Friday, March 1, 2013

Strasburg still has room to grow

Associated Press
Stephen Strasburg struck out six batters in three innings last night.
He's done so much in so little time with the Nationals that it's easy to forget just how young and inexperienced Stephen Strasburg still remains.

He won't turn 25 until July. He's made only 45 big-league starts spanning 251 1/3 innings. And, as the right-hander is quick to point out, he still hasn't pitched a full season as a professional.

Which is all the more reason to marvel at what Strasburg has accomplished already in his career while also recognizing there's still plenty more room for growth.

At this stage, Strasburg has mostly gotten by on pure stuff. Few young pitchers ever have possessed the devastating repertoire at his disposal while also exhibiting pinpoint command of all three pitches: fastball, curveball, changeup.

That stuff, along with the ability to harness it, has allowed Strasburg to be one of the game's most-dominant pitchers, owner of a 4.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio that would rank by far as the greatest in the modern era if only he had enough innings to qualify.

Strasburg, though, understands there's so much more to the art of pitching than pure stuff, and he's forever on a quest to develop into a more complete pitcher, one who relies on his head just as much as his arm.

We're seeing that already this spring, with Strasburg making a point not to simply take the mound every fifth day and try to overpower opposing hitters. (Not that he can't do that, and certainly there were times last night during his six-strikeout start against the Mets when he just reached back and fired off a knee-buckling curveball or an unhittable changeup.)

But Strasburg also has been working on altering his sequencing of pitches, keeping those batters off-balance even more. Look at some of the hitter's counts in which he threw offspeed pitches last night.

And he's been working on easing off the gas pedal a bit more and trying to coax more movement out of his fastball, especially his two-seamer, which has for three years been his most underrated pitch but potentially his most effective. It's that two-seamer that darts down and away from left-handed hitters, induces weak grounders to the left side of the infield and records quick outs.

That's a significant key to Strasburg's progression. If there's been a flaw to his game over the years, it's been his penchant for running up hefty pitch counts. That, in turn, has limited his innings. Which were already limited to begin with.

Strasburg wants nothing more now than to be able to pitch deeper into games. He's never taken the mound for the eighth inning since turning pro. He's reached the seventh inning only eight times. What's the best way to reverse that trend? Throw fewer pitches, giving Davey Johnson less reason to pull him before he ever reaches the final third of a ballgame.

Hence, the desire to record more quick outs, which can be accomplished with more two-seamers down and away that result in weak groundballs. Strasburg made some strides in that area last season, but he can still do plenty more to improve.

He's made that a point of emphasis this spring, but it remains an ongoing process. As dominant as he was last night, he still needed 52 pitches to complete three innings. At that pace, he'll never be allowed to see the mound for the seventh, let alone the eighth or ninth.

Strasburg has plenty of time to work on these finer points over the next month. He's still got five more scheduled exhibition starts before Opening Day.

If he can pull it off and become more efficient, the Nationals are going to have themselves a truly complete pitcher, one who still hasn't turned 25.


sjm308 said...

Thanks Mark:

Not sure why but for some reason, I just wanted to read and not react for a couple of days.

Not responding to this post, but to spring training, I actually like watching the young guys who we won't see again after this month. The kid at short (Walters) made an error but also made some solid plays. Skole looked good in the field last night and Marrero showed me he is recovered. Has Goodwin played an inning yet? I am just not sure Perez has a game that will transfer to the big leagues if all he is going to do is beat out slow rollers to short and third. He is fast, I will give him that.

One last comment. Some "initial guy" calls out Strasburg with a name an old guy like me finds offensive. I watched the interview and SS does not project well in that area. His answers are forced and he is obviously not comfortable. This "initial guy" then uses what I consider a slur based on that interview. I am betting he has never played a round of golf with SS, gone out to lunch with him or even met him. He then raves about Rizzo and LaRoche on the fact that they gave good interviews. Kinda sad that that is how this "initial guy" rates how a persons personality is just off a TV interview. I remember when Harper was called the same name by one of the idiots on 106.7 (I think it was Chad Duke). I saw Chad at the park and asked how well he knew Bryce and he said he did not know him at all and was going by what he had read and heard. As Bryce became the player he is, Chad actually went on air and apologized for his early remark. Maybe "initial guy" won't change his mind but those kind of words just rile me. Print that you dislike how SS talks on tv and I am fine. Print a slur and it lowers my opinion of you.

