      Whatever “getting out hand” means. His stuff is that good and he’s already got advanced command. It is obvious to everyone that he’s years away from proving he can do it, but he’s already proven his weapons are of that high caliber.

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    • jimbo says:

      Yes, it IS a huge leap to suggest he might be the greatest pitcher ever.

      That’s sort of the point, no? The simple fact we *can* entertain that notion, after 73 innings, is part of what makes him special.

      It is the same way I felt about young Tiger. Usually when we observe top-caliber athletes we start to get a sense of greatness during their career. We start to appreciate “hall of fame talent” toward the mid-to-late stages.

      The unusual parallel is that knowing from DAY ONE that you are watching (in real time) history being made…that’s the difference between taking in a Strasburg game and anyone else currently pitching.

      How many people who saw him in person truly appreciated The Babe for what he was in the arc of baseball history? It is a unique opportunity when it comes along, and I have no problem getting caught up in the hype.

      If he’s the best pitcher ever, I can say I was paying attention from the beginning. If his career is shortened or stymied in some way, I’m no worse off for spending time on the bandwagon!

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      • TK says:

        You can entertain anything you wish, I guess. I can entertain the idea of asking Lady Gaga to go to my high school prom if I want. I love watching Stras pitch. I went to his first game at Nats park and 2 more that followed. If you want to make huge assertions from SSS, be my guest, but don’t be insulted when people point out how crazy that is.

        His first game was probably the second most exciting game I’ve seen live. First would be a Mark Prior 14 K performance in 2002 at Wrigley. Hmm….

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      • Welp says:

        “If you want to make huge assertions from SSS, be my guest, but don’t be insulted when people point out how crazy that is.”

        What are you referring to? “He could be the best” is not a huge assertion and not a hard case to make. His stuff qualifies and his polish at this early age gives him a better chance than anyone in the game.

        The assertions aren’t based on the sample so far, they’re bolstered by it. It’s his stuff & command that makes him a huge talent. The fact that it has translated so smoothly into dominance so early in his career only confirms the hype. There’s nothing crazy about it.

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      • haha says:

        You’d ask the very definition of butterface, Lady Gaga to go to prom with you? There are probably 10+ more interesting and fun girls (not to mention better looking) who go to your high school.

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      • TK says:

        Talking about any player with less than a full season of play being even possibly the best ever is crazytalk.

        And full disclosure I’m not in HS and haven’t been for a while, it was just a joke.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      The best pitcher ever already has his “number” retired by the Nats. It will take 20 years of solid performances in DC to even be the best pitcher in the area.

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  9. DCN says:

    Strasburg really is that good, and the only unknown is if he can stay healthy.

    What’s unique about him compared to other phenoms is that in both his big starts, he exceeded expectations. Most players who are hyped that much do not, because the hopes are unrealistically high. And often they do have a great future, it just takes a slightly longer time than we thought.

    But Strasburg has been good enough to make people look foolish for toning their expectations down.

    I think we all know what can happen to pitchers, but he’s been good enough that you can’t set his ceiling at any pitcher you’ve seen before. I don’t think that’s hype, that’s realism. There’s nobody about whom you can say “the best Strasburg can be is this guy.”

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  10. jordan s says:

    if he stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the best pitchers ever. i really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that.

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  11. jordan s says:

    this whole post is otm, too. in terms of “appointment viewing,” i don’t think anything in sports right now is coming close to a strasburg start

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  12. Ed, Ed, and Eddy says:

    Shouldn’t we get more sample size on Stras before we start to anoint him as the greatest of his era and a walking superlative? i want to see him throw 200+ innings for a few seasons before i go nuts.

    why are we sucking Strasburg when guys like Clayton Kershaw and David Price are continuously going under the radar? i mean, kershaw is the same age as Strasburg and has thrown 600+ innings while having a career k/9 of 9.5. and he’s left-handed.

    Strasburg is great, but let’s wait and see if his body holds up to pitch like this for a full season or two.

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    • jorgath says:

      Yes, by the numbers, we should.

      But we’re not going to. Because the intangible, unmeasurable part of being a baseball fan is just DIFFERENT. When I watch Kershaw pitch, I go “Dang, that’s a good pitcher.” When I watch Strasburg pitch, I have trouble breathing.

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      • Ed, Ed, and Eddy says:

        Brett Lawrie is on his way to being the greatest 3rd basemen of all-time if we’re going by SSS, right? I don’t understand why it’s okay to use SSS for one player but not another talented player.

