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Roster review: Stephen Strasburg

Oct 15, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 25

How acquired: 1st round pick, 2009 draft

MLB service time: 3 years, 118 days

2013 salary+bonuses: $3.9 million

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017

2013 Stats: 30 GS, 183 IP, 136 H, 71 R, 61 ER, 16 HR, 56 BB, 191 K, 1.049 WHIP, 8-9, 3.00 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 3.2 WAR

Quotable: “I’d say I learned a lot. It’s all about whether or not I can apply it.” — Stephen Strasburg

2013 analysis: No longer burdened with an impending shutdown or team-imposed restrictions, Strasburg took the mound on Opening Day determined to take the next step and become one of baseball’s best pitchers. The road proved rockier than he imagined.

Victimized by the worst run support of any major-league starter and some ill-timed defensive gaffes behind him, Strasburg often found himself battling just to keep his head above water. But he got better along the way at dealing with adversity and crossed a major hurdle on Aug. 11 when he tossed his first career shutout.

There were other misfortunes — a brief stint on the DL with a lat strain, a rain-shortened start, an ejection in Atlanta — but by season’s end, Strasburg’s numbers were plenty impressive. He finished with career-bests in starts, innings and WHIP and an ERA that ranked eighth in the NL.

2014 outlook: There’s no denying Strasburg’s talent, and the success he’s had since debuting with the Nationals shouldn’t be taken for granted. Among all big-league pitchers who have made at least 75 starts since 2010, he ranks fourth in ERA (2.96) and second in opponents’ OPS (.603, behind only Clayton Kershaw).

Yet there’s an unmistakable (and probably accurate) feeling that Strasburg has yet to come close to realizing his full potential and that there are several more steps he needs to take if he’s going to be considered the true ace of a championship-seeking club.

It has less to do with Strasburg’s physical abilities or pitching stats and more to do with his mental approach to the game and presence on the mound. In all honesty, how much “Fear Factor” is there among opposing batters when they dig in to face Strasburg? Certainly not as much as you’d expect from a pitcher of his talent and accomplishments.

Strasburg says he learned a lot this year but now needs to apply it. That, more than anything, may define his 2014 season.

  1. nats128 - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    Strasburg certainly had his share of mental breakdowns however if you look at his underlying stats he put up amazing numbers. His defense to often didnt seem to have his back and the offense to often didnt seem alive.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 15, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    If you disregard his W/L you think WOW! Then you question how 15% of his runs scored were unearned which was the largest % in the MLB.

    Yes, part of the game is mental, but the added pressure from the lack of run support would affect any pitchers as there was little margin for error. The defense and I’m looking at the FoF didn’t back Stras up in many starts early in the season and we all remember the Stras breakdowns.

    2014 hopefully is the point where Stras can move to true Ace status.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Oct 15, 2013 at 1:08 PM

      Let’s accept that 15 percent of his runs were unearned. Every single one of those runs involved at least one batter who got a base hit or a productive out and either scored a run or produced a run. A great pitcher picks up his team and strands baserunners. We have been so pre-deluged with hype about Strasburg we have endowed him w/ abilities and credit he hasn’t yet earned.

      From April 1 to early/mid August 2012 he was pretty much as advertised. Since then, a big disappointment. I can’t pencil him in for 15, 16 or 17 wins in 2014 — maybe he gets there, maybe not — so, then, what is he? He comes to ST with a mission to prove (A) the Pollyannas right and (B) the skeptics wrong.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 15, 2013 at 2:14 PM

        Theo, I’m certainly not giving him a pass for the unearned just pointing out that there was an underlying problem. There were a couple unavoidable runs that scored so nothing he could do on those. On most though he didn’t ratchet up his game and shares in the blame.

        Still can’t fault him for the poor run support.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    “Amazing numbers” don’t mean squat if he can’t stay in games and win them. I think the Nats’ record in his starts was 12-17 or something similar. If you’re happy with that you might as well have Edwin Jackson. (Which is about as big an insult I can think of.)

    This is Strasburg’s Greinke season. Anything less than 220 IP and 17 victories he becomes Zack Greinke: ballyhooed everywhere but so under-achieving no one except a spend-thrift fool would pay what he’ll be demanding. So trade him before he walks and signs with either the hometown beach-combers in SD or the free-spending fools in LA (either of the LAs). A haul of four of someone’s top-ten prospects would look pretty good.

