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Meet Stephen Strasburg
May 15, 2009 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Meet Stephen Strasburg. He throws 103 miles per hour. He has a devastating slider, curve, and change-up. He is the sure first #1 draft pick going to the Washington Nationals. Why is this soooooo significant? Scouts peg him as joining the rotation immediately and thus completely skipping the minors. Unreal.

It is an small, elite list who have done so and practically unheard of in the modern era.

His popularity in baseball circles is becoming cultish. Recently the sports guy Bill Simmons decided to coin him a nickname and they decided on "The Anchorman", referring to the Will Ferrell movie, which took place in San Diego (he goes to San Diego State).

Editorial Notes: I've made comments in the past about young pitchers and pitch counts but he walks so few pitchers and they keep a tight reign on him. Plus he clearly has the kind of frame which can handle the work load/speed.

However, there are those with some worries.
posted by Lacking Subtlety (40 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This guy throws exactly like Mark Prior, but harder. Which means he'll end up like Mark Prior, but faster, unless they are religious about pitch count, and that may not even matter.
posted by eriko at 6:05 PM on May 15, 2009


This guy throws exactly like Mark Prior, but harder. Which means he'll end up like Mark Prior, but faster, unless they are religious about pitch count, and that may not even matter.
posted by eriko at 6:05 PM on May 15 [+] [!]


Completely true and possible.... Except that he ALSO throws exactly like Pedro Martinez.

Which means he could end up having the five most dominating years in major league history before finally succumbing to the pesky arm problems.

To be clear I'm not expecting a Nolan Ryan like career. Those are reserved for over-the-top guys with strong legs. (though this strasburg kid has good legs too)
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:10 PM on May 15, 2009


From his wiki page: striking out seven of the first six batters he faced.

Saaay... he is good!
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:28 PM on May 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Yay, a baseball post :)
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:31 PM on May 15, 2009


How did Ryan do it all those years? I watched him pitch 6 & 7 innings in Arlington when he was in his 40's.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:36 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Going straight to the majors is pretty impressive. Going straight to the Washington Nats' rotation is nearly as impressive!

Seriously though-this is a kid that's used to what, 15 starts a year? Interesting to see how they work him in. Low innings or more rest days or both? But whatever they decide, if you have a kid that can get it over the plate at 103 mph, you find a way to get him in the game.
posted by Mister_A at 6:44 PM on May 15, 2009


How did Ryan do it all those years? I watched him pitch 6 & 7 innings in Arlington when he was in his 40's.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:36 PM on May 15 [+] [!]


In short, he was a freak of nature combined with a perfect storm of luck and work ethic.

He had a perfect pitcher's body and such a great 90 degree armslot. Just text book. He took care of his legs too. Pitchers are often decent about taking care of their arms but when they lose their legs, the velocity goes out the window. The luck comes into comes into play in a couple of ways. First, he never had a freak or crippling injury. Some of this is pure luck. You can have a perfect motion but if you land your foot on the mound wrong just once, you can tweak something horribly. Second his body responded to the strains of pitching by actually HELPING him with injuries. The wear and tear on his bones and muscles somehow shaped them into a form that was perfect for durability. People use this as evidence of how we shouldn't have pitch counts and the like, but no, it just confirms how much of a freak he was instead.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:49 PM on May 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Going straight to the majors is pretty impressive. Going straight to the Washington Nats' rotation is nearly as impressive!

Seriously though-this is a kid that's used to what, 15 starts a year? Interesting to see how they work him in. Low innings or more rest days or both? But whatever they decide, if you have a kid that can get it over the plate at 103 mph, you find a way to get him in the game.
posted by Mister_A at 6:44 PM on May 15 [+] [!]


He's gonna be on serious pitch counts if they put him in the rotation. However, the big reason to put a guy in the minors is because they are inconsistent with their fastball location and walk guys (because that's 99% of pitchers out of even college). He can already do it. So really it's just watching his pitch count and that's it. It's not like the Nats need to save him for the post season so if hits his innings limit for the year, just shut him down. Nothing to lose.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:52 PM on May 15, 2009


One of those articles linked to a great story on Steve Dalkowski, the hardest-throwing pitcher who ever lived.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


What would be the point of sending him straight to the majors? The Nationals aren't going to be in a pennant race in June or any point afterwards in 2009, even if he wins, say, 15 more games than the guy he replaces would have. Even if he's the best pitcher in the history of college baseball, he's unproven at the professional level -- given that, you're not even going to throw him one AAA start? I think the Nationals could take a lesson from the history of rookie starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
posted by aaronetc at 7:27 PM on May 15, 2009


