Last night, Stephen Strasburg made his Major League debut and threw a riveting seven innings, striking out 14 and walking none. Of course, you knew this already. While National fans should enjoy the afterglow of what happened last night, fantasy owners are only thinking about the immediate future and what type of value to expect from Strasburg the rest of 2010.
First, the impressive points of last night (many)...
14 strikeouts in seven innings is amazing. There is no other way to put it. Even more impressive to me was the number of walks...zero.
One of the aspects of Strasburg's game that made him such a hyped prospect was his pinpoint command that went along with his electric repertoire. In his 55.1 minor league innings, Strasburg walked 13 (2.1 BB/9). In his final two seasons at San Diego State he walked only 1.6 per nine innings. Considering all the hype, all the attention and all the pressure to provide instant results, Strasburg was amazingly poised last night. He was a bit amped up in the first inning, but settled in after that.
Then there is the repertoire, which includes a mid to upper 90's heater (breaking 100 mph at times) with a power curve and 89-91 mph changeup (Jeff Karstens topped out at about 91 mph with his fastball). Not only is the velocity impressive, but the movement was outstanding. Brooksbaseball.net gives us a great look at the movement from an above angle as if we were looking down from between the pitcher and home plate.
Strasburg's fastball, on average, broke over seven inches inward to right-handed hitters while his curveball broke over seven inches away from right-handed hitters. His curve also featured over eight inches of downward break.
Both his fastball and curveball are visually impressive, but his changeup is the pitch that puts his overall stuff over the top. Having a 100 mph fastball with movement is one thing, but adding an 89-91 mph changeup with tailing action to the mix is just nasty.
Hitters were certainly geared up to face Strasburgh's fastball. According to the pitch f/x data, Pirates hitters swung and missed only eight times out of 60 fastballs thrown (13 percent whiff rate). They swung and missed five times out of 25 curveballs (20 percent) and three times out of nine changeups (33 percent). Two of his four hits allowed came on fastballs. One hit came on a curve and the Delwyn Young home run came off of a changeup. That home run, in my opinion, was not so much a result of skill than it was luck. The pitch was actually a fairly good pitch, low in the zone, but maybe a bit too much over the middle of the plate. What caused the ball to go over the fence was not so much Delwyn Young's natural power or swing, but rather the result of being geared up for a 100 mph fastball. Young was geared up to catch up to Strasburg's heater, but when he recognized the changeup, his bat speed took care of the rest as he was able to wait back just long enough and "flick" the bat through the zone. The bat speed did the rest.
One thing to consider before we predict similar performances the rest of the season from Strasburg...
It was the Pirates, who rank 30th in AVG and 28th in OPS.
The good thing about his spot in the rotation is his projected schedule the rest of this month. Next up is the Indians, then the struggling White Sox at home, then Baltimore (nuff said), until finishing up June at Atlanta, a tougher matchup and the first chance to see him face Jason Heyward.
July starts off with San Diego, playing well, but still a lackluster offense, then the Giants. After the all-star break (a chance he actually makes the all-star team?) things get a bit tougher heading to Cincinnati, then Milwaukee and then back home to face the Phillies.
In August he'll get a great matchup in Arizona against the swing and miss Diamondbacks, then back home against the Marlins, then back on the road against Heyward and the Braves. He'll finish off the month against the Phillies and Cardinals.
Then comes September, the big question mark month. What will his innings total look like by then? Will the Nats be in the playoff hunt? If not, will they shut him down? Something to think about in head to head leagues.
The bottom line, if he pitches every fifth day, is that there are a bunch of favorable matchups the rest of the season.
While expecting 14 strikeouts and no walks every time out is way too much to ask, there is no reason to think that Strasburg can't be one of the best pitchers in baseball the rest of this season. Perhaps his best and most recent comparable, Mark Prior, threw 116.2 innings in his first big league action and held a K/9 of 11.2 and a BB/9 of 2.9. he ended that season with a 3.32 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 147 strikeouts. Strasburg could actually surpass those numbers.
June 8, 2010: It was a great night for baseball, especially in Washington D.C. We all got to see one of, if not thee, most hyped prospects ever perform on the big stage for the first time. Stephen Strasburg was great, no, beyond great. The rookie with only 55.1 professional innings under his belt not only looked like he belonged, but he looked like he was born to be a the face of a Major League franchise.
We often hear stories about the game's greatest pitchers. Almost mythical stories about 100 mph fastballs and offspeed stuff that brakes with sheer violence. Walter Johnson, Smokey Joe Wood, Luis Tiant, Nolan Ryan...
These players had the ability to strike fear in the hearts of opposing hitters while at the same time filling the hearts of baseball fans with amazement. Stephen Strasburg did that last night. Now, a franchise that was once lost north of the American boarder has it's hero.
Question marks like bad mechanics, injury risk, etc...forget all that. Let's all just enjoy the ride.