Maybe it’s because he was drafted with the expectation of being the next Nolan Ryan. Maybe it’s because his 2010 debut is still his most memorable performance in a Washington Nationals uniform. Maybe it’s because of the “Shutdown Controversy.” Whatever it is, Stephen Strasburg never gets any love from the Nats’ fanbase or the media, local and national alike. If anything, Nats’ fans tend to pick his game apart more than appreciate the superstar pitcher they have. And whether people choose to believe it or not, Stephen Strasburg is one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball.
Let’s compare Strasburg’s career numbers with other active starting pitchers (minimum 750 innings pitched).
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)
1. Clayton Kershaw (2.62 FIP)
2. Stephen Strasburg (2.83 FIP)
3. Chris Sale (2.96 FIP)
Strikeouts Per Nine Innings Pitched (K/9)
1. Stephen Strasburg (10.44 K/9)
2. Chris Sale (10.30 K/9)
Strikeouts Per Walk (K/BB)
1. Chris Sale (4.70 K/BB)
2. Stephen Strasburg (4.69 K/BB)
Walks plus Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP)
1. Clayton Kershaw (1.03 WHIP)
2. Chris Sale (1.07 WHIP)
3. Stephen Strasburg (1.09 WHIP)
4. Madison Bumgarner (1.11 WHIP)
Opponents Batting Average (BA)
1. Clayton Kershaw (.207 BA)
2. Chris Sale (.224 BA)
3. Jake Arrieta (.226 BA)
4. Stephen Strasburg (.228 BA)
5. Matt Cain (.230 BA)
Basically, Strasburg is neck-and-neck with Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, two pitchers who are praised by everyone in baseball (and deservedly so). But Strasburg gets none of that. He hasn’t had postseason success? (He has only made one playoff start). Well, Sale and Kershaw aren’t exactly playoff heroes, either (Sale has never been and Kershaw sports a 4.69 postseason ERA). He hasn’t won a Cy Young? Neither has Sale. Is it because he doesn’t rack up enough wins? Because if you are still using wins to measure pitchers, then that’s another debate entirely. When using stats that show what pitchers can control, Strasburg rates out as one of the best.
Strasburg was drafted with more fanfare than any other pitcher in baseball history, so people were always going to try and tear him down because there was nowhere to build him up. Nationals fans love to point every little “flaw”: he does not show a lot of emotion on the mound, he does not throw enough complete games, his mechanics aren’t perfect. Blah blah blah. You know what I see? I see a pitcher who is the best strikeout pitcher of his generation. I see a pitcher who keeps opposing teams off the base paths at an exceptional rate. I see a pitcher who is consistently one of the best run-preventers in the game.
Fans and media left Strasburg for dead in 2015. It was May, he had a 6.55 ERA, and he had just hit the disabled list with a neck injury. For most pitchers of his stature and in his situation, people would have wondered what was wrong, but expected a return to form soon (which is exactly what happened with Kershaw last year). But for Strasburg, people bailed, almost as if this was normal for him. When Strasburg returned a month later fully healthy, he came back with a vengeance. Old-school stats, new-school stats, he was one of the best pitchers in the league over the second half of the year. In his last 13 starts, he went 8-2, with a 1.76 ERA, a 2.16 FIP, and a 12.07 K/9. While Kershaw, Arrieta, and Zack Greinke were the talk of the National League down the stretch, Strasburg was matching them start for start.
Once the center of the baseball world, Strasburg is now a forgotten man, even amongst his own team and his own city. It is time one of the century’s most dominant righties gets his due. Nationals fans can continue to bemoan each Strasburg start, but be ready to watch him mow down hitters in an another uniform next season. Appreciate him while you have the chance.