Oct 15, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
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.
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