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      • mbrady16 says:

        Ed, not sure if you’re being serious here. “Stuff” like Strasburg has isn’t really affected by small sample size. His fastball, plus his amazing changeup (albeit different from last year) plus his really good breaking ball, PLUS advanced command already and he has the makings of simply one of the best ever.

        Yes, the results so far are too small to judge but the weapons he has are arguably the best pitcher’s repertoire ever.

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      • DCN says:

        It’s harder to tell with hitters, because they don’t have “stuff” in the same way. You need to see how they do against a wider variety of pitchers and be sure they have no weaknesses in their swing and approach.To a different degree than pitchers have to do it against a lot of hitters. Great speed, movement, and location are always what they are (as long as you can stay healthy and keep it up under pressure.) You can’t make a pitcher throw a weak pitch, but you can make a batter try to hit a pitch he’s weak against.

        I think it can also be easier to spot great fielders than great batters (Bourjos is one recent example) but you can’t add as much value just with the glove. Even Ozzie and Brooks Robinson weren’t upper-level Hall of Famers, but Ted Williams, who was pretty much just a hitter, is up there with the best of them.

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      • jorgath says:

        A starting pitcher faces, what, an average of 11 individual hitters in a game? Compared to a hitter facing something like an average of 3 pitchers in a game? Even considering that starting pitchers only appear in 1 out of every 5 games, a hitter would average 15 pitchers in those 5 games if he never saw the same reliever twice, so I’d say that’s about even, assuming teams use their relievers more than once a series.

        So as far as sample size for evaluating “stuff” goes, one start by a starting pitcher is equivalent in size to 5 starts for hitters (for their hitting stats). The equivalent fielding sample size would vary based on position and frequency of involvement in a play, which I’m not going to do for each position, but I’ll estimate 15 innings played at 3B to be equivalent for fielding stats to a start by an SP, because a 3B is involved in a lot of plays but not nearly all of them.

        So, Ed, assuming Lawrie plays 5 games at 9 innings each, playing 3B the entire time, his sample size for hitting is equivalent in size to one pitching start by Strasburg, and his sample size for fielding is equivalent in size to 3 pitching starts by Strasburg. If you say that 100 PAs is a sufficient sample size for hitting stats, that’s equivalent to roughly 25 games. That means that 5 pitching starts would be a sufficient sample size, as would 75 innings fielding 3B. Strasburg has had 13 total starts, and generously disregarding the likelihood he was pitching hurt a couple of times, he’s still amazing.

        But I’ll be even more generous, and assert that 250 PAs is actually what’s needed to escape SSS by and large. Let’s call that 72.5 games. That’s equivalent to 14.5 pitching starts, or 217.5 fielding innings at 3B. Fine then, we can wait a whole two more Strasburg starts to start anointing him. Lawrie, on the other hand, needs another 125 PAs for his hitting “stuff”, but you can feel free to use his fielding “stuff” in evaluating him…if you think it’ll stand up against the likes of Longoria or Zimmerman.

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  13. TK says:

    I’m not sure “exaggerating” means what you think it does.

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  14. adohaj says:

    Cool it on Strasburg. Here is a pitcher who didn’t turn out awesome.

    First 144 IP in the bigs all before he was 23
    2.74 ERA
    11K/9
    2.4 BB/9
    .8 HR/9

    Francisco Liriano did the same thing that Strasburg has done; the numbers are surprisingly close. Except Liriano did it over twice the innings.

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    • Dandy Salderson says:

      Liriano did not have as impressive a pedigree, and had difficulty in his TJ rehab.

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      • mbrady16 says:

        Not to mention, Liriano wasn’t throwing nearly as hard, which SS uses to set up his already great secondary stuff.

        Besides, Liriano WAS awesome. He got hurt, but he really did have the makings of a truly great starter before that.

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      • DCN says:

        Liriano had a lot of relief appearances in those first 144 innings, too. Here’s his starts over the first two years:

        2.62 ERA
        10.47 K/9
        2.62 BB/9
        0.82 HR/9

        It’s still very good, but not at the same level in terms of walks and strikeouts.

        The other thing is, how were his pitches/strikes? Strasburg’s pitch efficiency and ability to get batters out while throwing almost all strikes are a big part of why he might be so good. They know the first pitch strike is coming, but it’s still hard to hit.

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  15. buddy says:

    Everything’s more exciting when it’s new.

    Let’s not forget that first-half-of-2010 Ubaldo Jimenez was just as amazing as Strasburg is now.

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    • mbrady16 says:

      If you use last year’s stats, at no point was Ubaldo fanning guys at the same rate as SS. Oh, not to mention he walked more batters as well. The comp isn’t terrible but it’s not appropriate, either.

