Stephen Strasburg: How Quickly We Forget


Earlier this week SBNation’s Jeff Sullivan wrote a great article

about Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and our appreciation of those young stars.  The point of his piece was to say that we (baseball fans) will soon become accustomed to the awesomeness of both Trout and Harper. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols were the next big thing, then they became great, and now the only time they’re newsworthy is when they fail.  Great players delude us with their greatness; it becomes commonplace.

Sullivan uses a more recent (but just as effective) example, Harper’s teammate Stephen Strasburg, to back his point. Sullivan states that Strasburg’s awesomeness is at this point, the usual:

“It wasn’t long ago that Strasburg was a phenom unlike any the game had seen in ages. Maybe that wasn’t true, but that’s how he was hyped. Strasburg was awesome, he had surgery, and now he’s awesome again. Wednesday afternoon he became the first pitcher in baseball with 100 strikeouts. Now Strasburg’s old hat. We know he’s amazing, but we’re used to that.”

I think Sullivan makes a great point about the Nationals’ flamethrower.  I remember Strasburg’s MLB debut like it was yesterday.  The world seemed to stop as everyone sat down to watch his 14 strikeout complete domination of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The MLB game reaction makes it look like the Nationals won the World Series that day. It was like Kerry Wood all over again.  But then Strasburg’s career took a very Kerry Wood-esque turn when he went under the knife, as Tommy John Surgery nearly kept Strasburg from pitching in 2011.

I remember that the majority of Strasburg’s minor league starts were nationally televised.  Everyone is drooling, for good reason, over Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy this season, but I have yet to see one of his starts on MLB Network.  Strasburg was going to be baseball’s superstar, the next big thing, Lebron with a glove, you name it and someone had dubbed Strasburg as it.  Bud Selig was ready to all but coronate Strasburg as baseball’s King.

I don’t want to say that Strasburg’s 2012 campaign has been completely ignored, but he also is not considered part of baseball’s royalty just yet. There are only three times you ever read about Strasburg:

  1. How is Strasburg’s (supposed) innings limit going to affect the Nationals postseason hopes?
  2. Are Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals baseball’s best team?
  3. Insert clown question story that may include Strasburg’s name, based solely on association with Bryce Harper.

While I don’t mind reading about any of those three storylines, they all ignore a central fact about Washington’s right-hander.  He’s the best pitcher in baseball.

The other story lines floating around DC’s baseball team can be distracting.  The countless stories I’ve read about whether the Nationals will actually hold Strasburg to an innings limit or whether they’ll get creative with his starts also detract from what’s really occurred.  Strasburg ranks 11th in the league in ERA; which also takes away from how good he’s been.

Sitting just outside the top-10 in terms of ERA would be an incredible accomplishment for most, but ERA is not the best statistic for measuring a pitcher’s effectiveness.  His K/BB (5.00) is 5th best in the game; strikeouts and walks do a better job at evaluating a pitcher’s true performance, because they’re are outcomes that are not affected by defense.  Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) love what Strasburg has done this season.

He ranks 3rd in FIP (2.18), but like ERA there is still some luck involved in FIP’s calculation. Strasburg leads the world in the most sophisticated DIPS metrics SIERA (2.26) and xFIP (2.40).  His SIERA is over 25 points better than the next best pitcher; that’s unbelievable.

What makes Strasburg’s 2012 season even more unbelievable is how little experience he has. Strasburg has only thrown 244.2 professional innings (that includes the minors).  Most major leaguers throw many more minor league innings than that before they are even close to an MLB debut.

Stephen Strasburg is the best pitcher on the planet with the same amount of experience of your average AA pitcher…. so where’s his crown?

All Statistics come courtesy of Fangraphs

For more from Glenn you can follow him on twitter @Baseballs_Econ or check out his latest at Beyond the Boxscore.