Nationals Baseball: A teenager at Strasmas

Friday, April 10, 2015

A teenager at Strasmas

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?


Chas R said...

Hahaha... that was hilarious Harper. Yeah, I feel bad for Stras. He'll be fine, not great, but fine.

He's going to make a GREAT amount of $$$ in a couple of years though!

NatsVA said...

Remember when we thought Strasburg was going to be a multiple year Cy Young winner? Seems like so long ago...

NatsVA said...

I also don't think he's going to break the bank in free agency. Looking forward to him being gone though. I'm over the inconsistent performances, barely making it to the 6th inning, and never pointing the finger at himself. He gives off the air like he really doesn't care, and I'm over it.

Anonymous said...


Anthony Rendon said...

Stras has a personality like me. He doesn't get emotional about much so it appears that he doesn't care. That turns away some fans as they think he doesn't care. The fact that he was supposed to be kershaw and isn't turns away others.

What people forget is he is the unluckiest pitcher on the staff. I like Stras but he gets ding hits on him more than anyone else I watch. My vote is pay him.

On a side note it's possible we would be undefeated if Desmond had been benched for espi that whole series.

Anonymous said...

Baseball is a funny game. Of our three SP performances so far, Sherzer was clearly the best and Z'nn clearly the worst. Sherzer punched out a bunch of guys, had only one or two walks, and gave up very few hits (though one was a booming triple). Z'nn didn't walk anybody, but there were several line drive outs and deep fly balls (Harper/Taylor and Z'n all made good tough plays). Strasburg didn't have great command and clearly ran out of gas in the 6th, but all the hits he gave up were singles and at least four of them were of the infield/bloop variety.

I think this analysis is spot on, Harper. Strasburg is very good but not great. I think he's a top ten SP but definitely closer to #10 than #5, much less #1. This just isn't good enough for people.

Bjd1207 said...

First off, great post. Absolutely encapsulates Stras' saga and the various sentiments people hold about him (often very strongly). A couple thoughts, one related and one not:

1. This got me thinking about the shutdown again, and our talk of contract extensions. If the decision was ultimately Rizzo's, and the decision was to forego the present in favor the future, doesn't that mean he probably figured we'd be extending/re-signing Stras at the end of his rookie deal? And if he thought that at the time of the shut down, has anything in Strasburg's performance caused him to change his mind? If what we're saying is true, then Strasburg has been a good (above average by advanced metrics) since then, and unless he asks for an exhorbitant sum, wouldn't the plan still be to re-sign him? If not, when did that change since we obviously planned to when we shut him down?

2. We rag on Matt Williams alot here, but I've got another gripe. Is it too much to ask for him to say in a post-game interview "yea Desmond's had a bad couple of games." I was listening real closely yesterday and instead he always answers with some form of "thats baseball, sometimes the balls bounce you're way, sometimes they dont." Are you f-ing kidding me? 3 errors in 3 games costing us 5 runs? That's not "baseball" and it would be refreshing if Matt Williams would act like he's even a little pissed about it. Something like "thats not how we wanna play" or "well make sure he gets it corrected because its costing us right now" or just SOMETHING

JE34 said...

MW won't publicly call out a veteran because he used to be one of those. And I can't say that I blame him, just 3 games into the year, and doesn't want to ratchet up the tension on his shortstop. Here's hoping there is some form of coaching going on vis-a-vis Desmond though. He still seems completely unacquainted with the concept of hitting behind runners in scoring position.

All that said, if Desmond causes more unearned runs tonight I might break something valuable in my home.

Anonymous said...

The shutdown stuff is irrelevant, at least to this anonymous poster. It never once crosses my mind. The ruined strasmas/stuck in the chimney metaphor is a little more apt. it's true that every time he goes out there and mails in another fair to middling performance, I am disappointed that I was robbed of watching a generational talent. you only get a few chances at those in life. for me personally and the teams/sports i follow, i had bossy in hockey, mattingly, agassi, emmitt smith, d wade. i'm probably forgetting a few. we'll see about bryce. back to stars, most of my current irritation with him stems from my sense that he never once has performed sterling in a game of any import/relevance. i have this sense that those numbers you ran through, as good as they might seem on paper, are overinflated due to a bunch of strong performances against also-rans and never were's at non-clutch parts of the season. but i get that that "sense" is fraught with subjective peril.

Bjd1207 said...

Lol @ JE34, my girlfriend has babyproofed my spot on the couch after last game.

Hitting behind runners? Have you ever seen anything in Des' approach beyond "swing as hard as I can at anything above my knees"?

Anonymous said...

