Monday, July 5, 2010

What we've learned about Strasburg

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Even at his worst, Stephen Strasburg has been really good.
Now that we know Stephen Strasburg won't be going to Anaheim next week for the All-Star Game -- a resolution that, honestly, is probably best for everyone involved -- we can get back to his development as a pitcher for the Nationals.

Over his last three starts, we've seen opposing hitters begin to get to the rookie right-hander just a bit. After allowing 10 hits in his first 19 1/3 big-league innings, he's now allowed 19 hits in his last 17 1/3 innings. And on Sunday, he labored as much as he has in any of his six starts, lasting only five innings against the Mets after reaching a lofty pitch count of 96.

Did New York's lineup -- a veteran group that includes David Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur -- figure something out about Strasburg? Those batters seemed to work the count more than previous clubs did, leading to a 37-pitch first inning that all but ensured a short afternoon for the 21-year-old.

Actually, the Mets insisted that wasn't the plan of attack going in.

"It was just evident from the start that he wasn't getting ahead," Bay said inside the New York clubhouse after the game. "We were talking about it early that you're doing yourself a disservice if you're just trying to get the pitch count up and he's firing strike one in there time after time. A guy like that, with the stuff he has, that doesn't really put you in a better position. We did a good job of laying off. He didn't have his best command and we did a good job of taking advantage of that. But on the days where he does have his command, I don't really think that the try-to-get-the-pitch-count-up approach is really going to benefit you."

Bay has got a point. As much as it seemed like the Mets were successful against Strasburg, in the end they still only scored two runs off him. This speaks to a larger point about Strasburg: Even when he's not at his best, he's still been pretty darn good.

There have been moments in nearly every one of his starts in which Strasburg showed signs of faltering. And in just about every instance, he found a way to get through it and keep the damage to a minimum.

In Saturday's game, Strasburg struggled through a 37-pitch first inning, walking three and facing seven batters. But he held the Mets to only one run.

"That was huge," Jim Riggleman said. "To throw 37 pitches and only give up one run? It's not easy to do that."

Think about that in relation to other members of the Nationals' pitching staff. What usually happens when Craig Stammen or Luis Atilano or J.D. Martin gets into a jam? It turns into a big inning for the opposition. The only thing that has resembled a big inning against Strasburg so far was the seventh inning in Atlanta one week ago, when the Braves scored five runs (four off Strasburg, three of them earned) and that inning would have played out much differently had Ian Desmond turned that double play instead of booting the ball.

Strasburg clearly had trouble locating his fastball early, and he didn't exactly have a great feel for his curveball or changeup, either. But we saw another important trait about the kid: As the game progressed, he figured out what was going on and figured out how to correct it. And he wound up retiring the last seven batters he faced, on five groundouts, a popout and a strikeout.

So even within what was his roughest start to date, Strasburg still strung together two-plus innings of dominance. Which he probably would have continued had he been allowed to stay in the game longer.

The Nationals, of course, have strict pitch limits on the rookie. So he was pulled at 96 pitches, even though he had cruised through the fourth and fifth, and even though it was still a 2-0 game.

"In the future, that would definitely be a game he would not come out of," Riggleman said. "That's just how we're dealing with Stephen right now."

Unfortunately, that future won't come until 2011. The Nats won't push Strasburg beyond 100 pitches at all this season, so we all must accept the fact he's going to be pulled out of games even when he's on a roll and has plenty more left in his arm.

Six starts into his career, Strasburg finds himself with a 2-2 record, a 2.45 ERA and a ridiculous 53-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's not an All-Star (not yet) but he's already the best pitcher on this team by leaps and bounds and compares favorably with any other pitcher in the big leagues.

Does he still have a few things to learn? Sure. But perhaps the most encouraging sign to the Nationals right now is not the manner in which Strasburg has dominated through his first month in the majors, but the manner in which he has already shown he can dominate even when he's not at the top of his game.

Imagine just how good he'll be with a bit more experience, once he learns how to keep his game in top form with more regularity.


Steven J. Berke said...

Right now the Nats have only two pitchers in the rotation can regularly limit damage when they get in jams--Stras and Livan, each in a very different way. With Stammen, Martin, and Atiliano, it's been feast or famine; they're either dominant or they're gone, and the game gone with them. The good news is of cowrie that we have starting pitchers coming in the next month who have either shown they can dominate consistenly and/or limit damage when healthy (JZimm, Marquis, Olsen, maybe Detwiler, Lannan if he can find his groove again.)

DCJohn said...

Stras is the real deal, but we are the others? Without him, our starting rotation is nothing, and we were counting on this year to at least break 500. Is there something wrong in our player development that we haven't gotten a guy compartable. Lannan, as much as we love him and his grit, seems to have regressed. Stammen should have learned how to stick to a game plan and now blow up in the first inning. Is Olson done for? Can we count on the umpire giving Levian the pitch on the outside corner? We have been stock piling arms since 2005. What have got to show for it. Matt Chico? Sharon Martis? Garrett Mock? Beside Jordon Zimmermann, is there another hard thrower in the minors. This is the home stand to move up in standings. Six more games against good pitching and so-so hitting. Do we have fire power to sweep at least either the Padres or the Giants?

Anonymous said...

