Nationals Baseball: Time to worry about Strasburg?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Time to worry about Strasburg?

Strasburg had a terrible outing yesterday. That in itself is not telling. The number of bad outings in Coors field is close to infinity.  However, that outing didn't happen in a vacuum.  Strasburg's last three outings have all been bad and it's got some of us concerned. Should we be?

First let's understand how out of place these bad outings were. On August 1st Strasburg shutdown Arizona over 6 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.63.  After yesterday's game, just three starts later, his ERA has ballooned to 3.59.   He's pitched to a 14.66 ERA during this time, with opponents hitting .414 / .462 / .776 off him.

It's been progressively worse too. On August 6th he faced a good Giants offense, and got hit around a bit, giving up 8 hits in 4 2/3rds.  That included two doubles and two triples, but he also walked only 1 and struck out 8.  On August 12th he faced a garbage Braves offense and got hit around again. It wasn't as many hits (7 in 5 1/3rds) but it included 3 doubles and 2 homeruns and he walked 2, and struck out 7. Given the decrease in talent he was facing that was definitely a step down performance.  Yesterday, he faced the Rockies in Coors, which is almost always a tough outing and got blasted. NINE hits in 1 2/3rds. No homers but 4 doubles and a triple and worse - 3 walks (and only 3 Ks but out of 5 outs that's about right).  At least it can't get any worse right?

Yesterday was his worst outing of the year. The game on the 12th was his second worst outing. The game on the 6th was his third worst outing. (his 4th worst outing was Jul 21st). Could it be the heat? I suppose it could be an issue getting used to it. July was a problem in 2012 and 2013, but he hasn't shown much of that in the past few years. Plus he was always ok in August. So it makes a nice excuse but probably not.

So is it trouble? Well the good news is that it is probably not arm based trouble if it is. Usually you look for a sudden drop in velocity when that happens and that isn't the case here.

Then what is it? It would be remiss to write off three bad starts, each worse than the last, as just "this happens". Let's speculate!

It's the pitches per game
Strasburg had pitched 20 games by the crash. In 16 of them he hit the "magical" 100 pitch threshold. In three of the other four he reached 95 pitches. Maybe Strasburg is just a 6 inning pitcher who has been overworked. Of course he hasn't been worked overly hard either. He's only hit 110 pitches 3 times and tops out at 114. I'm not sold on this.

It's the slider
After you look at velocity you look at movement and only pitch that looks to be different is the slider. It's moving less side to side and more up and down. Strasburg always seems to want to tinker with a fourth pitch to go along with the fastball, change, and curve. However, fancy stats don't say there is an issue with the slider.   He's been getting killed on his straight pitches - fastball and change. So the slider change is interesting but not telling.

It's the location of the straight stuff
From April to July Strasburg was able to mix things up pretty good. Looking at where those fastballs and changes went it was a pretty even distribution. More in the middle but a good 38% at the bottom of the zone or below it. In August though (first 3 starts) he's only been able to hit that spot about 27% of the time and out of the zone has dropped from 18% to 9%.  This goes along with the batted ball stats which show that the number of groundballs he's inducing is down to 27.3% from 35% or higher in every other month. Also the number of soft hits is down precipitously and hard hits are up. Hmm we seem to be onto something here. However, August data is slim so you have to take that into account and percentage of strikes don't suggest he's getting more wild in general.


If it is a locating issue than that still doesn't answer the question unless for some reason the Nats have told him not to throw low. If he's having an issue getting the fastball to stay down then the question is still why? Why is that? What I would do next is look at his other pre injury times. Did he have trouble keeping the fastball down then? If so a similar injury isn't a bad guess. But it's still just a guess. His form could just be off. His landing spot could have shifted slightly. This is what you are getting paid for Nats staff. Figure it out.

29 comments:

AceHammer said...

I think it is the summer heat. Seems his worst games have always been in excruciatingly hot and humid places like Atlanta.

cass said...