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    • Welp says:

      What the hell does that have to with anything? When did the fangraphs readership forget how to read?

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  16. Doc Gooden says:

    Hi guys! I had played real good young once too!

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  17. michaelfranko says:

    I agree with you completely, and I don’t think it’s jumping the gun at all.

    He’s the best pitcher I have ever seen, and he also has the best stuff I’ve ever seen.

    He also has the most visceral kinds of pitchers–everyone wants to see the 100MPH fastball and the gigantic curveball. His change-up moves so much and still comes in so fast that it is as exciting as any of his other pitches and, from college video, I swear he also had a slider, whether he intended to throw it or not, and it was just as electric.

    There are pitchers who have been and can be as successful as he can be, but probably not in the same fashion. I mean, anyone who says he’d rather watch Greg Maddux, an equally dominating but unspectacular pitcher, instead of Stephen Strasburg is trying to be some kind of hipstery “I’m making a point” baseball fan.

    I also saw an article a little while ago about how efficient Strasburg has been. It’s remarkable how few pitches he actually throws despite putting up these numbers. I mean, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia have 115, 120 pitch starts all the time and Strasburg can breeze through 7 innings in 95 pitches.

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    • mbrady16 says:

      I totally agree with you. There will always be detractors. Meanwhile the rest of us can simply enjoy watching the dude throw a baseball like we haven’t really seen.

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    • Andy says:

      Strasburg has gone 7 innings exactly twice in his 13 major league starts. He also has 5 starts where he didn’t make it out of the 5th and had a pitch count of at least 84 and several of those were in the 90’s. Breezing through 7 innings on a low pitch count hasn’t been typical for him.

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      • Bip says:

        I think that might be attributable to him not knowing how to pitch yet. As in, he has the stuff, he has the command, but he just needs to know how to use it to put guys away. That’s one thing that it seems to take the longest to develop, the ability to go deep into games.

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      • DCN says:

        No, but he’s shown that he might be able to do it.

        Last night he went 5 on 56, 40 for strikes. He also had these starts last year.

        7 on 94, 65 for strikes
        7 on 85, 59 for strikes
        4 1/3 on 53, 37 for strikes (then he blew out his arm)

        For a guy that young, that is pretty impressive. He has room to improve, but few pitchers are very efficient when they’re that young.

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    • DCN says:

      Interesting that you mention Maddux, because the way Stras pitched yesterday you get the feeling he could be like Maddux with better stuff. He was pitching to spots and getting outs with weak contact.

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  18. Misfit says:

    This article is not arguing that Stephen Strasburg is on track to be the best ever. This piece is about the spectacle, the event, that has become Stephen Strasburg and I wonder how anyone can argue that.

    Strasburg is young and relatively unseen by most. He throws impossibly hard fastballs and sharp back-foot breaking balls. He makes profressional hitters look like fools with that change-up and we have yet to see him fail (unless you count injury as failure).

    We have no idea which way this thing will go, and that just adds to the excitement. What will happen the next time he takes the mound? It seems like he could do anything. The last young pitcher I recall creating this kind of buzz was Kerry Wood. Sadly, we all know how that story ended and I hope Strasburg does not suffer the same fate but I’m not going to waste my time worrying, I’m going to just watch and enjoy. For my money, Pedro Martinez was the most “watchable” pitcher of my era and my era includes prime Maddux, Johnson, and Clemens. I don’t know if Strasburg will supplant any of those 4, but just the fact that he’s entered the discussion is good enough.

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    • DCN says:

      Wood was nowhere near as accurate, though. He walked more than twice as many batters as Stras in his early career.

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    • GMH says:

      “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I suggest that should Strasburg stay healthy and avoid the problems that ended his first season, he could be the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and perhaps the best pitcher to ever play the game.”

      You don’t even have to read past the second paragraph to discover that the writer is indeed arguing that Strasburg is on track to be the best ever.

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  19. b says:

    Does it appear to anyone else that Stras has not changed his mechanics from last year?

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    • GMH says:

      No change in his mechanics. No one is going to force a 23-year-old pitcher with Strasburg’s stuff and command to re-learn how to throw a baseball. They’d probably have more success teaching him to pitch lefthanded.

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    • jorgath says:

      He hasn’t changed his mechanics. What he has done is built more general body strength: legs, core, arms. Which means his muscles can take more force, which means that if he was generating excess torque it’s less likely to be concentrated in the ligaments. I think.