Go Nats!!

Unkle Wheez said...

This is a great dirrection for Strasburg to go toward. I hope he uses the Two Seamer much more this year. Giving him 4 quality pitches. If he can get his pitch count down (Less K's) I will be happy about that. He will still get his strikes mind you, but I love seeing weak grounders getting scooped up by the infield.

Anonymous said...


NatsLady said...

I really, really don't care about Strasburg's interviews or his personal life. What I care about is how he plays on the field. If you don't like his interviews, use the MUTE button.

MicheleS said...

I hope i am in the park when Stars pitches his first complete game. It will be something to behold.

NatsNut said...

I agree with sjm on name-calling, but I have to admit I still have not warmed up to Strasburg at all. Michele, yes, it does take practice but the dude has had PLENTY of time to practice dealing with the media. And can't put my finger on it exactly, but it's as if he wants to act or appear all hard-core, competitive, etc., but he still has little fits if things don't go exactly his way or seems to blame outside sources a lot on any (perceived) lack of perfection. He can pitch, no doubt, but he's still not a favorite of mine.

MicheleS said...

One thing that FP mentioned last night, the guys that they were interviewing were having a hard time because they were watching for foul balls so they could get out of the way. So there is that too..

NatsNut.. i get that about him appearing that way. My one thing that I noted is that when he did the interview with Mark, he actually showed improvement (he actually looked Mark in the eye). I think that Gio being there to tease him and the fact the Bryce is not shy at all, has really taken some pressure off him.

The funny thing is Jordan doesn't talk at all and people don't bust on him for it.

Joe Seamhead said...

sjm308, I got pretty frosted with the poster last night, too, but decided to bite my tongue. That said, I thought a couple of things to myself, one being that Stras doesn't come across as Mr. Personality, but I remember how the media hounded that kid even before he had made his first ML start, asking him the stupidest, inane questions, over and over and over again. It wouldn't surprise me if just has a hard time giving an interview with anything other than utter distaste, and truth be told. I can't blame him.
I'm really excited about the prospect of watching SS in his first year of truly just being one of the guys. He just seems more comfortable somehow.
Good-bye, February, welcome, March! One month from today is the home opener!

Theophilus T. S. said...

I think the post-game (or in-game) interview requires some sort of gift. You're wrapped up in the game; what just happened on the field is running around in your head like a hamster on a wheel, and somebody sticks a microphone in your face and you're expected to be glib? The Nats have plenty of guys (Gonzalez, Desmond, Zimmerman) who can chat -- sometimes meaninglessly -- about nothing. So long as Strasburg isn't surly, who cares? Werth is about as charming as the gym teacher in charge of study hall but people pay attention to his interviews on the off-chance he'll say something insightful.

Possibly Strasburg will become as chatty as Jim Kaat. Possibly, also, he'll find he likes being out the limelight and not want to face the media hordes in NY and LA.

Anonymous said...

Strasburg is obviously not going to retire in 15 years and become a broadcaster, but I thought his comments about how he and Haren, both apparently introverts, were slowly getting to know each other revealed a self-awareness of his personality, which kind of leads me to doubt that he's a jerk. Also, completely from perspective of an outsider, it seems like his teammates genuinely like him. So, while he need not be anyone's favorite in the personality department, I'd give him every benefit of the doubt that he's a good guy.

Theophilus T. S. said...

I think being asked last year, after each of 28 starts, about the September Shutdown really ground Strasburg down. Joe Seamhead has it right: give Strasburg a year or so when reporters aren't asking him every day about something that's completely out of control and for which he has no new answer.

Doc said...

I get what people say about SS's interview style.

But he is not one to go with the flow of standard 'question-answer' jive. He likes to frame all questions within his own perspective. That's just the way he is.