If this was just about any other club in the majors, they'd put him in the minors. But when you're the Nationals, this kid is your new ace. I hope they do watch him carefully and not burn him out, because most clubs would not consider him ready despite all his gifts. He'll be an instant sensation but hitters in the majors are smart. One trip around the league and if he has any weakness, there will be batters ready to exploit it.
posted by Ber at 7:28 PM on May 15, 2009


Young Strasburg may indeed skip the minors, but with Scott Boras as his agent, it could be a while before he actually signs a contract to play in the majors.
posted by shallowcenter at 7:42 PM on May 15, 2009


The fact that he has Mark Prior's mechanics shouldn't be worrying. It wasn't Prior's mechanics that did him in, it was the Cubs burning through him at a young age.

And the conventional wisdom about mechanics has been wrong many times before. The Giants ended up with Tim Lincecum because everyone felt his mechanics were so wonky his labrum was a timebomb.

I'm still not sure about Strasburg, though. While as an M's fan I'd love to see a 1-2 punch of Felix and Strasburg (with Bedard at 3 if he would just stop being injured), I'm also happy if the Nats want to take what amounts to a huge risk.

Here are all the pitchers taken #1 overall since the '89 draft:

2007 -- David Price
2006 -- Luke Hochevar
2002 -- Bryan Bullington
1997 -- Matt Anderson
1996 -- Kris Benson
1994 -- Paul Wilson
1991 -- Brien Taylor
1989 -- Ben McDonald

Price probably will become a pretty good starter once he gets that spike curve down.

Hochevar still has talent, but he's looking more back-of-the-rotation every year.

Bullington probably shouldn't have been the #1 pick (taken mainly for signability), but his long array of injuries damaged his chance at the rotation and now has him as bullpen fodder in the Jays system.

Matt Anderson, well, octopus. Out of baseball.

Kris Benson was the #1 starter on a set of Pirates teams that would have struggled in the PCL. He went to the Mets in a bad trade and proved to be pretty mediocre. In the end, his wife's star far eclipsed his.

Paul Wilson was injured early in his career and spent the next four years trying to overcome them. Eventually became a middling starter. I think he's in an indy league now.

Brien Taylor was, until Matt Bush, the biggest washout for a #1 selection ever. Got to AA, injured his arm, took two years to come back, and when he finally came back he couldn't pitch himself out of the Sally League.

McDonald was dogged by injuries, but really he just struggled to ever prove himself.

Based on that list I'm left to wonder if taking any pitcher #1 is a guarantee of any success. By comparison, the hitters taken #1, well, look at the list. A-Rod, Junior Griffey, Strawberry, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Joe Mauer, Chipper Jones, Baines, Surhoff... a lot of good hitter, some Hall of Famers.

It may not be worth it to take Strasburg #1, if only for the pressure and the risk of burning him out a la David Clyde. But the Nats may have no choice. Even if they take Dustin Ackley, who's looking more can't-miss ever since he broke his aluminum bat and still managed a grand slam, the Nats fans won't forget or forgive if Strasburg does pan out for the Mariners or the Padres.
posted by dw at 8:15 PM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Young Strasburg may indeed skip the minors, but with Scott Boras as his agent, it could be a while before he actually signs a contract to play in the majors.

If the Nats really thought he was unsignable, they'll skip him altogether. Under the new CBA if you don't sign your #1 pick you get the same pick back the next year, BUT it doesn't roll over year to year, and the Nats didn't sign their 2008 #1 pick Aaron Crow. Thus, Washington must sign their #1 pick or lose him.

So, it makes sense to get someone signable, say Dustin Ackley, if you don't think you'll be able to get a deal with Strasburg by the time SDSU classes start again. You get a good player and can get the bad taste of not signing Crow out of your mouth. But I think they have to get Strasburg if they don't want to anger their fanbase.
posted by dw at 8:24 PM on May 15, 2009


I guess it's possible Strasburg might see time at the major league level, but only because he probably won't sign until August 15, and the minor league season is over a couple of weeks later. There's no reason to move him so quickly though, as someone mentioned up above the Nationals aren't playing for anything this year, so waiting to see how he looks next Spring Training would be the smart thing to do.

I'd still start him at AA, move him up to AAA, and if he performs like you think he would then bring him up next July. You get the benefit of being cautious, plus you save burning a year of arbitration. But it's the Nationals and they aren't generally a very bright organization, so it's tough to tell what they will do.
posted by imabanana at 9:52 PM on May 15, 2009


Going straight to the majors is pretty impressive. Going straight to the Washington Nats' rotation is nearly as impressive!

