Stephen Strasburg Is First Good-Shaper of Season*

Among the many topics discussed during the course of Plato’s Symposium, one of the most significant is the question of when the Major League Baseball season actually begins. “Is it the moment after the previous season’s World Series is concluded?” Pausanias wonders. “Perhaps when pitchers and catchers report?” Socrates counters. Finally, Aristophanes lightens the serious tone when he offers, “I say it’s when Scott Boras utters the words ‘mystery team!'”

I don’t have to remind you, bespectacled reader, how hard laughter abounds at this particular juncture of the text.

In any case, the matter is of some interest to us here at Not- and FanGraphs, as it’s become customary for our Full-Time Employee Dave Cameron to keep track of those players who claim that they’re currently in the best shape of their respective lives.

In his original article on the phenomenon, late last February, Cameron refers to this as a “great spring training cliche.” Nor will I necessarily disagree with that characterization. However, as he has in other ways, Nationals wunderkind Stephen Strasburg problematizes our conception of what, exactly, is possible. For it was Strasburg who — this past Wednesday, during a CBS College Sports broadcast of a San Diego State basketball game — who announced that he is currently “in the best shape of [his] life.”

Beyond the question of whether such an utterance, occurring in January, even applies to the season ahead, there’s an entire other point — namely that, having recently undergone Tommy John surgery, Strasburg isn’t even a candidate to pitch much more than the last month or so of the regular season.

An obvious question comes of all this, then: “Does Strasburg’s statement count as a legitimate good-shaper claim?”

The answer — from me, at least — is a very cowardly “Yes and no.”

On the one hand, because of his surgery, Strasburg’s announcement is irrelevant. One of Cameron’s main reasons for cataloging the preseason’s various good-shaper claims is so he might — again, as he did this week — so he might look back on how these players performed.

So, that’s one part.

The other part, though — the reason for the “yes” — is that the good-shaper claim is something to celebrate. As Cameron has noted, it’s part of the ritualized optimism that is spring training. Certainly, Strasburg’s claim will have little use to Cameron as he compiles his good-shaper list for 2011. Still, it helps to remind others of us — especially those of us, ahem, living in the Deadly Frozen North — that spring and baseball and optimism are still things that exist.

H/T: The Nationals Enquirer



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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