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Entries in Stephen Strasburg (5)


Umps Not Buying Stephen Strasburg's Fastball

Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals avoided arbitration on Friday, agreeing to pay the now 25-year-old right-hander $3.975 million next year according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. In terms of value, 2013 was Strasburg's best season -- posting 3.1 wins above replacement after generating a 3.00 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 30 starts. These were modest improvements from his 2012 campaign, where he posted a 3.16 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 28 starts before being infamously shut down by his club in the heat of a pennant race. Strasburg was worth 3.0 wins that season, so it's not out of the question to assume he would've been worth more had his season not come to a decidedly screeching halt.

Yet for as impressive as Strasburg's statistics have been to this juncture of his career, one cannot overlook the regression of his strikeouts -- which have been arguably the most dominant aspect of his game. Last season, Strasburg punched out opponents in 26.1% of their plate appearances against him, enough for the seventh-best mark among qualified starters. Two seasons ago, that number was an astounding 30.2%, which was the best among starters who tossed at least 150 innings. Dialing back the time machine even further, Strasburg's strikeout rate from 2010 (his rookie season) to 2011 (the year he was shut down after five starts) stood at 32% -- the sixth-highest mark in baseball among all pitchers with 90 innings during that span.

Why have Strasburg's strikeouts decreased 5.9% since his entrance into the league four years (yes, it's been four years already) ago? Advanced scouting reports and exposure to his stuff may have at least something to do with it, and there's that whole Tommy John surgery thing that may certainly play a role. But more than anything else, I think it's the fact that umps aren't favoring his fastball quite as much.

Comparing called-strike rates on Strasburg's fastball since 2010

stras2 on Make A Gif

Umps have progressively called fewer out-of-zone strikes on Strasburg's heater since his debut.

Strasburg's heater garnered a 13.7% called strike rate when located out of the zone over his 17 starts between 2010 to 2011. This was not a particularly lofty number, admittedly, as the league average mark was 12.2% over that span. But in 2012, that number decreased to 10% (lower than the 11.8% league average) and fell even further to 9.3% last season. Most of those called strikes have occured on the 'backdoor' portion of the plate to left-handed hitters or inside on righties, but as we see, that significantly decreased in frequency over the past two seasons.

What makes this decrease even more perplexing is that Strasburg's fastball velocity has decreased -- albeit minimally-- over the past three seasons, averaging 96.8 MPH in 2010-2011, 95.6 in 2012 and 95.3 in 2013. As my colleague David Golebiewski pointed out in his brillliant piece on Justin Verlander (if you haven't read it, you should), there tends to be an "inverse relationship between fastball velocity and called strike rate on out-of-zone fastballs -- the slower you throw, the more called strikes you get." Of course, this is more of a general statement and therefore isn't applicable in all cases, but we see that Strasburg is bucking the trend a bit in this respect, as his fastball velocity has decreased yet he is tabbing fewer out-of-zone called strikes.

What does it all mean?

Strasburg's progressive strikeout decrease has everything to do with him receiving fewer out-of-the-zone called strikes with his fastball. As the graph above shows, the fewer called strikes he receives with his heater, the less punchouts he is able to compile with it over time. Conversely, this has contributed to his increasing walk rate with the offering.

I've included a logarithmic projection for the first and second half of next season in the graph to get a sense for how (less) productive the pitch might be in the immediate future. Based off my findings, Strasburg fastball is on track to receive roughly an 8% out-of-zone called-strike rate by the end of next season, and could very well walk more batters (just over 10% in the projection) with the pitch than he strikes out (just under 10% according to the data). To put that into context? The league average starter's fastball generated a 15.9% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate last season.

Are umps not favoring Strasburg's fastball because it's lost some of the "flash" it showed during his 2010 campaign? We may never know. What I do know, however, is that this is concerning. A 25-year-old power arm once dubbed the best pitch prospect of his generation shouldn't see his strikeouts decreasing at this high of a rate.


Peter Gammons: Premium Pitching in the NL East

It has become eminently clear that the National League East is becoming the pitching division.

This was the discussion that began among some Padres players, coaches and front office people now after having faced the Met’s Matt Harvey, Miami’s Jose Fernandez and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.

