Nationals Baseball: Worry About Strasburg?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Worry About Strasburg?

Stepehn Strasburg had another poor outing yesterday.  People had been worried about him, most noting a lack of velocity.  What exactly is going on?

Like any stat, velocity isn't something that is easy to judge off a few starts. It has an ebb and flow during a season often being lower during the first months of the season as the arm warms up and the last months of it as fatigue sets in.  So to really get a good judge of any velocity issues you do have to look by month.  The easiest place to do that (imo) is Brooks Baseball.  Here is Strasburg's page.

If we look at his April veolcity's in his career we get

2012 : 96.95
2013 : 96.53
2014 : 93.99
2015 : 95.24
2016 : 95.68
2017 : 96.21
2018 : 95.61
2019 : 93.93

Now there is at least one more start for him in the month so the number could pick up but we are seeing a velocity that we haven't seen in April since 2014. However, we have seen numbers this low before. In August and September of last season.  That suggests a bigger issue than may have been seen in 2014, but we'll dig into both.

First, for interests sake - how did he do in these three months?

April 2014:  4.24 ERA  1.412 WHIP 4.42 K/BB
August 2018 : 6.30 ERA  1.600 WHIP 2.50 K/BB
September 2018 : 2.60 ERA  1.212 WHIP  3.46 K/BB
April 2019 :  5.56 ERA, 1.279 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB

Not great news but interesting in that he seemed to learn to pitch around the velocity loss last year but this year, despite the relatively same WHIP and better K/BB he's having a worse season.  Why is that? Likely HRs...  Yep last Sept he gave up 4 homers - about one every 9 innings. This year already 5 in 22 innings.

That could be bad luck... or it could be more FBs or harder hit balls. Lets check it out.  FB%? Sept 41.2%  April  33.9%   Nope.   Hard hit %? Sept 27.6%   April 25.4% Nope. HR/FB? Sept 11.4% April 23.8%  Yep.

So bad luck is an option here. But this isn't definitive. It could just as easily be when he throws a bad pitch it gets WRECKED and he's throwing more bad pitches while around that pitching pretty much the same as last September. Well Brooks Baseball has a measurement for that as well with "grooved pitches" (off fastballs)

Sept 2018 :  9.13
April 2019 : 10.10

that isn't much of a difference and if you threw March into 2019 it'd be a wash.

I guess currently if I had to choose a reason, I would say a little bit of bad luck.  Yes his velocity is down but that didn't make him terribly less effective in September of last year, and peripheral stats suggest that if the homers go back down, he'll be perfectly fine.

But what causes Strasburg to have these velocity dips? In 2014 there wasn't anything telling. He had a lat strain in June of 2013 but came back to pitch fine after that.  Last year it was a shoulder/neck injury.  You could try to say it was a back related issue but he missed time in 2015 and 2016 with back issues. There's no pattern here to discern. In 2015 he hurt his back much earlier in the year but then injured his oblique. 2016 was a lot like last year - back injury, didn't miss much time, seemed fine going forward and it didn't effect his velocity at the start of 2017.  So... nothing? Well maybe or maybe not - the truth is as you get older injuries get harder to recover from and even two years might make a big difference given the wear and tear these guys go through. What he could bounce back from in the offseason of 2016 at 28 might be something he couldn't in the offseason of 2018 at 30.

My take away from this quick look through is cautious optimism. The early season struggles seem most likely related to a couple more balls going over the fence at inopportune times. As that even outs he should revert back to the pitcher he was at the end of last year.  That may not be the pitcher you want to see - his velocity is still down and it may not come back up much more than a MPH which would be low for him - but it's a good pitcher nonetheless. But this is cautious, as with each passing year there are greater chances for these changes to be real and lasting. 30 isn't old, but it isn't young and while I doubt he's a 5.50 ERA pitcher now, he could be inching closer to a 4.00 ERA guy


W. Patterson said...

Thanks for the analysis. I didn't watch the entire game last night, but didn't he manage to keep it within striking distance, anyway? Then the pen put it out of reach suggesting that it doesn't really matter what our starters do - whether leaving with one run or five.

It's still early, right? And maybe the Mets will blow out the Phillies this afternoon negating last night's blowout.

blovy8 said...

Well, Strasburg had a few 95 and at least one 96 mph fastball according the TV's radar gun last night. The issue was terrible location. The first inning he had one down the middle that the batter let go. They stopped doing that later, as you might imagine.

blovy8 said...

I guess 4 to 1 is in reach, but the apparent white flag that is a Rosenthal appearance made it little less so.

Anonymous said...

Well, if he is crashing and burning, at least we will be rid of his contract by...2024!

coolsny said...

Craig Stammen, Matt Albers, Blake Treinen all listed as part of bullpen trios that are tops in the league.

i know you can't predict the future for players but you sure can lament the past! wish we still had at least 2 of these 3

JWLumley said...

I know the Nats won't do it, but I think it's time for a Zimmerman/Adams straight platoon. Also, Kendrick should be starting 5-6 games a week at this point. Dozier and Difo are both sub-replacement level at this point.

DezoPenguin said...

@JW: Unfortunately, Kendrick and Dozier can't play SS, so if Difo doesn't play it's Sanchez replacing him. More Kendrick is certainly not something I'm against, though, and I certainly wouldn't turn up my nose at platooning Zim and Adams.

Also, nice to see Corbin continue to live up to his contract (and Barraclough quietly pitching better out of the 'pen).

Josh Higham said...

Barraclough's FIP is 2.31 and his xFIP is 4.36. If his true 2019 level is in the 3.60-3.90 range over the full year (just a little better than his projections), I think he's a huge steal for the Nats. In the small sample we have, he looks like a competent moderate leverage guy.

On the other hand, what do Rosenthal and Ross have to do to get in games? All this talk about how Ross should be a starter and they want him stretched out, but apparently what Davey wants is for him to warm up a few times a week? Rosenthal has to be put in some high leverage spots because they can't overwork Doolittle, but Doolittle pitches is every high leverage spot? Rizzo can't be happy with the way Davey is doing things.

Jimmy said...

The Ross thing is a total mystery to me. He's either the second or third best arm in the pen. Rosenthal I understand Davey's perspective on his usage. He's been Chernobyl bad.

PotomacFan said...

Can someone explain why Bear Claw wasn't left in to finish the 9th? Does Martinez have that little confidence in him? (Okay, so he's allowed all 7 inherited runners to score this year, but there wasn't anyone on base.) Doolittle is going to break down before the All-Star game if he has to pitch in games that are 9 - 2 going into the 9th inning.

Kubla said...

I wouldn't mind a Kendrick/Adams 1b and Kendrick/Dozier 2b platoon.

Also, maybe we can get Keuchel and/or Kimbrel and end the pitching nightmares. Whether it's shipping Stras to Fresno for a bit to figure things out (maybe time it so he can keep one of their cool novelty uniforms), or sending Rosenthal to a farm upstate where he will be with all the other relievers we used to have, there needs to be a bit of a shakeup.

Kubla said...

I'm sad they weren't Nats affiliates when they had this kit:

I may still try to track one down.

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