    Greinke’s best season — best — was 2009, just 16 wins but he made it imperative for KC to trade him because they couldn’t re-sign him. He’s gotten back to 16 wins once, won 15 this year in less than 180 innings, and has $128MM left on his contract over five years? Do you want to look forward to that?

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 15, 2013 at 10:45 AM

      2012: 19-9 with 159 innings in 28 starts.
      2013: 14-16 with 183 innings in 30 starts (2 starts against ATL where he pitched 2 and 1 innings due to injury and ejection respectively). 2 out of 16 losses, Nats scored 3 runs. otherwise, less than 3 runs. even walter johnson would have trouble winning those games.

      even clayton kershaw won 19-14 with 1.83 ERA and 236 innings in 33 starts.

      what exactly are you expecting? 300 innings, 30 wins, or something? I admit he needs to toughen up a bit but you are way exaggerating his problems I think.

  4. Doc - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Good column Mark.

    The next step for SS is continuing to build on presence on the mound. I thought that he had more of it than he demonstrated earlier in the season; then he seemed to get back to basics post ASG.

    Presence on the mound? Sorta like what JZim has every time he’s taken the ball for the Nats.

  5. tcostant - Oct 15, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    Am I the only one who feels Strasburg is just waiting for the day he can sign with a West Coast team?

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 15, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      what exactly are you basing this on? any article, any Strasburg quotes, or just speculation?

      • tcostant - Oct 15, 2013 at 1:48 PM

        Mostly speculation, he makes up any excuse to miss Natsfest. He clearly misses San Diego. He doesn’t pitch well in humidity. Just a fell. I think he wants to sign with Padres when his contract is up, but will settle for the Dodgers money and a short trip home.

        I hope I’m wrong.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:53 PM


  6. ArVAFan - Oct 15, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Looking forward to the beginning of the season, since we open out of town, would the manager start with the 3-4-5 pitchers against the Mets to have the 1-2-3 lined up against the Braves for the home opener? Not saying whether SS or JZ should be the #1, but I’d like to see our best pitching against Atlanta to start the home season.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      That’s a good thought given that you don’t have to worry about Harvey and probably face Niese then Wheeler. Maybe the Nats start the season with JZim, Det, TJord vs Mets then Stras, Gio, JZim against the Braves.

  7. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    I’m sure we’d all like to see that, but fugeddaboudit. Starting Game 1 is a Big [AB] Deal to these guys, and they have to beat the Mets, too. Can’t assume that’s a given.

  8. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    Anyhow, beating the Braves is going to be about scoring runs, more than pitching.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      It’s still good out of the box thinking. Unorthodox to juggle like that but I think it’s still worth considering.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:53 PM

        too early considering that we have not even formed complete rotation yet. besides I do believe in putting best foot forward so mets or anyone else, our numbers 1-3 should be starting our season.

  9. NatsLady - Oct 15, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Mark, glad you are putting these up.

    As regards the opening series–it doesn’t matter if we get the wins vs the Mets or the Barves. GET WINS. Mets should be better next year, it’s not a given.

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 15, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    Has anyone been following the AFL (on Nats Prospects?)?

    If anyone has any insight I am interested in a couple of questions: (1) Is Souze, who has been playing CF, the new CF of the Future?; (2) is Nieto (C) a real prospect who might be major league ready in two years?

    • pdowdy83 - Oct 15, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      Souza is pretty athletic but from what I have seen he is only average in CF. If he keeps hitting like he has been the last 2 seasons average defense would be passable since the bat and base running would make him valuable. Goodwin and Michael Taylor are better defensively though. I have high hopes for Taylor. He plays Cf like Span. Effortless.

      I haven’t seen a lot of Nieto but he reminded me of Flores. This was his first year showing much with the bat. He was a bit old for his level. The AFl should be a good experience for him.

  11. texnat1 - Oct 15, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    Stras spent last season learning how to pitch to contact. That’s good and he can apply that going forward. But I think he now needs to model himself a little more after a Verlander type. I think all the talk of pitching to contact, shutdowns and generally preserving himself has screwed with his mentality a little. He is naturally a bulldog fire-thrower. I think he has struggled with an identity crisis a little at times, especially in games where he feels like people are getting cheapies on him. I think the Nats need to cut him loose and tell him to blow people away.





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