For me it's not a big deal, but I can see how he might rub interviewers the wrong way. In time he'll probably make some adaptations, but I think he'll always prefer to do his own 'question framing' and it will always be a little less personable than an iterviewer would like.

Stras's Probably low on the list for a guest interview on MLB Network's "Intentional Talk".

I think that I'll stick to watching him pitch, and let the media guys talk for him.

SCNatsFan said...

One thing this spring has shown is Rendon sure can hit. If you can hit like that then Rizzo will find a place for you in the lineup sooner rather than later.

NatsLady said...

Rizzo said in his interview that Werth has come to embrace the role of team leader and the team "belongs" to him.

When Stras retires, that is when I'll be interested in his perspective--when he has the long view and a ghost-writer. If he becomes the Cy Young, World-Series MVP, Hall-of-Fame pitcher we all hope for, then he can be as "introverted" as he wants during his career. Right now, his total focus should be on his game. Apparently, he is fine with teammates.

Section 222 said...

Strasburg is inexperienced, but he's not really "young" in MLB terms. Clayton Kershaw is only four months older and he's already pitched four seasons of more than 170 innings and 31 or more starts. King Felix already had five such seasons at a similar age. If Stras hadn't been injured, he might have had two such seasons under his belt by now. Remember, Stras is "old" for his year -- he'll be pitching his Age 24 season this year, even though he'll turn 25 in July. He played three years of college baseball.

This is the year for Stras to make the leap from potential to actual superstar. I'm excited to watch it happen and I'm pretty sure it will. But if it doesn't, it won't be because of youth.

Oh, and I don't care one bit what kind of interview he gives.

MicheleS said...

Rendon is going to be on 106.7 at 11:30

Anonymous said...

I'm with NatsLady on this one: I really don't care about his interview style or lack thereof. He communicates very well on the mound. When hitters look foolish on a strikeout, it is sometimes like a joke Strasburg told and I laugh appreciatively.

Rabbit34 said...

Ho Hummmmm. ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tcostant said...

THose first couple of year when they were sheilding Strasburg from the press had us wanting more. But now, oh boy, is he boring. That interview during the inning was a hard listen, it is amazing that a ballplayer could be that boring.

I agree I'd much rather watch him on the field!

Anonymous said...

good points all, to be sure. here's the counterpoint:

MicheleS said...

Sooo.. Rendon has played 2B up until he was 16.. very interesting.

sjm308 said...

Just to make sure Natslady understands my post, I am not bothered by how he presents himself, I am bothered by someone else calling him names for his interview style.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Rendon played 2nd base growing up and shortstop through High School and 3rd base in college.

He pronounced his name as Ren-don and the "on" rhymes with "own". I've heard it pronounced many different ways.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

MicheleS, you caught onto the same stuff as I did but playing 2nd in travel ball isn't a real test of his pivot skills as it just isn't the same, but playing shortstop in High School shows his versatility and knowing the cut-offs and middle infield responsibility.

His arm may also rival Danny's if he played 2nd.

MicheleS said...

Ghost.. all I want for Rendon is a good health. The kid can rake. Not sure what position he would play.

NatsLady said...

sjm, I understood your post and agreed with it!!! Sorry if I wasn't clear.

Updated the grades and comments for the Nats lefty specialists. Have a really busy weekend ahead, gonna try to keep up...

Lookin' for a Lefty

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

MicheleS, and I raise my coffee to Rendon's good health!

I said my peace on Rendon when he was first signed. The cream rises to the top. I will say, Espinosa looks much better. You can never have too many good prospects and players.

I'm wondering if Rendon comes up end of April and someone with options gets sent down (Lombo or Espi) or DFA'd (Tracy). This kid is ready, its a matter of getting him reps which is what Rizzo wants.

Again, I don't see Rendon as a power hitter, I see him as a gap hitter with some power. He will be a high BA guy with a high OBP.

Alphabet Soup Erik said...