I don't think we can rule out the weather. Not all Augusts are the same! DC has just experienced one of the hottest, most humid stretches in its history, worse than anything we've seen in a few years.

The game against the Braves, especially, was hot and humid. Strasburg was sweating like crazy, clearly having trouble gripping the ball. He's had a history of struggling with heat in his career - he's been pulled early due to weather before.

As for yesterday, eh, what happens at Coor's Field stays in Coor's Field as far as I'm concerned.

So you have the Giants (great team), a hot, humid start where he was having trouble gripping the ball and under heat stress, and then Coor's Field. Has he been terrible the last three starts? Of course. But due to the situations, I wouldn't panic. Just wait and see what happens next time before thinking this is something that will persist.

G Cracka X said...

I was at the Braves game (figured Stras vs. the Braves would be good odds for a W). Location was definitely the issue. Either missing too much off the plate, or missing by throwing middle-middle. In that game, the turning point came when the Braves pitcher led off with a double in the 5th. If Stras gets Folty out, and manages to get the next two guys (in the game, he got 1 of 2), then Freeman doesn't come up until the 6th, and worst case scenario, he hits a home run like he did in the 5th, but its a solo shot rather than a 3-run homer. Then, maybe its considered a 'meh' outing rather than an 'Oh no!' outing. Baseball can be quirky like that

Why the location was off, I don't know

Nattydread said...

He looked very very uncomfortable. In his winning streak, he looked totally in control on the mound, Scherzer-cool. In his last 3 starts, he had the 2014-15 "bad period" expression on his face. Like he really really didn't want to be there at all. He wears his mood on his sleeve and is not good at disguising his discomfort.

Harper said...

cass -

"Sure, but it was Baltimore, a homer machine of a team, in Baltimore with the DH"
"Yeah, but Colorado just saw him and were ready for him. And it was hot at 1PM!"
"The Mets always seem to have his number. They've faced him since 2009. Probably got a book 100 pages long on him. You know how those divisional rivals are"
"Ummm... it was just Labor Day... and... Strasburg maybe ate an undercooked hamburger"

Where does it end, cass? Where does it end?!?!

GCX - Yeah but you can play that game either way. Markakis bloops his hit in the 1st instead of popping it up and it falls in. Peterson gets up that inning and still hits a homer - He's given up 4 before getting a 3rd out. I like to think in general it happened as it should have.

Nd - maybe. I don't want to try to read emotions unless it's obvious to me, yelling on the mound, kicking stuff. Or else i bring in too many of my own biases.

Fries said...

I have to agree with Cass on the hot/humid front. He grew up in San Diego where the weather is perfect year round. I just don't think his body ever learned to regulate temperature. He's had multiple starts cut short to stick an IV in his arm and rehydrate him, plus he sweats through his jersey in mild weather. I'm not super concerned about him just yet, but a 4th bad one in a row and maybe it really is something more

Kevin Rusch said...

I was at the game in Coors, and it was also pretty hot. The humidity was low, but the sun was pretty fierce; I was uncomfortable sitting there watching him. I couldn't see the location (I was in the corner of the OF) but his velo looked fine. So, maybe? But I don't feel comfortable blaming 3 consecutive games as outliers. As with so many other things, the team is coasting (see yesterday's post) so if he needs 2 weeks to chill and work on his mechanics, do it.

Zimmerman11 said...

Hopefully it's his neck/back again and he can just go to the chiropractor and get an adjustment and take a week off and come back strong for the stretch run. I'm sure if he gets beat up again next time up that is what will happen.

In other news, if you click "last 30 days" when looking at Nats' bats... everyone is hitting except Espy (.160/.250/.200), Revere (.180/.230/.300) and bryce (.190/.330/.360)...

Turner, Rendon, Murphy, Ramos and Werth... all in the (.300/.350/.580) range.. throw a BRYCE in there, or even a Bryce... and we really got something :) Throw a useful Zim in there and we might actually have a shot of beating someone in the postseason.

