Stephen Strasburg is a very good pitcher. Stephen Strasburg is not a great pitcher. He's had runs of greatness. At the ends of seasons you can look back and say "if he just does A and a little of B he'll be great" but he has yet to put together a career that would make you say he's great.
This should be fine. We should be able to go into a Strasburg game hoping for a great game, expecting a good one, and ready to complain about off ones (like yesterday). And yet we can't (or at least I can't) because of the dark cloud of ill will that surrounds Strasburg. Where did that come from? Why is it here?
Looking back I'm pretty sure it all started with that most dreaded of Nats' topics, the "Shutdown". Right now it would be silly to think Strasburg could have pitched if Mike Rizzo wanted him to sit. We all know that the team is, as Mike Rizzo affectionately calls them, "Mike Rizzo's Nationals". Outside of Teddy coming down and saying "Little Scottie Boras and I made a deal", what Rizzo says, goes. But at the time of the shutdown there was still some question. Davey Johnson was a strong presence. The Nats had just began to win. So there was a non-ignorable amount of Nats fans that thought if Strasburg just made a big enough stink, they'd have to keep him pitching. At the very least they wanted him to throw a fit and see what happened. Instead Strasburg said "I want to pitch but the coaches told me to sit so that's how it goes" Not good enough, ya pansy!
A larger set of fans thought, with some justification, "If Strasburg is so good that we'll screw with our playoff chances, he better be the damn second coming of Walter Johnson". The shutdown made the beginning of 2013 a judgment on if Strasburg was worth all this special attention. Nevermind the attention wasn't really special. ZNN was treated the same way before. Other teams had innings limits but tried to work it so they missed time at the beginning, leaving playoff pitching open. Strasburg was being singled out as the greatest arm ever that had to be protected under all circumstances. Let's see what he can do.
Well how did 2013 open up? With a shutout win!... then a loss, and another loss, and another loss, and another. With the judging eyes of a baseball nation upon him, Strasburg went 1-5 in his first 8 games, taking to mid-May to pick up win #2. Outside of the second game of the year he didn't pitch poorly, but he had a lot of unearned runs scored on him. The onus of him being a guy that wilted when the defense failed him stuck. It isn't true. But having 3 such games come together in close proximity when everyone was trying to see if the shutdown was worth it, made it seem so. We're not really ones for going back and re-judging people. It's much easier to sit around and pick out the moments that confirm what we already think.
Plus he was a loser! 1-5! What fans didn't know in the moment is that the Nats' offense was taking a step back toward average in 2013, and the lack of offense would especially hurt Strasburg with low run support. Strasburg would go on to have a very good rest of the season, but would never get over .500, losing three games after reaching 5-6, including his best game of the season a 2 hit, 1 run, 8IP, 12 K gem. He would finish 8-9. By year's end you had that initial group of skeptics now convinced. Strasburg wasn't worth it. He wasn't a winner. Jordan Zimmerman, at 19-9, was a winner (no other Nats would win more than 11)
Still going into last year it wasn't fully set yet. Many people could read the season that was hidden underneath that record and were convinced that Strasburg would bring it all together in 2014. Just watch! You'll see! Again the Nats fans turned to Strasburg early in the season and... he blew Opening Day and he pitched poorly in his next game versus Atlanta and he pitched poorly in his 4th game vs Miami. Going into his last start in April he had a 1-2 record and a 5.33 ERA. Stras would pitch well from then on out but the wins wouldn't fall his way. Despite a good offense and a good ERA (3.14 from that last April start), Stras would only go 6-7 and would be at 7-9 for the year. The conversation was over. There were going to be no more converts to Strasburg. Those that wanted to hate him had another "fact" on file that he wasn't a good pitcher. Strasburg would pitch even better the rest of the year, including putting up a 2.29 ERA and 8-3 record over the past two months, but for naught. Everybody but Gio pitched great and ZNN even finished the year with a no-hitter. Perhaps a dominant playoff performance would start Stras on the road back but he only gave a workman like one.
At this point it would take at least a half-season, a FIRST half of the season, that was the best in the NL to start turning anyone who dislikes Strasburg back toward him.
The end result is Strasburg, a very good pitcher with great stuff, is no fun to watch anymore. Every god damned game he pitches has become a 3 hour referendum on his ranking in the pitching world. Every fifth day, one half of Nats fans shout "HE'S THE WORST" and the other half has to keep from punching the first half in their stupid faces because their stupid faces deserve punching. Add to that a national (and most local, to be honest) media that still is stuck on "See, Strasburg isn't the best pitcher ever!", a fact that any sane person following this franchise moved on from a couple years ago, and any joy has been sucked out of the day. Dad got stuck in the chimney and died. Strasmas is ruined.
But otherwise, how are you today?