Ghost-Agree that Rendon could very well be up sooner rather than later. The kid reminds me of a cross between Martin Prado and Allen Craig(who at times looks like the best hitter in the National League). Barring injuries, I think he may force the front office to make a deal at some point. Waiting 2 years until LaRoche's contract runs out seems pretty unrealistic. Espinosa may improve, but I don't see him being better than a healthy Rendon, and he is going to start costing them a lot more money once he hits arbitration. The good news for everybody involved is that Espinosa could probably bring back a decent haul in a trade for a team that needs him at SS. After all, he is a .250 hitter who can go 20/20 every year with great defense.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

After Anthony Rendon was signed his baseball coach at Rice, Wayne Graham was quoted as saying that Rendon was the best hitter he ever coached.

Most that know Graham were stunned since he also coached Lance Berkman and other MLB players over his 22 years at Rice.

That has always stood out in my mind to get that accolade from Graham along with all the other scouting reports and seeing Rendon in person last year.

I think the Martin Prado comparison is a good one as that is what you get in a contact hitter who can spray the ball all around but Rendon has more pop than Prado did when he was younger and I see a higher ceiling with Rendon.

Rizzo is going to be faced with a realization that you can't keep Rendon down too long, but I see the biggest issue will be how Danny is playing. If Danny is playing great, than there's no room for Rendon until September.

EmDash said...

I doubt Rendon takes Chad Tracy's or Lombardozzi's backup roles - if they want him to develop into an everyday role, and I'm sure they do, putting him on the bench in the majors most days will hinder that. Have to imagine that, short of a rash of injuries, he spends most of the season in the minors and spends some time learning the demands of second base there.

As for Strasburg, I think he's just a reserved person that hates interviews, and he seems to feel he gets too much attention than his short major league track record deserves. As a fairly shy person myself, I find it hard to fault him - I would be *way* more awkward if expected to give nationally-broadcast interviews all the time, that's for sure. *g*

Tcostant said...

The way Rendon hot reminds me of Jay Payton (, I saw him in the minors and his early Mets years. I grew up as a Mets fan and they remind me a lot of each other. The ball just jumps off Rendon's bat, the way I remember it did for Payton in those early years.

I sure hope injuries don't de-rail Rendon's career like it did Payton's.

NatsLady said...

Baseball reference has added a new feature for spring training called opposition quality. (Links are in Mark's new post, the video of Werth.)

It’s in the far right for every player for spring training 2013, if you search on the individual player.

So far for Rendon, it’s 7.6, which means the pitchers he’s faced are mostly AAA (8) and AA (7).

NatsLady said...

Since Stras pitches in the earlier innings, his opponents are of higher quality (9.2). So he is basically "working on stuff" against mostly major-league hitters. Good. :)

NatsLady said...

I think the SPAM filter swallowed my post on Stras.

As a starter, he's pitching in the early innings, so his Opp. Qual is 9.2. He's "working on stuff" against mostly major-leaguers, which is all to the good.

natsfan1a said...

What EmDash said, particularly this:

"As a fairly shy person myself, I find it hard to fault him - I would be *way* more awkward if expected to give nationally-broadcast interviews all the time, that's for sure. *g*"

NatsLady said...

A lot of performers and athletes are introverts (I know I am, as are most of my family except my sister-in-law, who married into it). Think of what it takes to spend hours and years practicing in a room by yourself or in a weight room, etc. Watch some of the best artists on award shows or talk shows--unless they have someone writing their lines for them, it can get pitiful fast.

Introverts can interact very well with people. I'm a teacher, and I have to. But I find it exhausting. Extroverts want to go to a party to recover from a tiring day; introverts want to go home and read.

mo nats said...

I aagree with EmDash that unless there are injuries for the infield and Rendon is needed to play and produce as a starter, the best place for him is AA or AAA to get reps and demonstrate his overcoming his own injuries. The ball really does zoom off his bat and the "crack" is as pronounced as Harp's is. I look forward to seeing what he can do against MLB pitchers.

SonnyG10 said...

NatsLady said...

...Introverts can interact very well with people. I'm a teacher, and I have to. But I find it exhausting. Extroverts want to go to a party to recover from a tiring day; introverts want to go home and read.
March 01, 2013 2:01 PM

Describes me to a T.

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