Oh, and Harper, I spent some time visiting friends in NC this past week. I'm very jealous of the bbq down there, and the moonshine.

JE34 said...

I see Harper referred to it already... next two starts, Stras gets Baltimore at Camden Yards, then Colorado at Nats Park. Both will be tough. If he gets banged around again, I bet we'll see a skipped start or two.

Jacks said...

I think this graph would lend itself to the location explanation:

http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs.aspx?playerid=10131&legend=1,2&statArr=111,109&split=base&time=daily&ymin=&ymax=&start=2016&end=2016&rtype=mult&gt1=5

Strasburg is throwing fewer strikes, and when he does throw strikes, they're getting hit more often.

Chas R said...

I like Stras and glad that we signed him to the new contract. He has a history of being bothered by things. Whether it's a nagging little injury, the heat, or the other team getting BABIP lucky, he let's things he has no control over effect his performance. If he could be more like Tanner, I think he would be more consistently dominant.

If there's no injury related issue here, I am sure he will get this sorted out.

Carl said...

I get that the velocity doesn't point to an injury, but I can't help but wonder. The number of times a guy has a drop in performance, and then a couple weeks later goes on the DL for some undisclosed injury, is almost equal to the number of bad outings in Coors. Stras as much as anyone has gotten crap over the years for not being a tough guy and playing through injury, but if you're hurt and you pitch like crap you really aren't doing anyone a favor. If there's a problem, skip a start or go on the DL and get better. A week off seems to have helped Bryce quite a bit.

Mythra said...

This time of year and with the lead in the NL East, I'm fine with a quick DL stint if he needs to work on an injury or fix a mechanical issue at Potomac. I'm also a fan of Max's approach to the heat and humidity as reported by Kolko a while back. He spends the bullpen session day out in the heat as much as possible to train his body to the effects, and it gives him a day or two to re-hydrate and prepare for his start.

I grew up in Michigan, and having lived here for 20 years now, I can say it took several summers to adjust to the heat and humidity. All that said, I was hating summer the last 2 weeks or more. It's just plain gross outside to someone with 20 Virginia summers under their belt. Stras has only been here for 6.

Froggy said...

Strasburg is having problems? I didnt notice. Besides it really doesn't matter because we already CALLED IT!!

Heh, heh, heh...

Harper said...

Carl - I tried to specifically note that velocity probably means no arm injury. something else hurting his release point, but not velocity is possible. So I'd be surprised by a shoulder or elbow thing, but gutting through a hip or foot injury? Possible

Harper said...

Froggy - yep we did. Notice Miami lost, Mets lost and despite Strasburg giving up 9 the Nats nearly clawed back.

Jay said...

I actually liked Stras' answer to why he got pounded by Colorado. He pretty much stated that he didn't have it that day. He's human and sometimes that kind of stuff happens. I say flush the last 3 starts. Hit the mental reset button and get on a roll again. His velocity has been fine. I think he threw the slider too much yesterday, but otherwise I think his stuff will play just fine. I pretty much agree with what cass wrote.

I still don't see how Espy or Revere play everyday. I am hoping that once Zim is back that Turner goes to CF and Murphy back to 2nd.

DezoPenguin said...

@Jay: Espy plays every day because he is good at being a shortstop. Revere plays every day because...because...veteran winnersauce? (Personally, I completely support the idea of Zim at 1st, Trea in CF, or at least platooning the two, because bad Zim has been better than bad Revere and good Zim is better than good Revere, and Dusty is more likely to bat Zim 7th and Espi 8th, which in turn makes Espi a better hitter as well.)

Meanwhile, in the who'd-have-thunk-it category, Sandy Leon is leading all American League catchers in fWAR through just 43 games. Boston's DHing him today and sure enough, he's 1-for-3 with a solo HR. Between Sandy and Ian, it's a good year for old friends (at least batters, as Storen and Znn are not having the time of their lives).

Froggy said...

If pitchers were grass varieties Strasburg would be fine fescue. A cool season grass that looks beautiful in the shade but doesn't tolerate heat well.