I am a huge Strasburg fan. His stuff is absolutely electric. But,every game I am just baffled how many bloops, swinging bunts, & ground balls with eyes that he gives up. It feels like it is very rare that he ever gets "hit", and more so just gives up a lot of hits.

I have not done any research since college, and as a rule I refuse to. But I would bet a lot of money that the percentage of hits he gives up that could be considered "weak contact" is far and away the highest in the league.

If can ever "turn the corner" or "get over the hump" or whatever lingo you prefer to describe something that I am not sure is even describable... he could be truly amazing to watch.

JE34 said...

@BJD - sadly no... and it kills me. He might hit the DL with an injured left shoulder before too long (due to repeated blows with a bat following his overswing-and-miss).

I really and truly think Desmond could be top-shelf, no doubt, perennial all-star if he could complete his game, and learn to adjust at the plate. (and, y'know, play SS in April & May.) I would start by making him watch an endless loop of Jeter film. It seems like Desi knows that he can swing away, hit 20 HRs and strike out 200 times, hit .240 and still get paid the big bucks, b/c shortstop is weak around the league. Davey told him to swing away - which was good at the time - but someone needs to update Desi's microcode or something.

Desi drives me nuts because he has the tools to be SO much better. The way people feel about Strasburg is how I feel about Desi.

Anonymous said...

I don't like that because of the expectation that Stras would be a generational talent, only a Kershaw outcome would be 'good enough.'

A 1-1 pick turning into a top 10 pitcher is a really good outcome! With a little bit of batted ball luck he could easily win a cy young and nobody would be surprised.

We need to appreciate what we have, which is a damn good pitcher.

JE34 said...

@Anon - I'm with you there. It doesn't seem like Strasburg really gets roughed up that often. Where is Harper with the fancy stats on this? That guy LOVES research.

One wonders if there's a mid-30s version of Strasburg yet to come, one who learns to mix up his speeds even more as his velocity fades, and is able to locate with greater precision. Strasburg already runs like a duck... picture him plus 50 pounds, sweating like a Frenchman in July, putting the ball wherever he wants it, then waddling to the dugout.

Froggy said...

Even after Strasburg's first season I've been saying Zimmermann was a better pitcher. At times Strasburg looked dominating, other times not so much. I think after two trips through the order the other team has their timing down and he gets hit hard. And runs out of gas.

Also, except for that very first 14 so game, it seems like he just doesn't do well during day games. At least during the day games I've seen him pitch.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:32--

you may not like it, but i was sane the last time i was evaluated (harper's suggestion notwithstanding), and I'm sure there are others who share my disappointment. my larger point is that stras' performance to now cause reasonable minds to not trust him. would you trot him out next big game, next must win? not me if i could avoid it. i'd save him for the next tomato can in late july.

Jay said...

I think stras is part of why they picked up sherzer. Sherzer is known for saying "if you're not getting better, you're getting worse". I think the Nats are hoping sherzer will help stras take the next step.

Kenny B. said...

Strasburg's other mortal sin was having his first ever major league performance be a 14 strikeout performance before a sellout crowd that gave the modern vintage Nats their first glimpse into the electric atmosphere of playoff baseball. Like an addictive drug, it never felt as good after that first time.

I like him, and would love to see him stay. His departure would be a hit to the future homegrown Nats superteam I used to envision in his rookie season. It's silly and nostalgic, but I would be saddened by the loss.

Wally said...

I don't think the shutdown played as large a role as is made out here. It has a part, certainly, but I think the root of it is a overly hyped prospect, which many people will instinctively root to fail, coupled with a phenomenal opening start, and then a general failure to reach that level again, or with any consistency - even though it would be crazy to have that expectation for anyone.

I think the shutdown is in there too, as is the propensity for unearned runs and giving up hard contact. But yeah, it ends up as a vastly wasted amount of angst and emotions on a guy who has and will add far more value to the franchise than he is paid.

JWLumley said...

Move on, you'll feel better Harper. Strasburg is good not great. He can't locate his fastball, plain and simple. If he ever figures that out, he'll be great, but until he can consistently locate his fastball he'll have some games like yesterday.

JWLumley said...

@Anon You're drunk, go to bed. NN is a top 10 pitcher, Strasburg is not. Top 20 probably, top 30 definitely. But I'd take Kershaw, Scherzer, NN, Greinke, Price, Felix, Sale, Waino, Cueto, Richards, Hamels and MadBum before Strasburg. Personally, I'd take Fister too, but I know that's more of a personal thing than something rooted in analysis.

Pilot Captain Nat said...

