Baseball/MLB

A Full Count For Stephen Strasburg

I still remember “Strasmas” like it was yesterday. It was inarguably, during that time period, one of the most exciting moments for the Washington Nationals franchise. For those that are confused, “Strasmas” was the name given to the day that Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut.

On the evening of June 8th, 2010, my fellow CiTLR contributors Dion Johnson, Adrian McQueen and myself descended upon Nationals Park to witness it in person. We were not disappointed…Not one bit! 7 innings and 14 strikeouts later, we were sold. This guy is for real. His fastball was hitting 99 to 100 mph, his changeup was devastating and his curveball had batter’s knees buckling. He was exactly what this franchise needed. We needed an electrifying pitcher to put butts in the seats at Nationals Park. That’s what we got for that summer.

But, in typical Washington sports fashion, Strasburg tore his ulnar collateral ligament and would be required to have “Tommy John” surgery. He ended his rookie season with a record of 5-3, 68 innings pitched, 92 strikeouts and a 2.91 ERA. Hearts were broken when he went out in August, but with him being so young, having this surgery early in his career isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Better to do it early than late in his career where it could have career ending ramifications. Let’s fast forward past 2011, where he came back late in the season to get some work in after coming off the tommy john surgery. He played well in those 5 games considering the circumstances. He at least let us know that the surgery was a success and that he would be back for the 2012 season.

2012 is a season that will go down in infamy. This is the infamous “Shutdown” season. Also, this is a season where the Nationals were VERY FUCKING GOOD. No one expected the Nats to be what they were in 2012. We didn’t expect them to make the playoffs. We sure as hell didn’t expect them to win the division. The one thing we did expect is for Stephen Strasburg to bounce back from surgery and regain his form. And he did just that. He posted a 15-6 record for the season and recorded 197 strikeouts in under 160 innings in 28 starts. He made the All-Star team and also received the Silver Slugger award for batting .277 with a HR as a pitcher. He was doing it ALL. We couldn’t ask for more from our franchise pitcher. But as time went on and the team got better and better, there was one thing we did ask for, more innings. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Strasburg was put on an innings limit. That limit, set by Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, was 160 innings. With the division wrapped up and the playoffs looming, a decision had to be made. The shutdown was in effect, and the Nationals entered the playoffs without their #1 pitcher in their first ever playoff appearance.

When I first heard that they were going to shut down Strasburg for the playoffs, I was baffled. Yes, I do understand that they are looking out for the health of their franchise pitcher for the future. But in the game of baseball, it is a game of momentum. You can’t say, “Oh, we’ll be back next year”. No….you won’t be back next year. I strongly believe that the 2012 Washington Nationals would have at least made the World Series that year if Strasburg would have pitched. I know he is just one person, but sometimes that 1 person can make a tremendous difference. We all know how the 2012 season ended, so I will not delve into that, just know that I will never forget and it still hurts me today. That hurt won’t go away until we win a World Series. Because I always think about what could have been.

In 2013, Strasburg returned and had a so-so season. Which went along with the Nats awful follow up to their stellar 2012 season. The Nats Finished above .500, but finished 4 games out of the wild card spots. Strasburg did pitch a career high 183 innings in 2013, but struggled with control and ended up walking a career high 56 batters. I do believe that most of his issues in the 2013 season stemmed from the lack of offense produced by the team. In 15 of his 30 starts, the Nats backed him with 2 or less runs. Which left him with little to no leeway when on the mound. If he would have received more run support, he would have needed up with a better record than the 8-9 record he posted. The team let him down. And in turn, his shoulder let Strasburg down. He had nagging issues with his shoulder throughout most of the year that caused him to labor, but he was able to power through till the end of the season.

2014, in my opinion, was Strasburg’s best season as a professional baseball player. He started 34 games, the most in his 5 years as a pro, logged over 200 innings and struck out 242 batters as well. He even brought down the number of walks for the season by 13 with an increase of 4 starts over 2013. He ended up 14-11 and helped the Nationals win the Division and enter the playoffs for the second time in three years. The Nats were still deficient in the run support department during Strasburg’s starts. They averaged a little under 5 runs in support, but in 11 of his starts they gave him 2 or less runs. So he could have easily had an increase in his wins for this season with more support. In October, Strasburg started his first career playoff game. He scattered 8 hits over 5 innings and only allowed 1 earned run, fanned 2 and walked one. But like usual, the team only put up 2 runs and lost that game 3 to 2, and eventually lost the series to the San Francisco Giants who would go on to win the World Series.

Last year was easily the worst year of Strasburg’s career. He went on the disabled list a couple times and struggled with an oblique issue that had him on the list for most of June and all of July. He only started 23 games and pitched 127 innings. He did finish with a winning record with an 11 and 7 mark, but the team failed to overcome the surging Mets as well as turmoil within the clubhouse. I’m sure everybody saw Jonathan Papelbon choke out the MVP of league while the manager Matt Williams did nothing. That video was pretty much the season in a nutshell.

Two thousand and sixteen…2016…Two zero one six…A fresh start…A new manager…New hopes and dreams for the Washington Nationals. Also, a final chance for Stephen Strasburg to prove that he is indeed the franchise pitcher that we drafted. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season which means he can choose to leave and sign with any other team and there is nothing we can do to stop him. The Nationals can try and resign him during this season, but I feel they are waiting for Strasburg to prove himself and so far this season, he has done just that.

He is 5-0 through his first 6 starts this season. He is actually receiving run support while being a below average team at the plate overall. The team has scored three runs once and at least five runs in the other four starts. He has fanned 47 and only walked 9 in his 6 starts and has posted a 2.36 ERA as well. He has showed that he is completely healthy for the first time in about two or three seasons.

He has added to his pitching repertoire, he now has a slider or a cutting fastball. He hasn’t confirmed or denied it, but we’ve seen it and it’s GOOD. He has lost a little speed on his fastball, he tops out at 97 but his changeup and curveball still buckle knees and is one of the best in the business. What does the rest of the season hold for Strasburg? I have no clue, but I will be watching and waiting to see if the older and wiser Strasburg is indeed what we hoped for on that June evening back in 2010.

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