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.