What Strasburg Means, Redux

A couple of days ago, Joe Posnanski wrote a beautiful post (okay, that pretty much goes without saying) called “What Strasburg Means,” in which he condensed why we’re all so excited about Stephen Strasburg: he’s limitless potential, possessed of such laughably, wonderfully, enjoyably freakish gifts that even in our era of cynicism and media saturation, we’re all reduced to anticipation and wonder. In Joe’s words, “Stephen Strasburg is Christmas morning.” And his debut did nothing but increase our wonder and anticipation for his next start. Especially in a season in which two (three) perfect games have already been thrown, there seems nothing he plausibly couldn’t do.

For us in the stat community, maybe, he might be significant for still another reason. As occupied as we often are with challenging conventional wisdom, with seeing the unacknowledged value in a pitcher like Bert Blyleven or the overvaluing of a hitter like Ryan Howard, we rarely get to join in the exact same cheers as the rest of baseball. Stephen Strasburg isn’t overvalued or undervalued: his 100 mile-an-hour-heat is exactly as blistering as it appears to the naked eye, and his knee-buckling hook is just as devastating as Lastings Milledge thinks it is. He makes our jobs easy: for once, as stat analysts, we can say that the conventional wisdom is earth-shakingly right. The kid’s legit.

I saw his first start from the upper deck of Nationals Stadium on Tuesday. I couldn’t see just how his hammer danced, but I could see the Nationals Pirates flailing, increasingly despondent, as he pounded the strike zone again and again, brought the crowd to their feet again and again, to the point that they expected excellence — audibly sighing every time the umpire called a ball — but erupted every time he delivered yet another strikeout. I was there as the guest of my friend Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote a report of the game for a local magazine and wanted my “sabermetric” opinion of the start, and all I could tell her was what she already knew: he was amazing.

Sometimes seeing is believing.

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

13 Responses to “What Strasburg Means, Redux”

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  1. Phillies Red says:

    In the last paragraph, I believe it was the Pirates who were flailing, not the Nationals.

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  2. Jeremy T says:

    yeah, I understand that’s you’re used to saying the Nats are flailing, but it really doesn’t make sense this time :)

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  3. The Hit Dog says:

    “we rarely get to join in the exact same cheers as the rest of baseball.”

    I just can’t really agree with this. Yes, there are very often instances of the sabermetric community disagreeing with conventional wisdom, but I’ve found that, more often than not, the two actually align pretty closely. Think about any player, not just Strasburg, at the top of the sabermetric talent scale, and he probably falls extremely close to the same spot on the conventional evaluation scale. Pujols, Felix, Mauer, whoever – these guys are the most celebrated in, and get the same cheers from, both worlds.

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    • It’s a question of perception, really. Obviously, the vast majority of the time, conventional wisdom isn’t wrong. But the perception of “advanced” analysis is that we’re in possession of privileged knowledge. In the case of Strasburg, there is absolutely nothing that we can say that someone who watched that game doesn’t already know intimately well.

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    • dave says:

      You know, I also think you can have enjoyment with both sides. The way I am when watching a game is totally different than the way I am analyzing games afterward. Watching a game, I can get fully caught up in the moment, be furious at people who later I will fully acknowledge were victims of bad luck. I can hope and pray that the most laughably bad hitter will “get it done”. Etc, etc. Then, later on, when I’m not caught up in the moment, I can analyze things and think about it rationally. You can have both!

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      • Steven Ellingson says:

        hmm.. I don’t really separate them, but I still enjoy the game as much as I did before I had heard of fangraphs. Actually I’d say I enjoy it quite a bit more.

        I get a lot less upset at players for hitting into double plays, etc., and for pitchers allowing a bunch of hits. Although I obviously enjoy a win better than anything, I also enjoy it when the Twins play a game that would move them up in the Beyond the Box Score power rankings.

        If they play badly AND lose, well then there’s always beer.

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  4. PJ says:

    Well, he isn’t completely without faults. The IP limit really draws the ire from the fantasy crowd.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    Sabermetrics, to me, is finding value where it’s not obvious … Such Ben Zobrist or Chase Utley being the Phils and perhaps NLs MVP.

    Still, most times, whether you’re using Wins, ERA, or FIP … The best pitchers are still consistently the best pitchers.

    Sabermetrics was huge in placing correct valuation on stuff like RBI, OBP, etc.

    But teams such as my 80s Cardinals were already demonstrating the value of team defense and speed.

    Sabermetrics lots of times quantifies things that were previously based on observation.

    There is no need to place man-made barriers between sabermetrics and what fans see. Far more times both groups will agree on the big things.

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  6. 3rd Period Points says:

    “…wanted my “sabermetric” opinion of the start, and all I could tell her was what she already knew: he was amazing.”

    Well, his xFIP is *negative* 0.5.

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