When you are as bad as the Nationals you will try anything.
posted by caddis at 9:54 PM on May 15, 2009


But it's the Nationals and they aren't generally a very bright organization, so it's tough to tell what they will do.

They'll start him at catcher.

As a Pirates fan, I'm glad there's a team in MLB who might relatively quickly eclipse their soon-to-be consecutive losing seasons record.

Oh shit. The Pirates have to have a winning season sometime in the next 10 (20? 30? aw fuck!) years for that to work, don't they?
posted by dirigibleman at 10:49 PM on May 15, 2009


It's not like the Nats need to save him for the post season so if hits his innings limit for the year, just shut him down. Nothing to lose.

Except a year of cost-controlled salary arbitration.

The correct financial choice is for Strasburg to begin pitching in the majors sometime in early June 2010. Otherwise they're throwing a year away.
posted by rokusan at 11:04 PM on May 15, 2009


This guy throws exactly like Mark Prior

so basically keep him away from Dusty Baker and he should be fine.
posted by nangua at 1:01 AM on May 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ah the sweet narcosis of potential.
posted by srboisvert at 1:02 AM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scouts peg him as joining the rotation immediately and thus completely skipping the minors.

Isn't joining the Nats more-or-less like being in the minors anyway?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:29 AM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this was just about any other club in the majors, they'd put him in the minors. But when you're the Nationals, this kid is your new ace. I hope they do watch him carefully and not burn him out, because most clubs would not consider him ready despite all his gifts.

Yeah, that's why the Mets whisked Dwight Gooden to the majors after only a year in the minors. It did the trick—he won 17 games, became the youngest All-Star in history, led the league in strikeouts, and drew fans to see a lousy team—but he only had a few more good years, and one can't help but think that his problems with drugs and injuries were exacerbated by being brought up too early. I hope this guy does better (not that Doctor K's career is anything to sneeze at).

Nice post!
posted by languagehat at 5:52 AM on May 16, 2009


striking out seven of the first six batters he faced
That's nothing. Bugs Bunny once struck out three guys with one pitch.

posted by kirkaracha at 7:44 AM on May 16, 2009


strasburg's got nothing on this kid
posted by spacediver at 8:34 AM on May 16, 2009


When you are as bad as the Nationals you will try anything.

It's true the Nats are posting a terrible record, but their problem is, IMO, more with the management and coaching than the players. They're not going to dominate any time soon, but their lineup has a ton of talent. Ryan Zimmerman is emerging this year into the star many predicted, Dunn is good for 40 HR, and guys like Guzman and Nick Johnson are excellent players to have around mentoring your young guys. There are young guys in the OF like Milledge and Dukes who could turn into reliable power. Aside from Jordan Zimmerman, another hot prospect just called up, their pitching is terrible, though.

It's a shame that the ownership seems determined to drive the franchise into the ground. This is the team, after all, that sent out their star players in misspelled jerseys.
posted by mkultra at 9:35 AM on May 16, 2009


I feel that the Nationals should respect the budding talents of Young Strasburg - and definitely keep him on a short leash.

Anyone who can handle Mozart, Bach and the more challenging later material of Taneyev with the nimbleness of tone and speed Strasburg possesses is a national treasure waiting to happen.

But patience is key - many prodigies have had their instincts dulled by a too-sudden meteoric rise to the stage.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


spacediver: strasburg's got nothing on this kid


"Every time that ball comes in, first you hear this smack sound of the ball driving into the pocket of the mitt, and then you hear this little gasp, this ai yee!—the catcher, poor guy, his whole body shakin' like an angina's hit it. It's the most piteous thing I've ever heard, short of a trapped rabbit."

Hilarious article. What became of him?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2009


Oh, hello. Did you hear that they left "gullibility" out of the most recent Webster's dictionary?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:40 AM on May 16, 2009


Wow, I just watched the video of him striking out 23. There were men on base the entire game! How many did he walk that game? 40?
posted by vito90 at 10:56 AM on May 16, 2009


OK, excuse a baseball-ignorant question - this thread has made me curious. When you have these pitchers who throw so fast that it burns their arms out, do they get paid more because of the likelihood that they'll be able to play for fewer seasons?
posted by yarrow at 12:04 PM on May 16, 2009


"Why's he calling me meat? I'm the one driving a Porsche."
posted by bwg at 4:57 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you have these pitchers who throw so fast that it burns their arms out, do they get paid more because of the likelihood that they'll be able to play for fewer seasons?