“Those three have the best stuff of any starters in the league,” said one official. And as the comparative debate went on, there were actually a few opinions that Strasburg actually was third on the list in terms of pure stuff.

Here’s how the Friars have done against the three pheenoms in 2013

April 3 – In the second game of the season, the Padres faced Matt Harvey and he was brilliant. He threw seven innings allowing only an Everth Cabrera single in the 4th. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out 10.  

July 1 – The Padres had similar struggles against Jose Fernandez. The Miami marvel pitched eight innings allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out 10. “All I can tell you is that Fernandez is already special,” said Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier. Two of his hitters compared him to Felix Hernandez. “His changeup isn’t there yet,” said one outfielder, “but Felix’s changeup wasn’t fully developed until he was 25. This guy is 20.” And since June 1, Fernandez is 5-4, 2.72 with 21 hits allowed in 40 1/3 innings.  

July 7 - Despite striking out six of the first 11 batters he faced, the Padres roughed up Strasburg getting to him for seven hits and four runs in six innings of work. Strasburg walked two and whiffed nine and allowed one homer. On May 16, Strasburg broke a five-game personal losing streak when he held the Padres to three hits and two runs (one earned) in eight innings.

“Don’t underestimate all Strasburg has gone through,” says one general manager. “He’s had to cope with being Stephen Strasburg, with everyone across the country watching his every start.” The Padres are 0-4 against the three this season.

Beware the Marlins

“The Marlins can be good in a hurry because of their pitching,” says San Diego manager Bud Black. “We faced (Nate) Eovaldi. He sat 96.” Jacob Turner is 22, and developing and with Henderson Alvarez thrown in with Fernandez, Eovaldi and Turner, as they return home Monday to begin a pre-All Star series with the Braves and Nationals, they are aware that since going 13-41 through May 30, the Marlins are 19-14 and loom as a major factor in the National League East race. Atlanta has 13 games remaining with Miami, Washington 12.

Beware the NL East

“What is happening in the National League East is that it is becoming a power pitching division,” says one veteran NL scout. “That’s one reason it’s so hard for Ruben Amaro to throw up his hands and trade off a Cliff Lee or (Jonathan) Papelbon.

It’s hard enough right now. But think a year from now what the Braves, Marlins, Mets and Nationals are going to be throwing at the Phillies.” With their impending television deal, the Phillies cannot afford to throw Jesse Biddle out there behind Cole Hamels and promise the world that in time they’ll retool their starting pitching to the point that they can match up with their four division rivals. If the Phillies can get a semblance of the great Roy Halladay back with Lee, Hamels and Biddle, they can and likely will be contenders.

The Braves are always going to have good pitching. Mike Minor is 25, Julio Teheran 22, Alex Wood 23, Kris Medlen 27, Brandon Beachy 26 with the depth potential of Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm and the great closer in Craig Kimbrel.

The Nationals are going to spend the next few years building around Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez.

Then there are the Mets, with the potential in 2014 of a staff that brings back flashes of 1969 and 1986 with Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard (2-0 in Binghamton with a 23-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 18 innings) with a very good depth chart of Jon Niese, Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee, none of whom will be older than 28. Oh yes, don’t ignore Rafael Montero, who two years ago was in the Dominican Summer League and in 2014 could be well be in the young, powerful Mets rotation.

Time will tell in the NL East

The National League East has been a division that slipped through the hands of the Mets, passed on to the Phillies and has always been within grasp of a Braves organization that develops pitching and players and does not dabble in the high risk, high publicity, high reward world of free agency.

It has had stars, and with Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, et al, and will for at least for a while have Giancarlo Stanton, even if Marlins ownership cannot get him to buy into their promises.

Time will determine the Strasburg/Harvey/Fernandez debate, as well as the development or wear on each young pitcher’s stuff. But as the debate rages as to who is the best potential pitcher east of Clayton Kershaw, it is clear that this is the division that will be dominated by big arms until we fully know just how good, or great, the three phenoms turn out to be.         


Strasburg to start opening day plus more

"Not that there was any uncertainty about it, but Davey Johnson made it official nonetheless this morning: Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day for the Nationals.