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  20. Charlie Morton's Electric Stuff says:

    Glad somebody finally brought up the elephant in the room: mechanics. Strasburg still sported a giant Inverted W arm action last night, indicating he hasn’t made a conscious decision to change his mechanics after the surgery.

    I read an article last year in which Riggleman and Rizzo categorically ruled out mechanical flaws as a possible cause of Strasburg’s ligament damage. It was like they wanted to stick their heads in the sand and believe it was some kind of “one pitch freak accident.” They were undoubtedly afraid that changing his delivery would compromise his effectiveness.

    To me, the understanding, or lack thereof, of pitching mechanics is one of the overlooked inefficiencies remaining in baseball. As a pitcher in high school, I scoured the internet in search of good mechanical advice, and nothing I found made more sense than Chris O’Leary’s observation-based hypotheses. He discovered very quickly that pitchers who pick the ball up with their elbow (whether Inverted W or L) became injured at a much higher clip than usual. It seems like a very simple concept, but not all teams have subscribed to this theory despite the plain-as-day history supporting it. It’s like bunting: something that will always yield worse results, but major league teams support it anyway.

    Obviously, it’s impossible to stack your organization only with clean deliveries, but in situations such as this, a change has to be made. Strasburg (along with Harper, of course) carries the future hopes and dreams of the organization, and making sure he will be effective for as long as possible should be at the top of the Nats’ priority list. I find watching Strasburg to be bittersweet; his raw stuff is captivating, but I can’t see his flawed delivery without cringing.

    (Side note: I’d be willing to bet, straight up, that Ackley accumulates more career WAR than Strasburg.)

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    • Andre says:

      Great post, and seconded.

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      I agree with this. I think Chris O’Leary is shoulder deep up his own asshole, but he’s right about his approach: you take pitchers that don’t seem similar and break them down and there are certain things they do or don’t do. None of the 3000+ IP guys have mechanics that look like Strasburg’s. Lots of them have mechanics that look like Verlander’s. An even simpler point: among the guys who throw 94 or better, who looks most comfortable? Verlander looks pretty comfortable. Price does. Felix does. Zumaya didn’t. Wood doesn’t. Strasburg doesn’t.

      I hope the kid has a nice, long, great career, but I just can’t picture him pitching for, say, 600 IP over a 3 year period.

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  21. GMH says:

    This piece has a lot of hyperbole. And while I agree that Strasburg has the stuff and command to elicit hyperbole, it would be nice to have some perspective. With experience comes perspective. And that’s the problem when virtually all of the writers on this website are under the age of 30.

    I am old enough to remember Dwight Gooden’s rookie year. He routinely threw a fastball in the high 90s and complimented it with a 12-6 curve that was unhittable. He had amazing poise on the mound; nothing seemed to rattle him or break his concentration. Like the greatest of all power pitchers, he didn’t need a third pitch: He dominated hitters with a four-seam fastball and a wicked curve. He didn’t even throw a change up until his second season in the Big Leagues.

    In the last 9 starts of his rookie season, this was Gooden’s line: 76 IP, 42 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 13 BB, 105 SO. He threw six complete games and three shutouts. Twice he struck out 16 batters in a game. Gooden’s shortest outing during this stretch (7 IP) equaled Strasburg’s longest outing of his career. Against the Cubs, who had a pretty good year with a pretty potent line-up, he pitched a one-hit shutout and struck out 11. No rookie ever pitched better that Dwight Gooden. And this was coming at the end of a full season from a 19-year-old who hadn’t pitched higher than A-Ball, and without the restraints of pitch counts and innings-monitoring, restraints which evidently served no benefit to Stephen Strasburg.

    And all Gooden did in his second year was pitch as well as anybody had ever pitched.

    I think most people who watched Dwight Gooden pitch his first two seasons figured he was destined for the Hall of Fame. And I don’t mean just fans; people like Tom Seaver, Pete Rose, Keith Hernandez, etc. How wrong we all were. And Gooden did not have the problematic mechanics of Strasburg’s, nor did he blow out his UCL 68 innings into his career.

    I’m not even convinced that Strasburg is any better than Mark Prior (who is probably his best comp, unfortunately) or Justin Verlander were coming out of the gate. Strasburg probably has better command than Verlander did, but he doesn’t throw the ball any harder. And Prior had Strasburg’s command, threw almost as hard, and had a better breaking ball. And we don’t even have to go back a decade to remember their debuts.

    A little perspective would be nice, and it doesn’t diminish Strasburg’s talent or appeal.

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    • Welp says:

      The post doesn’t lack perspective. Its claims about Strasburg’s talent & potential are not claims that his talent & potential are unprecedented.

