Back in 2009, Stephen Strasburg was considered the best player in the Major League Draft. He threw upwards of 100 miles per hour and was dominating the collegiate ranks playing for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University. With other notable pitchers like Mike Leake, Jacob Turner, Mike Minor, Drew Storen, and Shelby Miller (as well as a guy named Mike Trout), Strasburg was the can’t miss prospect whom the Nationals took with the first overall pick.
While Strasburg made his impressive debut in 2010, he had Tommy John surgery the following season before coming back in 2012. That year he was placed on a limit for innings pitched, as the team wanted to conserve Strasburg after the operation for future seasons of good health. This seemed to have backfired for Washington, as they lost in the playoffs with their ace watching from a TV the entirety of the playoffs.
That season, Strasburg tossed 159.1 innings with 197 strikeouts and a 3.16 ERA – not bad for a guy who was under the knife a year before. This past season, he was able to up his innings to 183 after not being on a pitch count mandated by the front office. He had less strikeouts but also a lower ERA at 3.00. With a full season under his belt after the surgery, Strasburg showed he still has the ability to pitch, although he did go through a tough stretch of consistently bad pitching.
Assuming that he gets over those long lapses of bad outings, Strasburg looks poised to become one of the league leaders in innings pitched, which would mean good things for the Nationals and their bullpen. At 25, he is still a very young player who could compete for Cy Young awards and possibly an MVP. Yes, I said an MVP.
The reason Strasburg has such high potential is that he closely resembles another dominant pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. Strasburg is 6’5” and 200 pounds. Verlander is 6’5” and 225 pounds. As a 23 and 24-year-old, Strasburg threw 159.1 and 183 innings respectively, while at the same ages Verlander threw 186 and 201.2 innings. Verlander hasn’t thrown under 200 innings since he was 23 back in 2006.
They both throw extremely hard and have nasty breaking pitches, although any breaking pitch would be hard to hit after seeing a fastball in the triple digits.
This comparison means nothing if Strasburg gets injured again and gets put on another leash, but if Matt Williams lets him loose to do what he is paid to do, Strasburg might become the next Verlander. Their numbers mirror each other through each of their first seasons in the Majors. The Tigers went to the World Series in Verlander’s first full season. The Nationals might have done the same had they let Strasburg finish out the season he came back from surgery. The Nationals are very similar in terms of playing ability to that of the Tigers from 2006 onward.
The biggest point is that while Verlander became the face of Detroit alongside Miguel Cabrera, Stephen Strasburg needs to become the face of the Nationals alongside Bryce Harper. You might think that he already is, but I would take Gio Gonzalez to start over Strasburg in a given game as of right now. By getting a few seasons at the 200 innings pitched mark, Strasburg will know what it feels like to go the distance year in and year out and be able to better contribute to his team. 190 strikeouts might be good, but 220 strikeouts are even better; that’s 10 innings worth of strike outs.
The Nationals are built to win now. They aren’t getting top draft picks anymore, and the ones they did have reached the Majors. Whether it is management holding him back or confusion in his own head with mechanics, someone needs to get Strasburg on the mound for as much as he can throw. He has the talent. He has the potential. Now he needs the statistics to back it up.