"I guess you want me to say it," the 70-year-old manager said. "He's going to be my Opening Day starter. You drug it out of me."

Johnson's selection of Strasburg is hardly a surprise. The right-hander got the Opening Day nod last season in Chicago, then went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts before his much-debated shutdown in early September after 159 1/3 innings."


CJ Wilson effective in off-day assignment

"For most major league veterans, spring training is a pretty low-key affair. All you have to do is get a little work in, break a sweat occasionally, and fine-tune a few things for the regular season.

But even by those standards Tuesday was a relaxing day for left-hander C.J. Wilson, who pitched four innings against a team made up primarily of minor leaguers on what was, for the rest of the Angels, a day off.

"We have to make it like a real game even though we're just facing our own guys," Wilson said. "So I'm trying to go in and kind of get rah-rah and have fun. 'Let's go! Let's beat these Angels!'"


Carl Crawford faces live major league pitching

"Carl Crawford faced relievers Kenley Jansen andJ.P. Howell on Tuesday, marking the first time he took live batting practice against major league pitchers since he was shut down two weeks ago.

“A step in the right direction,” said Crawford, who resumed working out last week.

Crawford, who is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, was encouraged by how he felt.

“Your timing at this point is never going to be the way you want it, but it wasn’t as far off as I would expect it to be, either,” he said."


Carlos Gomez agrees to deal with Brewers

"Outfielder Carlos Gomez and the Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a $28.3 million, four-year contract.

The 27-year-old outfielder would have been eligible for free agency after this season. He had agreed to a $4.3 million, one-year deal in January, and the new contract includes salaries of $7 million in 2014, $8 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016."


Hochevar transitioned to bullpen

"Right-hander Luke Hochevar, eternally inconsistent as a starter, is shifting, at least temporarily, to the Royals’ bullpen.

Manager Ned Yost announced the move Wednesday morning prior to a game against Seattle at Surprise Stadium.

“I think it makes us a better team,” Yost said. “I think it makes us a stronger team. It gives us a better chance to win every day. With three weeks left, I want to get him acclimated to that role.”


Casey Kelly might need "Tommy John" surgery

"The already cloudy picture regarding Padres starting pitching turned darker Wednesday afternoon when it Padres manager Bud Black confirmed that right-hander Casey Kelly has had tests on his right elbow and could be a candidate for elbow reconstruction surgery.

“Anything is possible,” the Padres manager said of the possibility that Kelly would be the Padres pitcher to have “Tommy John” surgery in the last 10 months.

“It is that part of the elbow that we’re concerned about,” Black continued. “The doctors are concerned about what the tests looked like. There’s going to be a lot of discussion between Kelly and his family. They’ll probably want a second opinion.”


Dodgers hoping plasma injection helps Greinke

"Zack Greinke has a sore elbow and Chad Billingsley doesn't, neither of which the Dodgers really expected this spring.

What they have in common is that Billingsley's partially torn elbow ligament responded last year to injections of platelet-rich plasma, and now the Dodgers are waiting to see if a similar injection, along with anti-inflammatory medication like cortisone, will have the same beneficial result with Greinke.

The Dodgers have been using the treatment since 2008, when reliever Takashi Saito responded well to the procedure as has Billingsley, avoiding Tommy John surgery."


Brennan Boesch released

"The Detroit Tigers have released outfielder Brennan Boesch, the club announced Wednesday morning.

The Tigers should have nontendered the 27-year-old outfielder last December, but they thought they could trade him. As it turned out, they weren't getting any bites, so cutting bait now was the right move. Boesch's contract for the 2013 season was worth $2.3 million. By cutting him now, the Tigers only owe him a sixth ($383,333) of that.

Also note that the Tigers have Austin JacksonTorii HunterAndy DirksQuintin Berry andAvisail Garcia as outfield options, so there's no need for Boesch.

Boesch finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010 and then hit .283/.341/.458 with 16 homers in just 115 games in 2011, but last season was a different matter. Boesch regressed to .240/.286/.372 with 12 homers in 503 plate appearances. He struck out 104 times while walking just 26. For those into the advanced metrics, Boesch's WAR was 2.3 in 2011 and negative-1.4 last season."