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.