I'm NOT an Robot LOL

I wrote that I think that the problem is that Strasburg, feels ROARK, and his presence behind him!! The pressure is too High on Strasburg. Strasmas LOL.

Anonymous said...

Harvey's better.

Anonymous said...

Lumley's at it again, pretending his biases are grounded in fact (and not bias). I submit that anyone who prefers Fister to Strasburg is drunk.

Strasburg has a better claim on Top 10 than Zimmermann. Z'nn had a great year last year. It is the only year for which you can make a reasonable argument that he pitched better than Strasburg. Strasburg has the clear advantage in all other years and when you look at their careers as a whole.

2014 was Z'nn's first year with a FIP under 3 and an xFIP under 3.5. In those two categories, Z'nn has finished in the top 15 in MLB exactly twice, in FIP and xFIP last year. Strasburg has been top 15 in FIP and xFIP each of the last three years. He was #1 in xFIP and #2 in FIP in 2012. His career xFIP is better than Z'nn's best season (2.75 to 3.1) and his career FIP is better than all but one of Z'nn's season (last year, Z'nn's best season). Strasburg's ERA is better than Z'nn's too, although not by nearly as much.

If you want to defend ERA over FIP and xFIP, go right ahead. I'm sure Mitch Albom, Murray Chass, and Charles Barkley will enjoy your efforts.

FWIW, I think Stras and Zimm are very close in overall value despite being very different pitchers. To say that one is clearly top 10 while the other is not is simply ignorant. But not as ignorant as thinking that Fister is better than Strasburg.

Anonymous said...

Jw you named 12 pitchers and throw in Harvey and kluber and hes top 15. That's still really good.

I personally have him over a couple of guys in that list, which is where I get to top 10.
Hammels is not better, he's older and getting worse.
Stras I further along from tj than Harvey or Fernandez and easily topped 200 innings last year.
Stras is right in line with where price and greinke are now.

Reasonable people can disagree about ordering these guys, but stras is def a #1 top of the order guy.

Froggy said...

I realize Gio didn't help himself by walking a pair and then plunking a third to load em up. But what a Tear a bile bullpen! Brilliant move trading away Clippard there Rizzolio.

Oh wait...I'm supposed to be patient, non-judgmental, opinionated, or quick to jump to conclusions.

(I am a Robot)

cass said...

Strasburg didn't have good command on Thursday. And he had bad luck. And poor defense.

It was one of the worst games I've been to or at least felt like it. Part of that was the fact that there were more Mets fans there than Nats fans. Harvey got much louder cheers than any other player. And Strasburg was taunted at home and had to walk off the field to "Harvey's Better" chants. Plus it was cold and windy and just miserable as the game was dull and the Nats got killed.

Quite a change from June 8th, 2010.

Also, the lineup is almost unwatchable right now, to be honest. Just horrendous. Who even are these guys? Harper, Zimmerman, and pray for balls.

John C. said...

I was at the game, too. It didn't seem to me that there were more Mets fans - I thought it about 2/3 Nats, 1/3 Mets. The Mets fans were louder though, because they had more to cheer about

Anonymous said...

My goodness, we're grumpy. Nothing like losing 4 out of the first 5 to get the ole bar fight started. Good topic, Harper! [other Anon]

Kenny B. said...

At this point, it clearly doesn't matter what the pitchers do, short of becoming the 1995 Braves. This offense is worst in the league. We thought they would struggle with early injuries, but this seems uglier than expected. It's made worse by the frequent errors and mental mistakes, but the fundamental problem is an inability to do that thing where you make the ball go with your bat.

Froggy said...

So no offense eh? Didn't we have a discussion last week on how we had 'replaced' ALR (and his production) with Zimmerman, who was replaced by Rendon, who was replaced by Uggla / Espinosa?

That new math sure aint replacing much runs the past week.

On another note, a fellow season tickit holder who sits nearby said he and his kid spent over a week at spring training right before he season started and he said the team looked terrible. Dropping balls, bad throws, terrible bullpen, no offense and the redonculous amount of injuries.

Then the next week it's opening day and the same error ridden, poor hitting team shows up for the Mets. And now the Fillies

JWLumley said...

One thing the offseason did, was make me forget how much I dislike Matt Williams as a manager. He needs a lights out bullpen with defined roles because he is clueless when it requires an imagination or thinking on the fly. Also, Dan Uggla is not good.

Anthony rendon said...

What last week showed us.
Uggla still sucks. We miss clippard. Injuries could kill this team. Desmond is horrendous defensively. Bryce still strikes out. We need to use Thornton instead of Xavier.

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