This is what I saw on July 3rd from Strasburg: he is a gamer giving it his all BUT he does not know what to do when his stuff is not working he is a THROWER not a pitcher! Also he labored in the heat, he is not well conditioned at all, just a big lumbering Sufis kicking the dirt when a call did not go his way or his defense let him down. He is the big kid that became a pitcher because he was too slow to play anywhere else...hopefully he pulls his head out of his you know what and learns how to pitch not just my friend who was at the fame said...this is te best the Nats have!?

bdrube said...

Brave comments from an anonymous poster. A "thrower" not a "pitcher"? I've got a 53-10 K to BB ratio that says differently.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Stras was getting squeezed all game. He'll have days like that. But he's playing as well as we can hope for.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous above, a lot of teams would love to say Strasburg is the best they have, even now. There aren't many pitchers who have such good stuff with as many as 3 pitches. In every game that he has struggled, he has made adjustments and this is from a 21 year old kid, not a seasoned veteran. He does not even have a full year of pro experience behind him. I'm not sure how your friend was watching the game, but are you sure he was watching Strasburg?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"hopefully he pulls his head out of his you know what and learns how to pitch not just throw."

Dude, hopefully you learn how to post and not troll. What a completely ignorant

greg said...

what the above people said, anon 1:48 and his friend are clueless.

Doc said...

SS is making adjustments like a veteran pitcher. Listening to him talk pitching, is almost as intriguing as watching him pitch. Not only does he know that he must make adjustments, but he's got the brains and arm to do it!

Sunderland said...

Anon 1:48, you're a moron.
People all over baseball are calling Strasburg one of the best pitchers in the NL, but you watched him pitch and think he's a thrower who needs to pull his head out of his ass.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Carpenter looked even worse last Saturday. I guess they're just another pair of washed up, has been throwers.

For our starting rotation, this year is done for already. Even if Marquis, Olsen, Detwiler, Wang, JZimm, Lannan come back, we're not going to see consistency from them. It's rare that injured pitchers, when they first come back from surgery, are truly good to go.

So we just have to suffer with what our rotation gives us, and hope for next year. It's conceivable we have a good rotation next year. (Good, not great) But we could just as easily have one or none of the guys from post-op pan out and deal with this again next year.

Paul said...

Anon 1:48, c'mon, you can't be serious. Strasburg's SO ratio, his available pitches, and his command of those pitches qualify him as a pitcher in my book. You need to define your definition of thrower! As for his physical fitness, I'll bet he's in a bit better shape than you suggest, but you're right - bottom line is his success will be defined by his ability to put up W's. I predict we're looking at a 20 game winner in the years ahead if he stays healthy.

Anonymous said...

What I see from the media and fans is that we expect him to be perfect. But 1968 Bob Gibson was the closest thing to perfect.

He will give up hit. He will give up runs... some days he'll get bombed. He'll never have a 0.00 ERA or WHIP. But if you look at the stats, he does have nearly the best ERA and WHIP on the staff (funny thing: the "other" #1 pick is right up there too).

These tough starts will serve him well in the future. I just want to watch him in DC for the next 10 years.

A DC Wonk said...

It may be, indeed, that Stras has a little bit of a problem -- and that is, he's always been completely overwhelming before, and so he may not be used to adversity; and may not be used to getting hit a lot even when he doesn't have his best start. (Indeed, even in AA, he pitched differently in games once he got hit)

And that's exactly why rookie pitchers have a lot to learn.

The best part, obviousy, is that even when this 21-year old rookie is learning, he's still on a higher level than anyone else on the staff. It'll be a pleasure watching him, hopefully for years to come, as he hones his craft and becomes better and better.

Responding to DCJohn who wrote: "Is there something wrong in our player development that we haven't gotten a guy compartable."

I'm not sure what you mean: we're stockpiling pitchers, and even 1st round draft picks, for pitchers, is a risky proposition at best. But let's remember the Nat's "other" 1st round pick last year -- Storen -- who's turned out pretty well so far.

Between Olsen, JZimm, Detwiler, Wang, Lannan, Marquis . . . we just need 2 or so of the six to pan out well to have a fairly big impact on the team. (And, it's possible that Atilano might pan out well, too).

I've also been keeping an eye on that Rosenbaum kid in A (although he's 1-5, his ERA is around 2.00)

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Off-topic alumni news:

Chad Cordero is pitching to Josh Bard for Seattle's battery in extra innings against Kansas City. The Chief looks decent, throwing in the high 80s.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Chief Update: He's allowed two runs in the top of the ninth and probably will be the losing pitcher.

Surprise of the night: Josh Bard threw out two runners attempting to steal in the top of the 10th. I believe that ties his entire caught-stealing total for all of last year.

Anonymous said...

@ Manassas

Strasburg is already good, and will become great in time, One thing that he can work on now is how to pitch tighter on the batters, they are diving over the plate for a lot of their hits. A little dose of chin music can take care of that.

His pitches have so much movement to the right, I am think the umps are missing some of those strikes, as they seem to cross the front of the plate over the plate and bu the time they are caught they are 6 inches outside and are being called balls,. I think Riggleman needs to make sure each game he reminds the umps of this movement so that he might get the calls.

Anonymous said...

As good as Strasburg is, I can't forget the comment made by Delwyn Young, who hit a home run in Strasburg's first game. Young claimed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that Strasburg was telegraphing his pitches, and he wondered how good Strasburg would be as word got around in the league about how to read him. 99mph will never be easy to hit, but it is true that his subsequent games have shown Strasburg to be human, so maybe there is something to Young's comment

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