Stephen Strasburg looks different this year. He’s ditched his wind-up and is pitching exclusively from the stretch. He’s also grown a beard. Has either made a difference?
I’ll leave the beard analysis to @JWerthsBeard, but in only five starts he’s been pretty close to his usual self on the mound, if not better. He’s 2-1 in those starts, and he leads the team in pitching WAR (1.1), ranking in the top 10 in all of baseball. All this despite fewer strikeouts. But he is walking fewer guys too, and has only given up two home runs in 35 innings. This has put him on pace for a six-and-a-half win season, which would be two wins higher than his career best.
His velocity is the same across all pitches. He’s throwing the slider a lot less and the curveball more, but he only started throwing the slider last year — basically instead of the curveball — so this year’s curveball percentages more closely match his pre-2016 numbers. His WHIP and LOB% are close to his career numbers too. He’s been the same.
And he’s also been consistent. Seven innings every time. Five or six hits every time. Two or three runs every time. It might not be total domination, but he’s given the team a chance to win every time out, and he’s lessening the load on a bullpen that needs it.
The only numbers that look out of line so far are that his strikeouts are down, his walks are up and he’s giving up fewer home runs.
A deeper look shows he’s getting more groundballs. Over his career, Strasburg has been a 45.5% GB pitcher. However, that percentage has dropped every year since 2013, bottoming out at only 39.5% last year. As is typical with strikeout pitchers, they’re also fly-ball pitchers too (see: Scherzer, Max). And fly balls have a tendency to leave the park (see: Scherzer, Max). This year, 53% of the ball in play off of Strasburg have been grounders. And the fly balls he is giving up are staying in the yard too. Only 6.7% of his fly balls have been home runs – down from his 11.1% career average. So with the same velocity and similar pitches, he’s managing to turn line drives and fly balls into grounders, and cut his home-runs-per-nine-innings almost in half so far.
However, he began last year with three games of over 60% groundballs before regressed to his normal 40%, and only gave up 1 home run in his first six games. He’s also had three games with over 8 strikeouts this year. He’s throwing about 64% strikes, slightly down from his career average, but getting about 3% more contact, both in and out of the strike zone. His swinging-strike percentage is only down 1% and his heat maps (or location of his pitches) from last year to this year also look similar.
So even the things that look different probably won’t by the end of the year since Strasburg’s doing what he’s always done. The big question is whether he can maintain this consistency over the course of the year. That’s pretty much why he ditched the wind-up to begin with. Even in good year, his performances can be up and down. If the all-stretch-all-the-time delivery helps keeps the ball on the ground (and thus in the park) then the experiment is worth it. And so far it has.
Five starts isn’t much but the remarkable consistency of those starts merits repeating.Seven innings every time. Five or six hits every time. Two or three runs every time. The new delivery is doing exactly what it was supposed to do.
Same stuff. Different look. Steady results. And now Strasmas comes with a beard.Tags: Nationals, Nats, Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals