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Roster preview: Stephen Strasburg

Jan 27, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 25

How acquired: 1st round pick, 2009 draft

2014 salary: $3.975 million

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

2014 storyline: Stephen Strasburg took some significant steps forward last season. He set new career highs in starts and innings pitched. He reached the eighth inning for the first time as a professional, then tossed his first complete game later in the summer. He put fewer men on base than in any previous season except for his 5-start return from Tommy John surgery in 2011.

But the prevailing sentiment remains that Strasburg has only touched the surface of his full potential, and many will expect him to climb closer to those heights this year. The right-hander is returning from minor October surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. He said Saturday he’s fully recovered and will be full-go from the first day of spring training, but he’ll bear close watching as always.

What will be expected of Strasburg in 2014? More innings. More dominant starts. Better composure when something doesn’t go his way. The hope would be that more wins would be a byproduct of all that.

Best-case scenario: Fully healthy and far removed from his Tommy John surgery, Strasburg puts it all together this season and becomes the elite ace everyone has expected him to be all along. He wins 20 games, posts an ERA under 2.50, crosses the 200-inning plateau and wins his first Cy Young Award.

Worst-case scenario: Obviously, the true worst-case scenario would involve a major arm injury, but we’re going to stay away from that possibility here. Assuming decent health, Strasburg’s worst would probably include several abbreviated starts, the occasional meltdown (perhaps as a reaction to an error made behind him) and plain old bad luck. He wins only seven games, sees his ERA balloon to 4.00 and takes a step back instead of a step forward in his career.

Most-likely scenario: Maybe Strasburg won’t be the best pitcher in the majors in 2014, but he probably won’t be too far out of the discussion. He may experience one or two minor injury scares but should be durable enough to make 32 starts, hit the magic 200-inning number and win at least 15 games with an ERA just under 3.00.

  1. ArVAFan - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    I’m just amazed that our host found a photo of him smiling! Since the Nats are giving out Werth garden gnomes, maybe Stras as an elf?

    Seriously, I think he’s in for a good year (assuming good health). He shouldn’t have bad run support luck two years in a row, and he’s tasted the success of the later innings–and discovered he liked it. He also seems to have matured some during last year: that seems unlikely to regress.

    Can’t wait to see him in Spring Training.

  2. nats1924 - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    yes, Stras is due for a no excuse type of good year.

    although it seems to me Stras lacks the ‘big time’ pitcher mentality. The game that sticks out the most in 2013 is the Friday game vs the Fish right before the all star break.

    We were kind of hanging by the thread with the braves and needed a special performance from our ace. unfortunately, he laid an egg and i think that was the beginning of a long losing streak.

    ..anyays, go Nats and cant wait for spring training!

  3. NatsLady - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    Interesting contrast. MLB ranked Lucas Giolito No. 44. Baseball Prospectus ranked him No. 13. Brian Goodwin fell off the MLB list, and dropped from 74 to 86 on BP’s list. A.J. Cole at No. 53 (MLB No. 69).

    • David Proctor - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      Giolito will be top 5 next year, if healthy

    • Doc - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that I read somewhere in the recent past that 70% of those ranked by MLB/BP, in a given year, never make it to the Bigs

      • David Proctor - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:16 AM

        Yes, but guys ranked as high as Giolito usually do. Goodwin needs a big year or he’s in danger of dropping off.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        you can check out BA’s top prospects for 2013 and before.

  4. NatsLady - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    Paul Sporer ‏@sporer
    Positional breakdown of @baseballpro top 101: RHP 37, OF 20, LHP 10, SS 10, 3B 9, C 8, 2B 6, and 1B 1 #top101

    First base is the National League’s DH.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    I noted Goodwin’s fall from grace on the MLB list. All and all, neither list nor Erickson’s Watch List offers much hope for more than incidental help from the farm system for the next few years. It’s a very good thing most of the Nats’ core is young/approaching their prime years because they’ll have to do almost all of the heavy lifting (except for a few pitchers) for the next several seasons.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    Most of you know I am a Strasburg critic. Mostly because (A) he needs an attitude adjustment (composure, lack of early inning focus, wastage of pitch counts), (B) stamina (see above), and (C) crucial HRs (see above).