No. In fact they're often paid less, or given with shorter-term contracts, because of the higher perceived risk.

There are a few new 100mph pitchers every year. Predictably, though, very few can sustain it long enough to be big successes.
posted by rokusan at 7:21 PM on May 16, 2009


There is no way this kid is going to assume a regular spot in any major league team's pitching rotation right out of college. He's pitched about 160 innings in the last two years of college ball which is less than he'd have to pitch in one season in the bigs. They should use this kid as a closer the way the Boston Red Sox are bringing along their fireballer Daniel Bard
posted by birdwatcher at 7:18 AM on May 17, 2009


There is no way this kid is going to assume a regular spot in any major league team's pitching rotation right out of college. He's pitched about 160 innings in the last two years of college ball which is less than he'd have to pitch in one season in the bigs.

Happens all the time, and anyway by the time most college kids are signed it's short-season ball time anyway so they don't see a lot of innings in year one. He won't sign quickly anyway, but even if he were to he'd probably only make 15 starts between the minors and majors, and none of them will be complete games unless he proves himself to be a ground ball machine, which he hasn't already.

For comparison's sake, the Mariners kept Felix Hernandez on a 10 x age inning count in his first three years in the majors -- 190 in 2005, 200 in 2006, 210 in 2007. This counted all innings between minors, majors, and spring training. On top of that, they maintained a pitch count limit of between 90 and 105 for each start depending on how he was doing and how he felt. Last I checked he hasn't been a bad pitcher the last four years.

Getting college pitchers converted to starting pitchers in college has been done umpteen times before. The failures mainly come from overuse, but given the Nats are going to have to sign him to a $30-50M six year deal, they'll do all they can to protect their investment.

They should use this kid as a closer

You mean, like the Red Sox did with their prize starter Jonathan Papelbon? Like the M's did with their former #1 pick Brandon Morrow? The problem with this scenario is that you risk your $50M guy being handed the closer role and sticking there when he'd be far, far, far more valuable pitching 7-8 innings every five games. Any pitcher with a pulse and an out pitch could throw in the ninth.

And also, the Nats suck. When would he ever pitch as a "closer" with that team?

He's a starter until he proves otherwise.
posted by dw at 9:01 AM on May 17, 2009


They should use this kid as a closer

WILD THING!
posted by bwg at 7:15 PM on May 17, 2009


There is no way this kid is going to assume a regular spot in any major league team's pitching rotation right out of college.

Rick Porcello is younger and less experienced and is in the Detroit Tigers rotation right now. So is Clay Kershaw (Dodgers) who almost threw a no-hitter yesterday.

Felix Hernandez appeared in zero college games and 38 total minor league games (half of those vs A-level competition much weaker than college ball) before debuting with the MLB Mariners at the age of 19. He entered the rotation immediately and has been there ever since.

Strasburg will have appeared in 54 college games and will be 21 in July. So he'll be three years older and more experienced than these three guys. He's definitely capable.

He could be a #3 starter on most teams tomorrow. On the Nationals? Clear #1.

The only reason for the Nats to not play him immediately would be if they thought longer term and wanted to save a year of free agency. They should do that, but they may be desperate enough to use him immediately to sell tickets.
posted by rokusan at 2:13 AM on May 18, 2009


However, the big reason to put a guy in the minors is because they are inconsistent with their fastball location and walk guys

The big reason to put a guy in the minors is to delay when he becomes an unrestricted free agent (and all the related rules). Save a ton of money that way. (As rokusan noted).

What would be the point of sending him straight to the majors?

Because the Nats can't sell any damn tickets.

Brien Taylor was, until Matt Bush, the biggest washout for a #1 selection ever. Got to AA, injured his arm

To clarify for other people, he injured his arm in a bar fight. Not pitching.
posted by inigo2 at 8:12 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If the Nats really thought he was unsignable, they'll skip him altogether.

Their fan base already thinks the owners are cheap as hell, despite getting a free baseball stadium (that they then refused to pay rent on). If they skip Strasburg, the best prospect in forever, the fans (few as they are) will eat them alive.
posted by inigo2 at 8:14 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nationals magic continues!
posted by inigo2 at 9:40 AM on May 18, 2009


Nationals magic continues!

"If fans of the Nationals turn out to be a necessity to the grounds crew, maybe some of them can help pitch as well."


Zing!
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:01 PM on May 18, 2009


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