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    • mbrady16 says:

      You’re right, Dwight was amazing at first and became less amazing over time. Nevermind that he was a drug abuser which probably affected his performance over those years. Not to mention, as you pointed out, he never had a dominant 3rd pitch (which Strasburg has already).

      Prior might be a better comp in terms of results but no, he didn’t have Stras’ stuff. 94 with movement or 99 with movement (at their max)? I’m sure hitters would prefer Prior.

      Verlander didn’t have an overly effective fastball early on, I think the book on him was always that his fastball was as straight as a string. Lately he’s mixed it up with a two seamer (and his results have improved, obviously).

      That’s the truly amazing thing here; Strasburg’s current trajectory has him compared with great pitchers so early on when he might find ways to improve later on (perhaps by adding a slider or something like that).

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      • DCN says:

        They weren’t wrong about Doc’s potential, though. He just derailed his career with drug use and never lived up to what he could have been.

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      • DCN says:

        Also, Prior was great, but didn’t have Strasburg’s stuff. Kerry Wood had the best stuff on that team, although Prior was a better pitcher because of his command. Strasburg has Kerry Wood stuff with Mark Prior command, and seems like a very intelligent, poised pitcher.

        He could easily go down to injuries, but if he doesn’t…

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    • jim says:

      yeah, that verlander guy blows, who would want to end up like him?

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  22. Hunter says:

    If someone else said something similar then my apologies BUT, I have no problem saying he could be the best/most exciting player.
    Hell, there’s a reason that people still talk about Fernandomania, The Bird, Kerry Wood, Bo Jackson et al.
    Sometimes a player is THAT good that you just enjoy the moment and worry about the career length later.
    This is like people who would prefer a more sustained peak over that of a Koufax or Pedro. When then peaked they PEAKED.
    Saber minded or old school, enjoy what’s happening and ask questions in 5,10 or 20 years….

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  23. RobBob says:

    I don’t get the big hubbub. He said “Strasburg *might be* the greatest pitcher….” That’s different from “Strasburg *will be* the greatest pitcher…”, or “Strasburg is *on track to become* the greatest pitcher…”, or even “there’s a good chance that Strasburg will be the greatest pitcher…”. It’s an accurate statement that doesn’t say much. This lottery ticket I’m holding in my hand (*) might be the multi-million dollar winner. It’s true until it’s not true.

    (*) I’m not really holding a lottery ticket in my hand.

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  24. Jay says:

    I don’t think Strasburg can top Randy Johnson for quantitative awe-inspiration. Skyscraping, beanpole, sneering, mullet-flying, fist-pumping, screaming, 3/4 angle, 100 MPH fastball, kneebuckling slider Big Unit was like a monster out of a Japanese horror movie. Strasburg is great, and may be judged a better pitcher than Randy in 2030, but he’ll never be as scary or memorable. IMO.

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  25. John says:

    When/if he puts up two great seasons back-to-back, before I’ll even take the idea of “greatest pitcher ever” even remotely seriously. Gibson and Koufrax had some MONSTER years back in the day, Gooden was awesome for a time in the 80s. And then there’s longevity. Nolan Ryan threw no hitters in 3 different decades (Played pro in 4 different decades), and NOBODY is remotely close to his trikeout record.

    Mechanically, strasburg scares me. I see shoulder/upper body in the future. That could mean he’s not pitching in 10 years, or he’s a pitcher with a lot less velocity and thus less break on the breaking stuff.

    IF I could pick my torp for today and the next decade, King Felix would be my choice.

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    • bSpittle says:

      In my keeper league I’ve got:
      Felix
      Verlander
      Jered Weaver
      Matt Moore
      Shelby Miller
      Josh Johnson
      Ian Kennedy
      Scherzer
      Liriano
      Mike Minor

      I’ll likely keep the top 7.
      My offense isn’t as sharp, but not bad.

      OF Heyward, C Posey, OF Stanton, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Brett Lawrie, 2B Ackley and 1b Miguel Cabrera

      I can keep 14 total.

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  26. bSpittle says:

    “That’s the highest number of strikeouts ever recorded with so few pitches. ”

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/94-pitches-14-strikeouts/
    Remember that?

    In that regard (command and k’s), his debut was superior to ANY start in baseball history.

    I hope he stays healthy and kicks arse, even though the nats aren’t my team.

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  27. Kirsh says:

    Also, I love how quickly Strasburg goes to the mound and gets into his windup. He’s living, breathing proof that slow does not necessarily mean more deliberate or smarter when pitchers are on the mound.

    What a treat to watch.

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