    Actually, I think I’m a fan — of his untapped ability, not his hype. Mark’s rosiest scenario is within his reach, and so is being the best pitcher in the majors. However, until he solves the stamina issue I don’t see how he gets to 20 wins. (I recognize Gonzalez reached 20 without pitching 200 innings but my perception is that Strasburg runs himself out of gas a lot earlier than Gonzalez — who is no Iron Man.)

    Therefore, with fingers-crossed, I think Mark’s “most-likely” scenario is an undershoot and would be a disappointment. There is absolutely no reason Strasburg shouldn’t win16-18 games w/ a sub-3 ERA — and that this shouldn’t continue for another five-six years (how many of those in a Nats uniform is another question).

    Similarly, Mark’s “worst-case” seems completely beyond possibility. The only one of those nos. that might be realized is if Strasburg loses his command of his FB and becomes homer-happy, leading to a 4+ ERA. But if he were to win 10 or fewer games I would consider it a signal to immediately start looking for trade partners before the team loses leverage.

  7. sjm308 - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    Continuing the trend here to not discuss the roster preview, I just read a very short, very funny piece on Adam Dunn who plays a bartender in “Dallas Buyers Club”. Not sure how he got that part and apparently he has zero lines. He has a great quote at the end of the article.

    And even though his role didn’t include any lines, the Big Donkey felt his performance deserved more recognition from the Academy:
    “It seems like that always happens,” Dunn said. “The Gold Glove, every year I get snubbed on that, so I’m used to it.”

    Dunner. So Hollywood. Love that he can make fun of himself

    • Doc - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      Saw the movie, but missed catching The Big Donkey. Worth flipping through it, just to see him. I think that I know which scene it was. I’ll bet that role has led to a lot of scurrilous text messages from his bros in baseball.

      Guess I must have been more impressed with McConaughey’s performance. LOL

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:02 AM

      I wasn’t planning on watching it but now I will catch it.

  8. sjm308 - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:52 AM

    Now, on Strasburg – I, like many others have waited for him to break out and dominate like Kershaw has done in LA. I was there for his first game and it is still one of my very favorite moments. The way the crowd was on its feet so many times and the way he struck out the side in what you knew was his last inning. It was terrific stuff. I felt like Jordan has deserved to start opening day several different years but that is not going to happen. Strasburg has been deemed our ACE and I just hope he reaches that this year. I realize the numbers support the fact that he pitched much better than his record and I hope that evens out this year.

    I read articles that say we have one of the top 3 starting staffs and that our 1-2 are in the top 5. Very exciting to this old fan and even with the disappointment of last year being fresh, I am thinking this is going to be our year!!

    Go Nats!

  9. Section 222 - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    if he were to win 10 or fewer games I would consider it a signal to immediately start looking for trade partners before the team loses leverage.
    There is absolutely no reason Strasburg shouldn’t win16-18 games

    Actually, there are plenty of reasons. Wins have almost nothing to do with how well you pitch. Why? Because they are dependent on how many runs your team puts up, and whether they put them up early enough for you to get the win. I agree that to be an elite pitcher Stras must regularly pitch 7 innings, and often pitch 8. But as to how many wins he gets, I don’t really care. Well, I do because if his win total is high that means the Nats are winning a lot of games. But he’s not responsible for that. He’s just responsible for pitching deep into games.

    Kill the win!

    I think Stras adjusted his attitude after the meltdown against the Cubs in May. Other than that weird “wildness” against the Braves, he was pretty darn solid and unflappable for the rest of the year.

    There was a piece on Clubhouse Confidential last week, I think, where a Baseball Prospectus analyzed swing and miss and called strike rates on various types of pitches. Stras was rated to have the best curve ball in baseball. Srangely, they didn’t talk about who had the best changeup.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      (A) Bupkus! Wins are an easy substitute measure for pitching deep into games. You don’t get them by fleeing the field in the sixth inning. The earlier you turn the game over to the bullpen the more likely the game will be lost.