PotomacFan said...

Strasburg has problems with the rain, too. By contrast, Scherzer and Roark are bulldogs. Joe Ross looks like a bulldog in the making -- if they can fix his sore shoulder.

JE34 said...

... and they just called up AJ Cole. Do I smell the DL?

Anonymous said...

Strasburg is what he is, and at this point I fully accept it and I think we all have little choice but to accept it. He's a pretty good starter who is capable of being quite dominant when he feels good and the conditions are all just right. But he's pretty lacking in the heart, guts, and mental toughness department, so if he's not feeling good or the conditions aren't all just right, look out because he'll melt down on you faster than Chernobyl or Fukushima. He's simply not what he was hyped up to be when he was in college, he's not headed to the Hall of Fame, and in all likelihood he'll never even win a single Cy Young Award.

Assuming he pitches in the playoffs, I think it's about 50-50 as to whether he does well or gets lit up like the Fourth of July. Let's all cross our fingers and hope it's the former, because with bad Stras we're going nowhere.

NPI said...

Bum, rain delay!

NPI said...

Put Zimmerman in minors and lobotan. Bring up Difo and severino

Rob Evans said...

Is there any further debate that Lopez is a much better prospect than Giolito at this point? Lopez looks pretty darn impressive for such a young pitcher.

John C. said...

Thanks to 2:31 Anon we see the ferocious staying power of internet tripe. Twenty good-to-excellent starts for Strasburg, including some gutty, gritty performances (beating the Mets in back-to-back starts when the Mets were still relevant; beating very good hitting teams on the road in St. Louis and Cleveland), but a couple of bad starts washes all of that away as if it never existed. All data that doesn't fit the "hothouse flower" narrative is to be diminished, discounted or ignored. All hail the narrative!

As for "do we worry about Strasburg?" the answer is clearly yes. The Nats are up 9.5 games (ten in the loss column) so that the Nats' "magic number" is 34 (Bryce!) with 42 games to play, Bryce and Rendon are starting to hit again, team health is pretty good, Werth is playing the canny vet and Turner the sparkplug phenom roles to perfection. But we're fans, and not worrying feels alien to our baseball experience. So we're practically at DEFCON 1 when it comes to grasping at worry straws. Worry about Strasburg? Hell, we have to worry about SOMETHING!

John C. said...

(correction: magic number is currently, as of the morning of 19 August, 33)

Carl said...

"Notice Miami lost, Mets lost and despite Strasburg giving up 9 the Nats nearly clawed back."

When you have the lead, there are four possible combinations of outcomes between your game and the 2nd place teams game (assuming you aren't playing head-to-head). Three of them are good.

BxJaycobb said...

Rob Evans: is there any debate that Lopez is better than giolito? There should be no debate....that giolito is still a better prospect. Most scouts don't even think Lopez will be a starter due to his all-arm delivery. Giolito meanwhile is still the top pitching prospect in the major leagues on some lists. (Lopez barely makes top 100). I'm sorry giolito didn't kill it his first few appearances in the majors, but not everybody is Syndergaard/Strasburg coming out dominating. Apparently Mike Maddux messed with Giolito's delivery in spring training which has resulted in a borderline lost season for him of adjustments and adjustments to adjustments and just generally crappy control and way more walks this year. Is it possible in the end that Giolito will be a bust and Lopez will be a decent starter/dominant closer? Sure that's always possible. But until I hear professional talent evaluators say "yeah. Giolito's stock has dropped big time. He's unlikely to be an ace type" or "Wow. Reynaldo Lopez definitely has a repeatable delivery he can sustain for a full season!" I'm gonna stick with the conventional wisdom that Giolito is the prize and Lopez is a talent who will likely end up as a closer. Obviously we all hope that somehow they both are awesome starters. But uh let's pump he breaks on Reynaldo Lopez being better than giolito because of 3 starts each. If we went by that standard Strasburg would be out of professional baseball.