      (B) The starting pitcher’s job is to win games, not hang around until somebody else vultures the win. If this is a day when your team has decided they’re only going to score one or two runs, your job is to make sure the other team doesn’t score more runs than your’s does. Tighten up your stuff, command and composure, because you may need to throw a 3-4 hitter. And that, in a nutshell, is why Strasburg won only eight times last year. “Stras had great stuff today but we couldn’t dig ourselves out of 2-0 hole.” Can you win 96 games if twelve pitchers win 8 games apiece? Arithmetically, yes, but it’s pretty bloody unlikely.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:35 AM

        Yes, there’s a relationship bwn going deeper in games and winning (get shelled early and you get pulled) but the idea that wins is an “easy substitute” for pitching deep is bosh.

        The Nats starters last year, IP/start and Ws

        JZimm – 6.7, 19W
        Stras – 6.1, 8W
        Gio – 6.1 – 11W
        Haren – 5.6, 10W

        If wins are “an easy substitute” for how deep you go into the game, then JZimm went, what, 2x as deep Stras. And Gio went more than 1/3 deeper, and Haren went 25% deeper.

    • Jw - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:07 AM

      Kill Brian Kenny. He’s nothing but a smug, self-important bully. A stain on the MLB Network.

  10. Eugene in Oregon - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    Seconding 222’s comments, Stephen Strasburg’s biggest problem last season wasn’t his pitching, but his team’s hitting. I’m dashing out the door and don’t have time to check the exact number, but how many wins (agreed; an overvalued statistic) did he leave on the field because he didn’t get run support?

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:46 AM

      Based on his record he left the field behind as or more often than leading.

      • David Proctor - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Strasburg left 10 of his 30 starts leading, 10 tied and 10 trailing. However, of the games he left tied or trailing, he gave up 2 runs or less in 10 of them. That’s including 3 games where he gave up 0 runs and left tied.

        There was a stretch of 4 games between June 16 and July 7 where he gave up 4 runs in 26 innings (1.38 ERA). He went 1-1 in those games, and the team went 1-3, somehow.

  11. David Proctor - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Here’s video of “Name that Nat” from NatsFest, if you don’t have a life and are bored. Jayson Werth dancing to Rafael Soriano’s walk-up music just made my day.

  12. sjm308 - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    Thanks David – sound is a little weak for these old ears but its great to see these guys having fun!

  13. Section 222 - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    Sounds like we can start our own MLB Now show with Theo and Jw playing Harold Reynolds and HH and DP playing Brian Kenny. Volunteers for the moderator/Kristina Akra part? sjm? :-)

    Obviously I differ with Jw about Brian Kenny. If it weren’t for him, MLB would be all Yankees and goofball “Got ‘Eeeemmm” stuff, all the time. His influence is significant too — look how many other guys talk about numbers on there, and not just wins and batting average. You guys who care about pitcher wins are on the wrong side of history I’m afraid. But we still love you.

    Speaking of MLB Network, Harper placed #1 or #2 in virtually everyone’s Top LF Right Now list. Desi did very well on the SS show, Werth pretty well on the RF show. ALR didn’t make anyone’s top 10. Span made Bill James’ list and that’s it. Stras was in the middle of the top 10 on a few of lists.

    • David Proctor - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      3B will be very interesting. Zim will make it, but where exactly he lands will be interesting to see.

      • Section 222 - Jan 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

        Good point. Hard to imagine him any higher than 5th . Longoria, Beltre, Wright, Carpenter (now a 3B again), almost certainly ahead of him. Josh Donaldson might beat him too, and Pedro Alvarez won the Silver Slugger last year.

      • David Proctor - Jan 27, 2014 at 3:51 PM

        Alvarez winning the SS was a joke and “the Shredder” won’t take that into account. Alvarez hit 36 homers, but had a .296 OBP. Plus, he was probably the only 3B in the NL who played worst defense than Zimmerman last year. Alvarez had a .770 OPS, Zim had a .808.

      • Section 222 - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:12 PM

        Good points. I wouldn’t take him over Zim. Don’t you agree Zim is no higher than 5th in MLB though?





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